Jenny Slate Wants to Send You a Message With Her Stand-Up Attire

In the five years since she released her first comedy special, quite a bit has changed for Jenny Slate. The acclaimed comedian, actor, and author lived through a global pandemic and married gallerist and art curator Ben Shattuck in an intimate ceremony, and the two welcomed their first child, Ida, in 2021. One thing, however, has stayed the same. Her immense stage fright has never wavered. 

Not coincidentally, Stage Fright was the title of Slate's first special that premiered on Netflix in 2019. Featuring diaristic monologues intermixed with documentary-style videos, Stage Fright was a family affair of sorts, a window into where Slate came from and her influences growing up. With her sophomore offering, Seasoned Professional, she gives audiences a slice of her life on Earth as a 41-year-old, and the hour-plus set is endearing, romantic, and a bit naughty. Outfitted in a carefully chosen Thom Browne shorts suit (we'll get to this later) with her signature nervous energy at play, she talks about everything from giving birth for the first time to getting a humiliating offer to audition for the role of Pennywise, being brave for love, and stalking her therapist.

Jenny Slate posing for a photo in a sleeveless green knit dress and blue earrings

(Image credit: Emily Sandifer)

Seasoned Professional, which is produced by A24 and streaming now on Prime Video, is the comedy special that almost wasn't. When I ask Slate what prompted her to do a second special after already being hesitant to do a first, she pauses for a moment to find the right words. A few moments later, she gives a refreshingly candid answer: "What made me want to do another one? It's really hard to know why I wanted to because, honestly, I get such bad stage fright that it was much harder to do this one." With the pandemic and becoming a new mom, Slate tells me she was feeling tired, overwhelmed, and unsure of herself, and the thought of getting back onstage in front of an audience was unfamiliar and unsettling. 

If not for one of her agents really encouraging her to do it, Slate admits she probably would have chickened out. But the material was all there. It was current and still with her, and now was the time to get back on the horse. "It's rare that we're presented with opportunities to really take a leap in front of other people in terms of our jobs or our art, and I was just like, 'No guarantees that this is going to work out, but I think I gotta do it,'" she says. 

There was still the matter of Slate's near-crippling stage fright. Performance anxiety, in some form or another, has been persistent in Slate's life since she was a teen. She used to get it really bad before speech and debate tournaments in high school, but it went away for a while. When it resurfaced in her early 20s, though, it presented itself much differently. "It's much more like the dialogue or the vernacular of a panic attack," she tells me. "[It feels] like something really bad is about to happen, that this is the one time you're not going to hook on. You're not going to grab it and catch the wave. You're not you." At the advice of her friends, Slate saw a hypnotist for it once, over 10 years ago in Los Angeles, but any results she saw were minor and eventually wore off. 

What the hypnotist did provide, however, was the inspiration for the special's title. During the session, he called her a seasoned professional, and it left Slate perplexed. She certainly didn't feel like one at the time, but looking back on it, she was 29, well into her stand-up career by then, and—by all accounts—a successful comedian. "For me, it's hard to hold onto those types of qualifiers, and when I was thinking about doing this special, it was a big relief to be like, 'It's irrelevant to me how I'm defined or what canon my work will be ensconced in or whatever. This is my version of me as a seasoned professional, and it is what it is,'" she says.

Jenny Slate performing her comedy special Seasoned Professional

(Image credit: Prime Video)

Slate's way of overcoming her fears has always been to just push through. She describes herself as high functioning and says that it's in her nature to just push if she thinks there is light on the other side. Backstage before a show, she describes the feeling she gets of being very alone and overfull to an uncomfortable point of energy. "I was writing an invisible letter in my mind—like, 'Dear mom, please come pick me up. I don't want to be here anymore.' I was just so scared," she says. Sitting with those feelings in that context is good for her, she says, because once she exits that stage, she knows she'll still be fine the next day, even if she humiliated herself. "When I get onstage and I get past the first opening hellos, I just go and sort of black out. I also ask for the lights to be very, very bright in my face so I can't see anyone," she adds.

From the strategic lighting to the progression of her jokes, every detail of Slate's special is carefully thought-out. Even the outfit she wears is purposeful. "I like to send messages with my clothing," she says when I ask about how she goes about selecting her stage attire. "I need to be comfortable onstage doing stand-up, and I can't compromise that at all. If I feel weird about myself or I feel restricted in my body, it's really going to mess up my set." For Stage Fright, Slate selected a slinky, black Nili Lotan blouse, unbuttoned just enough to show a peek of her lace bra, and matching wide-leg trousers. She loved that it had "a tremor of sexuality" to it. It was confident but also playful. For Seasoned Professional, she chose a Thom Browne shorts tuxedo for the peppiness and youthfulness it conveyed. "I like how the bowtie is really perched," she says. "It's signaling toward classy, traditional, old-fashioned celebration. I really like that because it harmonizes well with how silly and how of the body my humor can be." 

This isn't the first time Slate has worn Thom Browne. The designer also dressed her for last year's Oscars and the Vanity Fair party. She has an appreciation for the brand's masterful tailoring and the fact that the designer goes all out in terms of elegance, but there's still always a bit of an edge to it. She says, "There's something about his work that is such a party. … It's almost like, 'I'm dead serious about having the biggest fucking party right now.'"

Jenny Slate posing for a photo in a sleeveless green knit dress

(Image credit: Emily Sandifer)

Slate's special certainly feels like a celebratory moment. She overcame her stage fright once again, and we get to reap the benefits. 

As Slate takes inventory of her accomplishments and the life changes she's experienced in the last few years, she looks ahead to the next chapter of her comedy. She wants to do comedy about her life, but so much of her life is at home these days, which begs the question, Will it still be relatable? "This special is filled with gigantic events—a pandemic, a vaginal birth, a trip to Europe, a look inside how I feel about therapy," Slate says. "I think my next challenge will be, Can you make something funny out of things that are, in some ways, the most personal they've ever been? I guess we'll have to see."

Seasoned Professional is now streaming on Prime Video.

Executive Director, Entertainment

Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.