Interview

Jenny Slate Talks Marcel the Shell, Michael the Hottie, and Reggie the Dog

The comedian tells us about being the child of "art farts," her undying crush on Michael Dukakis, and the crazy circumstances that led her to find her canine companion.

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Photo Credit: Bill Youngblood/SCPR

Jenny Slate had appeared on TV shows like “Parks and Rec” and “Kroll Show.” In 2014, she starred in the Sundance hit “Obvious Child,” for which she won a Critics Choice award. Jenny chatted with Rico about that film during its release in theaters.

She also co-created and performs the voice of the beloved animated internet star “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.” Marcel is an adorable little seashell with one eye and sneakers, who likes to crack jokes about his own diminutive size. Check out the clip below.

When Jenny joined Rico and Brendan onstage, Rico first pointed out an interesting piece of trivia about Marcel’s digs.

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Rico Gagliano: The Marcel set is your house.

Jenny Slate: Yes. It’s always my house.

Rico Gagliano: Do you go through your life kind of looking at things differently knowing they could be places Marcel lives?

Jenny Slate: Yeah, like my husband kind of– he directed and animated it, and he’s the voice that you hear talking to Marcel. He sort of like location scouts around our house. So that’s really fun for me because I like buy new plants and put them around and see if he, you know, is into it. I guess [laughs].

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’ve turned the Marcel videos into children’s books. So let’s talk a little bit about your childhood, Jenny.

Jenny Slate: Sure.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You said you’re the child of “art farts.”

Jenny Slate: [Laughs] I did!

Brendan Francis Newnam: You said that. It has quotes on it.

Rico Gagliano: It’s on record.

Jenny Slate: Yeah, no I’m sure I did.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And you grew up in Massachusetts in “this haunted house with these two artists with the woods on fire.” There’s a lot to unpack there so…

Jenny Slate: Sure.

Brendan Francis Newnam: First of all, why were the woods on fire?

Jenny Slate: OK, the woods were on fire, truly, because my mom is a Raku Potter. It’s a type of pottery where like you fire the pot in the kiln and then you put it in a barrel and you wrap the pot in newspaper and then you set it on fire.

But my mom didn’t have a permit for that, and she also wasn’t careful. And so like one sheet of flaming paper goes into the woods and then the whole woods get on fire. And then all the children in the family have to put the fire out.

Rico Gagliano: Did it ever occur to her, maybe, not to do it near the woods so much?

Jenny Slate: No. Nothing smart occurred to anyone.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s not true because another part of your childhood is that you had a crush, and you wanted to invite your childhood crush to your 10th birthday party…

Jenny Slate: Yes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: …Nothing unusual there.

Jenny Slate: No.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Except your crush was Michael Dukakis.

Jenny Slate: Correct. Still so hot for it [laughs].

Over Thanksgiving, there was an article in the Boston Globe and it was like, “People are leaving turkey carcasses outside of Michael Dukakis’ house.” And I was like, “Is this still happening?!?” Like, “I’ll bring our carcass!”

Photo Credit: Bill Youngblood/SCPR
Photo Credit: Bill Youngblood/SCPR

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah they would bring the carcasses because he was concerned that people were wasting them and he makes broth out of them or something

Jenny Slate: Yeah.

Brendan Francis Newnam: It’s a true story.

Rico Gagliano: That could have been our president. George Bush won that year.

Jenny Slate: Yes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did he come to your birthday party?

Jenny Slate: No, he didn’t.

Rico Gagliano: What about Michael made him your man?

Jenny Slate: I honestly just really loved his face and I think at the time, it was sort of like a… just a young patriotism that meant nothing. Or I was just like, “He’s from our state, we should be President.”

Rico Gagliano: Somehow you would be President if he made it.

Jenny Slate: Yeah.

Rico Gagliano: Amazing. You’ve been known to do your stand-up routines around especially on social media talking about your dog Reggie, who, I understand, had an unfortunate trip to the E.R.

Jenny Slate: He had an accident, um, a couple weeks ago. You know he ate… um… he ate a lot of tampons. He ate a lot of tampons. He ate a lot of tampons [laughs]. So many.

 

Rico Gagliano: That’s what Reggie does.

Jenny Slate: Yeah, it’s a giant bummer and a shame [laughs]. And he had a very expensive surgery, which is why we won’t go on vacation this year.

Rico Gagliano: You have a story you kind of told us backstage, it was kind of beautiful, about how you actually got Reggie.

Jenny Slate: Well, when I graduated from college, I had no idea how to start to be an actress. And I didn’t know any actors and I decided to be an assistant to this opera singer who was– he was calling for an assistant on Craigslist.

I met him in a restaurant, in a public place because I’m safe. He seemed fine. In the interview, he was like, “You know we have a lot of issues in our apartment and we need somebody to like decorate for us because we don’t even know what we’re doing.”

And I had said, “OK. That sounds great! I love homes and to make them nice.”

So he was like, “Great! You’re hired!” So he gave me the address. I showed up. There was like a very fancy apartment building in the West Village and I thought, “OK, I’m just going to be hanging out in a beautiful place all day and then with an opera singer and then he’ll introduce me to like the lady who invented the ‘Lion King’ musical or something.” I don’t know. You know?

Photo Credit: Bill Youngblood/SCPR
Photo Credit: Bill Youngblood/SCPR

So I opened the door, and the way I describe this experience is like, have you ever been walking on the beach, and then you step on a fish? And you’re like, “Ew!!!” And then you look around it’s just like somehow you’ve missed like 700 dead fish and there’s like 700 in front of you? I step into the apartment, the door was open — which is always a bad sign — and I step on a complete burrito. And then I look up and I’m just like [gasps] and it was truly a crack den. Like whatever you think it was, it was that.

There was like a couple tables, they’re covered in haphazardly used cocaine. The windows are broken. There are jars everywhere filled with a liquid and I’m like [slightly frantic], “He’s a singer, maybe it’s tea?” And like one of them was a Smucker’s jar filled with… I was like, “It’s piss. Girl, you know that it is.”

And I’m sitting there and I’m like, “You have no future and now you’re going to get murdered.” So, and now I’m just like [makes whooshing door opening sound] and I bust out of there and like get down to the street and I’m like [breathing heavily], “My life is just a fucking shame!” Oops… oh whatever [laughs].

And so I thought I have to do something to make myself feel better and so I went to– there was a pet store called Le Petit Puppy. There was a tiny Bichon up in the corner and I was like, “Oh I grew up with those dogs, is that a Bichon?” And they were like, “Yeah, but it’s five months old, and it’s not really a puppy anymore, and nobody wants it.”

And it just felt like a mirror of my situation, like, well you’re not cute anymore, and you’re kind of like expired on being new. We don’t really know like what to do with you. And I was just like, “I’ll take him!”

And I know you shouldn’t buy dogs from pet stores, but I bought him that day on a credit card that I had to pay off for many months. But you know, I just don’t like it when someone says that someone isn’t wanted because you just never know whether or not they are. And it turns out that he was and he loves tampons, and I have them.

Brendan Francis Newnam: There you go, the story of Reggie the dog.