Why Jenny Slate sometimes feels like a 'terminal optimist' : Wild Card with Rachel Martin Welcome to Wild Card with Rachel Martin. In this first episode, Rachel talks to Jenny Slate, known for her roles in Obvious Child, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and Parks and Recreation. Jenny opens up about whether fate brought her to her husband, what she's sacrificed for motherhood and what's so special about margarine and white bread sandwiches.

Why Jenny Slate sometimes feels like a 'terminal optimist'

Why Jenny Slate sometimes feels like a 'terminal optimist'

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Jenny Slate says she's always looking for the light in the dark. Photograph by Emily Sandifer; illustration by NPR hide caption

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Photograph by Emily Sandifer; illustration by NPR

Jenny Slate says she's always looking for the light in the dark.

Photograph by Emily Sandifer; illustration by NPR

Welcome to Wild Card from NPR, where host Rachel Martin asks guests randomly-selected questions from a deck of cards. Tap play above to listen to the full podcast, or read an excerpt below.


I spent a lot of years hosting news shows at NPR and I got really tired of covering stories that reinforced how bad everything in the world was.

Basically, I was burned out. But it was also bigger than my job. My dad died unexpectedly and my mom had died a long time ago, so I felt empty and sort of lost. And I felt this urgency. All I wanted to do was think through really big questions about what it means to be alive. What experiences made us who we are? What lessons do we have to learn over and over? What beliefs help us make sense of the world?

And when I started opening up about this to friends, I realized that a lot of other people were also swimming around in these kinds of questions. So I thought, what if we talked about this stuff out loud? And wouldn't it be cool to do it with people who, on the outside, seem like they've got their existential act together? But that's a little intimidating. So we came up with this idea for a game to make it easier.

This is the way it works: we made this little deck of cards with really big questions on them. My guests pick cards from the deck at random. And then they answer the questions.

And I'm telling you, it's amazing what happens. They start talking about ideas and experiences they haven't talked about before, and then, I'm doing the same thing. I always leave these conversations feeling better — feeling that no matter how different we are, we're all working through the same stuff.

And my hope is that this is going to happen for you too. That you'll find yourself thinking about these questions and how they fit into your own life.

And I couldn't have dreamed up a better guest to get things started than Jenny Slate. She is one of the deepest, most interesting comedians out there, in my opinion.

That comes out in her stand up and her movies, especially Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, which is one of the weirdest, most random, beautiful movies. You might know her from Obvious Child or for her role as Mona-Lisa Saperstein from Parks and Recreation.

This year, Slate released her latest comedy special called Seasoned Professional, which, at this point in her career, she really is — even if she's still figuring out life like the rest of us.

The trailer for Jenny Slate: Seasoned Professional.

YouTube

So, let's shuffle the Wild Card deck and draw our first question. Which is...

Question 1: What's an ordinary place that feels extraordinary to you because of what happened there?

Jenny Slate: This sounds maybe gross or something, but I really feel that way about our bedroom in Massachusetts. And not because I'm like, you won't believe what went down in here [laughs].

My husband is someone I met as a stranger and I really felt that I would not see him again. I thought about him a lot and I heard from another friend about where he lived in Massachusetts. And it felt to me that he lived almost in another dimension.

And I just remember the first time that I went to sleep in his bedroom and I was like, wow, this is a real place. It's kind of like seeing the Eiffel Tower, like, I can't believe it is real. And even though we live in that house together now, I still feel that way.

It's a house that was built for his great grandmother, and when he lived there by himself it was filled with, like, a hundred years of stuff. And it felt very bachelor-y, like Dickensian bachelor-y. Like, there's a taxidermied tortoise in here and heavy draperies from before. And now that we live there, it's very sparse. I prefer a more Shaker aesthetic.

Rachel Martin: You had been married before. Did something have to change in you to make this relationship work, or was it just timing?

Slate: I couldn't stop the timing of falling in love with him. And it was right for both of us to fall in love. But while walking down that path, I was very aware that I was injured. And I had to learn to trust — not just the big things, like I hope this person won't lie to me, but also, I hope they won't tell me they're having one experience while having another. I hope they won't secretly resent me for the things that they first felt were attractive about me.

As a performer, you want to shine your power out and that can be really attractive to people. But then all of a sudden they can get angry about it. That it's not just for them. And so I do think that I really had to do a lot of work on my side of the problem in terms of learning to trust self-worth issues. But I am also an operatic romantic. I just love love, and that really helps.

Question 2: What is something you think about very differently today than you did 10 years ago?

Slate: Dressing. Not salad dressing, I've always loved it and I'll never stop. Dressing my body.

Martin: What is different about how you think of that?

Slate: I'm pleased to say that I've come through a fair amount of internalized misogyny. So 10 years ago I was 31 and it was like, "You better wear that bikini." You know, just these horrible, brutal feelings about my physical body and about how I needed to present what sexiness was and how much of my body to show.

I've always had a pretty clear sense of what I find to be beautiful. But I feel like it was sort of muddled up, and now I just want to dress like Jane Goodall, but like sometimes with a crop top. Like, let it flow.

I used to feel that I had to prove that my butt was there. And now I'm like, it's not relevant whether or not you think my butt is there. I know it's there. My toilet knows it's there. And my husband knows it's there. And, unfortunately, some of my friends know it's there.

Question 3: Is there anything in your life that has felt predestined?

Slate: I don't really connect to the concept of destiny. Sometimes I get scared and ask my husband, "What if we hadn't met each other? What were the chances?" And he always goes, "100%." And I like that. I don't know about the soul mate thing, and I know it sounds so cheesy, but I do feel like he's my spiritual match.

I guess I believe in a spiritual eventuality, which you could call destiny, but it's more like a point on the globe. It's like a fixed point, but it doesn't mean you'll get there. You still have to do things to get there. It's an option.

But no, I've never felt like anything was predestined. I've just felt as if every now and then there's a kind of meteor shower and good fortune falls into my life like that.

Martin: Have you always been good about appreciating the meteor shower or has that come later in life for you?

Slate: I think I actually have been. And I think it's because my mother, who I love dearly, can be rather negative. If you ask her to tell a story, it often sounds as if it were cloudy in the sky, like it's just with this sort of tinge of dread and negativity. And it's kind of drama. It's drama.

My response to that has been to be, no — sunshine! And it can also make me be a terminal optimist in the worst way, like almost a fool. But I think I've always had that kind of look out. It's not a Pollyanna-ish thing. It's looking for light in the dark. That's what it is.


To listen to this full conversation, tap play at the top for the Wild Card podcast.