Comedian Jenny Slate And Her Father Share Family Stories In 'About The House'
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
"About The House" is a book of stories, essays and poems by poet Ron Slate and his daughter, actress and comedian Jenny Slate. And yes, it's about the house, an old colonial just outside Boston, and a biography of sorts of this family. Ron Slate and Jenny Slate join us from our member station WGBH in Boston to talk about their collaboration. Thank you guys so much for being with us.
JENNY SLATE: Thank you for having us.
RON SLATE: It's a pleasure.
CHANG: So first a question for both of you. Why use the house as a way to write about your family? Where did that idea come from?
R. SLATE: We were invited to write this book by the Concord Free Press. The initial idea was that we would reflect on our family and tell family stories and so forth, and our initial outline was based on different rooms in the house. But we soon grew disenchanted with that, and then each of us simply drifted off to write whatever we wanted to write about with the house...
R. SLATE: ...Sort of looming in the center.
J. SLATE: It is the structure. And we lived there, my parents still live there, but it has always seemed a little bit alive. Like, if you ripped up the basement floor, you might find, like, a big red lit-up heart or something. It's alive a little bit. Like, you know, if you...
CHANG: (Laughter) Straight out of a horror story.
J. SLATE: Sort of. Alive and scary and loving, just like a person is. And I think we're all fascinated by it, and by who was there before and who we became while we were living there. And it just seemed, especially since my parents might leave soon, like a time to get into that if we had the opportunity to.
CHANG: So I want to now enter Jenny's childhood bedroom. There's something that I would love for you to read, Jenny. There's a moment where your mom asks you to clean your room and told you that you could not leave the room until you did so. So you did clean your room and you did not leave, but you also decided to do something else.
J. SLATE: (Reading) After cleaning my entire room and getting it to the point where my mother would find it acceptable, I sat on the rug in front of my bed and I [expletive] my pants on purpose. I couldn't believe what I was doing as I was doing it. I remember feeling that this was really over the line, that it was a thing that my baby self would do and that I had certainly moved past it. The poop was soft and hot and really out of my body and really in my underpants. I remained calm.
CHANG: (Laughter) What I love is you take a story like that and you turn it into something actually quite symbolic and meaningful about you. And in this case, you make a point. Can you talk a little bit about that?
J. SLATE: Yeah. You know, I tend to really let everything kind of fly out before I sort it, and it becomes a mess.
R. SLATE: Jenny wasn't exactly a non-compliant child, but she was the kind of child who liked to ruin your expectations.
J. SLATE: (Laughter).
R. SLATE: And I think that that is the core of her artistic impulse as well. She...
J. SLATE: I wasn't bad. Like, I, you know - and I wasn't even a partier.
R. SLATE: Yes. Yes, you were.
J. SLATE: I wasn't. I didn't even have any friends (laughter).
R. SLATE: The book somehow skips over the high school years.
J. SLATE: (Laughter).
CHANG: I was - that's what struck me. I think it's interesting that two people can spend so much time together in the same place and have different memories about that place. Was there anything that Jenny brought up in the book that made you go, oh, yeah, I totally forgot about that or I didn't know that's exactly how it happened?
R. SLATE: There were things that Jenny wrote where I said, I don't think it happened that way. And - for instance, Jenny said a lot of inflammatory things about my treatment of the dog that I felt were excessively demonizing.
J. SLATE: You know, this was an issue in our family. Not that my - you know, it's also a joke. The dog and my dad - it was fine. There was nothing horrible happening. I would hate for that to be misunderstood because especially at the end of his life - Wally (ph), our dog's life - my dad really cared for him. And it was really sad. But I do think that he has some weird stuff that he projected onto the dog. And I look forward to a time when my father can see that as well (laughter).
R. SLATE: The only thing I can say about these accusations is that Wally was just one more thing for me to have to manage in a family that made a lot of demands (laughter). A lot of...
J. SLATE: A family.
R. SLATE: That's right.
J. SLATE: A family that was a family. This is what all parents say. This is, like, the number one fear that I have about, like, you know, if I have kids, am I going to tell them, like, how hard they are all the time? Because everyone is hard.
CHANG: Jenny, you mentioned the beginning that your parents might be leaving the house. Are you guys experiencing some grief or mourning about leaving this place?
J. SLATE: Well, I can't stand it. It seems gross that somebody else would live there. It's like being in love with someone and knowing that one day they'll leave you, and then imagining them, like, being in love with a new person (laughter). It's just, like, what weird chairs are people going to bring in there? And, you know, I just think - I don't know. We should just - probably just burn it down (laughter). No, that's not what's going to happen. But it kills me. I hope that they never leave.
CHANG: Jenny Slate and Ron Slate. Thank you so much for being with us. It was so wonderful to talk to you guys.
R. SLATE: Thank you, Ailsa.
J. SLATE: Thank you for having us.
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