Jenny Slate Has No Chill

Jenny Slate Has No Chill

“Hello, my name is Jenny Slate, and I am addicted to microphones.” 

This disclosure comes very early in Prime Video’s Seasoned Professional, Slate’s second stand-up special — the first, Stage Fright, dropped on Netflix in 2019 — and leads Slate into a bit about having such withdrawals from microphone use during quarantine that when there was a microphone at her wedding on New Year’s Eve 2021, she nearly launched into her act. Now, however, it’s safe (enough) for Slate to use microphones again, and she’s making up for lost time: “I just wanna, like, share as much as possible — like as much as you can share without going to jail.” Over the next hour, Slate makes good on this promise.

Stage Fright was not just a title. Slate explains in the special that she experiences it before every performance. Maybe she also experienced post-stage fright, because the special is a hybrid of a stand-up set, and documentary footage of her family shot at the family home, where Slate grew up. It’s a big choice, particularly for a comedian’s first special. How much you like it might depend on whether you come to a stand-up special to see a tender exploration of a comic’s personal history told in part by the people who formed her, or for jokes; it’s the latter for me, so Stage Fright was a bit of a chore. 

Slate makes a couple of references to Stage Fright here. The first is slightly oblique, and will work for viewers who know nothing about the previous special: “I am here tonight because a hypnotist told me that I am a seasoned professional, and I believe it now, deep in my psyche.” Applause! Later, however, she quotes herself: “I seem to have said that I was not going to date anymore, and that I was going to ‘turn my pussy into a museum with a major alarm system,’ and that I could only masturbate to the full moon because patriarchy had ruined all men for me. And you know, I really admire the specificity of that plan, but, like, it turned out to be, like, super-impractical, I guess? There’s not, like, a full moon every night.” 

Life with the man who ended up becoming her husband has led Slate to some realizations, it seems. Some are about him, as she goes on an extensive run unpacking a pivotal trip she took to see him when he was living in Amsterdam, and how she convinced herself that his plan for them to go on a bike ride was not the death knell for their relationship (“Well, there’s the other fucking shoe”), nor an attack on her personally (“The idea that you would just assume that somebody would do sports with you in another country?!”). She’s also realized some things about herself: “Obviously, after one second, I was deeply in love with him but afraid to tell him because I wanted to be chill. Which by the way is a fool’s errand. And I’ll just add that chillness is not real. I don’t believe that chill people exist. I think it is a concept that misogynists invented so that we could act like we don’t have needs.” 

It’s a good line in context — yes, I am a mark for any joke about misogyny, and about the impossible standards to which women are held — but it could also stand as a thesis statement for the whole special. Slate has no chill about her daughter, who just turned three: “I don’t have a joke about her because I would never fucking joke about her.” She had no chill about the transformation her B-cup breasts made into “porny gazongas” when she was nursing said daughter, describing how they made her neg herself in the mirror. She has no chill about the doctors who work on either her “tits” or her psyche. And a story about Slate faking chill on a seventh-grade orchestra trip to Montreal takes her into body horrors she apparently still hasn’t recovered from, and maybe never will. Slate’s particular gift, as displayed here, is to wring goofiness from even the most emotionally fraught moments. For instance: Fleeing, with her husband, out of L.A. in the earliest days of lockdown — a story she tells with sidebars on thinking they needed 40 lemons for the drive to Massachusetts, and how hard it is to do a roadside pee in overalls. There’s also true emotion in her goofiest stories, like her obsession with Pamela, her therapist, which Slate builds to a screaming crescendo in the special’s excellent closer.

Those who watched and were frustrated by Stage Fright might be apprehensive at the sight of the A24 production credit that precedes Seasoned Professional, followed by Slate doing a cool slow-motion walk to the stage door on a drizzly day. If you also know going in that, like Stage FrightSeasoned Professional is directed by Gillian Robespierre, you might fear that you’re in for another artistic experiment. Please let me assure you that where Stage Fright is wistful and nostalgic, Seasoned Professional is a solidly constructed hour of hard laughs with a satisfying payoff. 

Here’s hoping microphone addict Jenny Slate never gets sober.


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