Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
There have been plenty of SNL cast members who left during or after their first season and went on to bigger success — Robert Downey, Jr., Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller, and Sarah Silverman come to mind — and now that we’re almost two years away from seeing Jenny Slate selling custom car horns in a denim boleo jacket as Tina Tina Chanuse, it’s hard to remember she once struggled for success. While she’s best known, SNL-wise, for slipping an F-bomb on live television, Slate has since gone from making viral videos to children’s books to a recurring role as Stella on HBO’s Bored to Death. The embarrassing moment Slate’s been forced to share with the world has resulted in a seasoned internet improv star who, thanks to a year of SNL boot camp, is as aware of her own vulnerabilities as she is willing to use them to make us laugh.
Slate grew up in Milton, Massachusetts and graduated from Milton Academy as valedictorian before attending Columbia University in New York, where she helped form the sketch group Fruit Paunch (in which Nina Pedrad, Nasim’s younger sister, was a member last year). After graduating in 2004, Slate performed her weekly improv show A Night with Gabe and Jenny with partner and “platonic life-partner” Gabe Liedman, and she also performed her one-woman show Jenny Slate: Dead Millionaire at the UCB Theater in both New York and Los Angeles from 2008-2009. The latter scored her a SNL audition, and she was hired as a featured cast member alongside Nasim Pedrad for the show’s 35th season — the year after Darrell Hammond left (after a 14-season run) and the abrupt firing of Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins. Prior to SNL, she also appeared as Jimmy Fallon’s assistant in his Late Night sketch parody 7th Floor West.
While Slate had a few memorable roles as Ashley Olsen (with Pedrad as Mary Kate), Hoda Kotb (replacing Michaela Watkins), Kristen Stewart, and the doorbell/alarm clock/car horn saleswoman Tina Tina Chanuse, a year wasn’t enough for her to establish strong recurring characters or a consistent presence on the show. More than impressions or characters, Slate’s best known for her infamous F-bomb slip during the “Biker Chit Chat” sketch with Kristen Wiig. “I wrote that sketch,” Slate told L Magazine last May. “I wonder if it was something that I subconsciously did to myself. I am eternally confused by it. I don’t like to make mistakes.” Given that the sketch revolves around the use of “freakin’” and “friggin’” as frequent qualifiers, the mistake is understandable (but of course, on “Sofa King” and “Colonel Angus” it was acceptable).
Slate’s slip-up also happened during her debut episode, and despite her finishing out the rest of the season, she was not asked to return the following year. Since her firing, Slate hit the ground running — she’s made the viral video hit Marcel The Shell With Shoes On with her now-fiance Dean Fleischer-Camp, which landed them a two-book deal with Penguin (you can buy the first book here) as well as plans for developing a Marcel TV show, and her web series Bestie by Bestie with Gabe Liedman is, in the words of Splitsider’s web series pro Luke Kelly-Clyne, “one of the best I’ve seen on the web.” Most recently she starred in the short Self Esteem, and a second Marcel The Shell video was uploaded last week and is already headed to three million views on YouTube. When she’s not being a funny lady on the internet, Slate co-hosts Big Terrific, a weekly comedy show in Williamsburg, with Gabe Liedman and Max Silvestri.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.