"It's natural for me to talk about my feelings," Jenny Slate tells me shortly into our talk. It's a dream sentence for any interviewer to hear, but this was evident as soon as the comedian stepped onto the set of her Glamour photo shoot. Although the weather was rainy and the call time was early, every conversation she had that day—a discussion about her love of Rachel Comey sweaters, relationship advice with the glam team—was done with an open heart. For her, there's simply no other way to be. “I'm very uncomfortable when I feel like I have to hide how I feel," the 37-year-old explains. "That's just the way I am as a person.”
It's fitting, then, that Stage Fright—Slate's first comedy special, now streaming on Netflix—is a revealing peek into her brain. In just over an hour, the comedian weaves family interviews filmed inside her childhood home (which, by the way, is haunted) with stand-up about everything from bad dates to her divorce from filmmaker Dean Fleischer-Camp. Not to spoil the ending, but the whole thing concludes with a story about the moon that is equal parts charming, heartbreaking, and horny.
It's the most personal we've seen of Slate to date, though she's been in the public eye for a while. Soon after a one-season stint on Saturday Night Live, Slate hit viral fame in 2010 with Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, a so-cute-it-hurts video series she cowrote with Fleischer-Camp. Memorable cameos on Parks and Recreation and The Kroll Show followed, then leading roles in films (Obvious Child, Gifted). But a new kind of fame—one with paparazzi photos and internet scrutiny—came after she started dating Chris Evans, aka Captain America, following her separation. “The stress that I saw him be put under, I’ve never seen that before, and he handled that really gracefully,” she told New York after their breakup. "He’s not stressed. I was the person that was stressed.”
Now, Slate is engaged to art curator Ben Shattuck and spending much of her time on the East Coast. It's more a private life, which affords her the ability to share herself on her own terms. And so she's opening up about all of the above in Stage Fright as well as an upcoming book she calls its "more serious sibling,” Little Weirds. "There's nothing that has happened to me that feels taboo, even if it is personal," she says. "I'm more comfortable when people are intimate, and I'm more comfortable when I can be intimate.”
To do this, Slate approaches her comedy like a date—you arrive with your best stories in mind, then change the message or delivery depending on the audience. After months of touring, she was ready. “I became more comfortable with approaching themes that, for me, were maybe not so comfortable before because they were sad,” she says. Telling sad stories certainly doesn't make the pain behind them go away, but at least she could make them funny.
Of course there's love in Slate's stories too. Her meet-cute with Shattuck begins as all the best do: offline. “I met him through friends, which is nice in a world where people are meeting each other on their phones through pictures they've made sure are perfect,” she says. They lost touch for a while—but six months after their first meeting, they saw each other again in New York and exchanged emails. “I noticed that when I was writing to him, I really, really bloomed." And as she started to write her book, she realized some of her best work was in emails to Shattuck. "When I wrote to him, I was my most real self." So she wrote one more, suggesting they become friends. You know how the story ends: "A year and two days after that email he asked me to marry him.”
"He has truly never let me down," she says. "He's romantic and caring, and he treats me like the person that I know that I am. Because I hold him in such high regard, and he treats me like such a dear friend, I work on growing and changing in a way that doesn't involve shame. It's just like, ‘Wow, I'm so excited that I can be myself with this person. And I seek to continue to expand.'”
It helps that he is, in Slate's words, "a well-adjusted feminist man." It's a quality that wasn't easy to find. “There are a lot of dudes out there that think they're allies because they're just not as gross as they used to be," she says. "That's not good enough. And moreover, they're sensitive about how gross they've been able to be in their privilege and patriarchy. I don't feel like anybody deserves an award for not being completely repulsive. I'm fortunate that my partner isn’t that way.”
“I think of myself as somebody who has seen a lot and is brave enough to fling herself into the future with a good attitude.” —Jenny Slate
Slate tells a particularly horrifying story in Stage Fright about a date who showed up in a full suit of armor. (Yes, really.) “It's a true story,” she says. “And it's a huge bummer, in every way. I heard he feels really bad about it." That doesn't excuse putting Slate into an uncomfortable position of having to decide how to react. "It's a typically tone-deaf patriarchy-oriented move. I don't really know a lot of feminist people, whatever your gender is, who would make a decision for the whole group that's just based on how they want to behave.”
That date didn't turn into a relationship, obviously, but Slate is open about being a lifelong "boy crazy" romantic. Only now, in her 30s, is she better understanding what drives that desire for companionship. “I think I get lonely really easily,” she says. "I get waves of loneliness the way pregnant women get morning sickness. It just comes. It's part of my human condition. I have it now, even though I am going to get married to the love of my life.”
It's something she knows she'll need to work on her whole life: how to tolerate it. "Sometimes the word tolerate sounds like you're going to be in pain and just have to be quiet—but that's not what I mean," she explains. "It's to be able to examine it and realize that it's not permanent. I just might need a lot. I might be hungrier than other people. All I know is that I'm tired of defining it as something that's wrong with me. It's a part of who I am."
In general, Slate wants to be more gentle with herself—and that includes finding a new perspective on her divorce. “Whether it's a job that didn't work out or a partnership that ends, I have been quick to label it as a failure," she says. "A burden that I'm going to have to carry around and also apologize like, ‘Oh sorry, I brought all my bags here.’ But I just have to bring them.”
She continues: “I've learned that I can lighten up a bit. There's a difference between pain and punishment. We can't necessarily control how much pain our hearts will feel when we feel abandoned, or when we miss someone, or when we wish we could be involved in a creative thing or a professional thing that we're not. A lot of us punish ourselves. But, really, there aren't a lot of people who are hoping to punish. So I've just learned how to spend my time a little bit more constructively and be more gentle.”
In other words, "I don't really sit around thinking of myself as a divorced person. I just think of myself as somebody who has seen a lot and is brave enough to fling herself into the future with a good attitude.”
For now that future means taking a break for herself and enjoying the success of Stage Fright and Little Weirds. “I hope that if I can do anything besides make people laugh, I can make them feel some love for themselves," she says. "I mean, the way I feel about being lucky enough to have any sort of small sliver in the zeitgeist is that it's an opportunity for me to model...not perfection, but curiosity and self-love and resilience. Because I need to see it. Especially now, I need to see it.”
Anna Moeslein is a senior editor at Glamour. Follow her on @annamoeslein.
Stylist: Monty Jackson; hair: Peter Butler at Tracey Mattingly; makeup: Kirin Bhatty at SWA Agency; sittings editor: Davian Rodriguez; video: Joel Barhamand.
The one thing all romantic comedies have in common? They celebrate the two things everyone wants in life—rom and com, of course. To honor that, we're devoting a whole week to the genre. More on the rom-coms we love, past and present, here.
Originally Appeared on Glamour