Comedian, writer and actor Jenny Slate was born in Milton, Massachusetts in 1982, the middle daughter of a Jewish family and a prep school valedictorian. She later majored in literature at Columbia University in New York City where she got her start in the world of comedy after helping form the improv group Fruit Paunch. Columbia University is also where Jenny Slate met her comedy partner Gabe Liedman, future writer of shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Kroll Show and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and creator of Q-Force on Netflix.
After Slate graduated from Columbia University in 2004, she and Liedman would perform live comedy shows on stage, along with Max Silvestri, and the shows would often get positive receptions. Slate and Liedman would perform on stage regularly until 2015. Slate also performed a one-woman show around this time, which was about 2008 or 2009, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in NYC, eventually making a name for herself on the alternative comedy scene.
Every once in a while you would see Jenny Slate pop up on television at this point in time on networks like Comedy Central, VH1 or IFC before she hit the mainstream making regular sketch appearances on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and finally getting hired as a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 2009, where she famously cursed live on the air during her debut sketch (she said the word “fucking” and everyone watching heard it, although it’s been omitted from reruns). A lot of people have speculated that this is the reason why Slate only lasted one season on that show, but Slate went on record saying she was let go because she didn’t click. Although Slate later had better luck with sketch comedy on the Comedy Central series Kroll Show.
Slate also had recurring side character guest roles as Jason Schwartzman’s pot-smoking love interest Stella in Bored to Death, Lena Dunham’s passive aggressive former college classmate Tally in the HBO comedy Girls, Josh Lawson’s unhinged wife Sarah in Showtime’s House of Lies and Ben Schwartz’s nasty twin sister Mona-Lisa Saperstein in the NBC mockumentary Parks and Recreation.
The first time Jenny Slate appeared on the big screen was in Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011), but she would later make a much bigger impression in the role of comedian Donna Stern in Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child (2014), in which Slate’s character has a drunken one-night stand with a new man (following her break-up with her old boyfriend) and finds out that she is pregnant. It is then that the movie uses abortion as a plot point, and therein lies what made critics see the film as so revolutionary. Director and co-writer Robespierre set out to destigmatize abortion with the film by telling a more grounded story than what was previously depicted by Hollywood about the realities of being a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. The well-received film won accolades and was the first time I ever saw any work of Slate’s, who I instantly became a fan of. So did the Critic’s Choice Awards, because they awarded Slate Best Actress in a Comedy for her role as Donna Stern!
Slate would later make the shift to drama in 2017 with Gifted, and she also appeared in Venom (2018), On the Rocks (2020), I Want You Back (2022) and Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022).
A lot of times Slate will also voice animated characters, most famously Tammy Larsen in Bob’s Burgers, but she has also voiced Pony Head in Star vs. the Forces of Evil, the Huntress Wizard in Adventure Time, Missy in Big Mouth, Miss Nanny in Muppet Babies and Judy Tobin in The Great North. In movies, Slate also voiced Dawn Bellwether the Assistant Mayor in Zootopia (2016), Gidget in The Secret Life of Pets (2016), Harley Quinn in The Lego Batman Movie (2017) and Valerie Da Vinci in Despicable Me 3 (2017).
Most recently Slate voices Marcel in Marcel the Shell with No Shoes on (2021), a live-action/animated hybrid mockumentary about a talking shell searching for his family, based on a series of viral YouTube videos that were co-written by Slate and first uploaded in 2010. Director Dean Fleischer-Camp collaborated with Slate on the short films, the first of which got a lot of positive attention, not just from YouTube viewers but from the American Film Institute and the New York International Children’s Film Festival which awarded the film the Grand Jury Prize. This upcoming feature film adaptation premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in 2021 and is being released by A24 in 2022. Her expressive and naturally high and cartoonish voice work on Marcel was the start of her voice acting career, so Slate may owe half her career to this character.