Story Behind Viral Hit 'Marcel the Shell'

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Melissa Walker
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Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I've ever Been
Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I've ever Been

“My name is Marcel and I’m partially a shell.” That line introduced the world to a little mollusk with a big eye who’s now been viewed by 23 million people in his first and second short films, created by married creative couple Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate. The first book about him, “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me,” was a bestseller. Now Slate and Fleischer-Camp are back with Marcel’s second illustrated book, “Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been,” and a third short film, where the inimitable shell-with-shoes gets locked outside of his home. Slate, a writer, comedian and actress who currently stars in the film “Obvious Child” and the FX series “Married,” talks to Yahoo Parenting about Marcel the Shell’s origins and how his world is expanding next:

Yahoo Parenting: What came first for Marcel — the voice or the body?
Jenny Slate: I’ve enjoyed doing made-up voices and accents since I was a little kid but the Marcel voice just popped up on its own in the summer of 2010. I started talking that way, and Dean was like, ‘Maybe we should do something with that voice.’ He started to interview me in character and it unfolded naturally.

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YP: So how did you decide that voice belonged to a mollusk with big eyes and pink shoes?
JS: We weren’t sure what the character looked like, and Dean started gluing together a lot of different objects to create a little creature. One day, I’d gone to lunch and came back and Dean had physically made Marcel. He was standing on the kitchen table. It was like, “There he is!” Marcel is my grandmother’s brother and we’d just been to France where she spent a lot of her childhood, so the name was improvised after I saw him.

YP: Do you think about Marcel while you’re working on other projects?
JS: I talk in Marcel’s voice fairly often — he’s a character that dwells in my emotions in a really safe and beautiful place, so I call him up a lot. I like extending his world in my mind and Dean and I look for new ways to bring him into the public eye. We’re patient about it, though. We want to do it in a way that satisfies us.

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YP: What is Marcel’s world like now?
JS: It’s world that’s being drawn while Dean and I stand inside of it, but Marcel has quite a few friends, and those will be revealed in the future. We show his life little by little. His world is very big in his mind’s eye but for us it might just be an apartment, so we want to make sure that it’s extended through his point of view.

Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp
Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp

Slate and Fleischer-Camp. Photo by Richard Koek

YP: The new video, like the previous ones, feels improvised and natural. Is it?
JS: Well, first Dean thought it would be funny if Marcel were locked out of the house. So he interviewed me [as Marcel] about being outside, and that’s all improvised. But then Dean will go back through the audio and pick out what’s coming together to shape a story, and he’ll ask me to say a specific line, so I’ll do that and we’ll talk more and do more improv. It wouldn’t be what it is without the natural interchange between us, and without Dean’s elegant work where it seems like you’re watching a conversation that’s playing out when actually it’s 4-8 different conversations that Dean patchworked together.

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YP: Last question: Does Marcel ever change his shoes?
JS: The shoes don’t come off. He has to get deodorant in there, but it’s private how he puts it on.

Watch Marcel talk about the “hot zone,” grape eating, and idiot shrimp in his newest short film: