There’s not a ton of writing dedicated to Milton, Massachusetts, one of Boston’s affluent suburbs and hometown to actress, comedian, and writer Jenny Slate. In 2016, Slate co-wrote a book with her father about her childhood home in Milton, About the House. And this fall, she is releasing a collection of essays, Little Weirds, which partly revisit the same pocket of Norfolk County. Little Weirds is a funny, personal, and often moving bit of writing, which, thanks to Slate’s remembrances and regional connections, affirms her unique literary niche.
Slate’s book tour kicks off on Nov. 3 at the GW Lisner Auditorium, and NPR’s Audie Cornish will moderate the discussion. City Paper spoke to Slate about her previous visits to D.C. and the significance of kick-starting her tour in Trump’s backyard.
WCP: As a person with Massachusetts roots, what’s your relationship with D.C. like? Would you come here growing up?
JS: One of my grandmother’s first cousins—they were very close and survived the Holocaust together—lived in Bethesda. We would visit them. And my mother is a potter, and there used to be this huge craft fair around the D.C.-area. I forget where but we would pack up our family van filled with her pots, ceramics, and the materials that would make up her booth. They were these large fabric slats. And they’d put me somewhere in the car, definitely without a seatbelt, and we’d drive to the area.
And then in college, one of my first serious boyfriends was from D.C., so I got to know the city then, and I’ve always enjoyed it.
WCP: So why did you decide to open your book tour here?
JS: Well, I don’t know anyone who would turn down an invitation from Audie Cornish. I can’t even believe she knows who I am or would be interested in speaking with me.
It’s also really fitting. I started to write this book in a state of not just personal and emotional disillusionment but also political. Really wanting to find a way to say what doesn’t work for me, and for so many people, about what’s going on in our political situation. But also find language that felt like my own, and didn’t just feel like fighting words that mimic the language of my predators. I think this book is as much a personal move as it is a political shift for me, in that I found a way to say how I feel about patriarchy and the Trump Administration. I am saying words that please me, rather than just reflecting my fears and anger.
It feels significant this event at Lisner is about a half mile from the White House. Yeah, to be in D.C. is very strange if you don’t live there, and you haven’t been since [Trump]… I was there for the Obama inauguration. Those are two very, very different dimensions, in every way.
WCP: When you developed material for this book, did you have the impulse to include some of it in your stand-up?
JS: The baseline is: This is how I speak; these are the qualifications that I make about myself when I’m being observed and taken in. But everything can go on the page, [especially] when you’re writing something that is as wide open as this book. I didn’t care about what kind of pieces they were, I just stuffed them in my mind and put them on the page… that was the creative trust I had to have with myself.
Onstage it has to be funny, but it doesn’t have to be funny all the time. It’s just the amount of steps you take until somebody feels a giggle coming up, and that’s different all the time, which is why comedy is so invigorating. You have to find that moment over and over again, it’s never the same.
WCP: You’ve described this book as an expression of your truest self. When you’re doing stand-up or voiceover work, are those more distilled versions of you?
JS: They’re more compartmentalized. When I’m playing Tammy on Bob’s Burgers, notes of gentleness aren’t appropriate. Whereas for me, as a person, I feel primarily gentle and sensitive. Those are the loudest notes that I’m playing, and they’ll never go away. Which is why playing Tammy or Mona-Lisa [on Parks and Recreation] is palatable. There will always be that gentleness in there that’s inaudible and tempers it so you can take those characters in without feeling actually bad. It’s a tricky thing.
In this book, the only thing that would be inappropriate would be for me to be abusive or unfair, or to try to obscure myself. That would be a waste of my time. So it’s an expression of my truest self because it’s the most complex. I haven’t put any limits on myself.
WCP: I was just rereading “I Died: Bronze Tree,” one of the last pieces in the book, which has an elegiac quality. You’ve talked about how personal Little Weirds is, and given your recent engagement, is that story like a vision or a hope you have for your relationship?
JS: Well, I wrote that while I was single. The funny thing is, I’d met Ben, my fiancé who I will marry and have a beautiful life with, and he does live in a house on the Atlantic. I might’ve had him bumping around in my mind a little bit. I really wrote this piece as an exercise to let go of relationships that did not work for me in the past, and that could never have led to this vision of myself that I did have.
So I wrote it as a funeral and a wish. When I’m feeling very isolated and sad, and feel despair, that can take up almost all of the room. I do think, even if it’s not available to you right now—this complete life—it’s definitely available for you to formulate in your mind and start to behave in a way that says, “I think this is coming for me, and I know I am going towards it.” It feels very cathartic.
[The essay] is total fiction except the belief system is in there. We have to say goodbye to things that didn’t work and it’s very, very hard. And we might live with the pain of that loss forever in small ways, or maybe large ways, it depends on each person. There are ways to place it on a timeline so the pain isn’t a hand slapping your face but more like a dim light in the distance.
WCP: And finally, Big Mouth season three just came out, and your character Missy had a tumultuous go. Any predictions on her moving forward?
JS: Oh, Missy’s always growing and changing. That’s her main deal. She’s like an innocent little wise person. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone! But she’s going to experiment with the different ways of taking control and will encounter the pains and pleasures of having a complex inner world. The one thing you should know about Missy is she’s still horny for Nathan Fillion. That’s still going on.