Saturday Night Live and Varsity Show alumna Jenny Slate, CC ’04, is proud of almost all of her starring roles. “Except for ‘Alvin and Chipmunks,’ which is a bad movie. I know it’s a bad movie. Sometimes you need to pay your rent,” Slate said in her acceptance speech for the I.A.L. Diamond Award Saturday night.
The I.A.L. Diamond Award ceremony, named after the “Some Like It Hot” creator and the only four-time Varsity Show writer, honors achievement in the arts every year in a gathering of administrators, student leaders, and show alumni just prior to the Saturday night performance of the 118th annual Varsity Show.
The show’s creative team chooses the recipient, and the producers present the award. “The only requirement is they be a Columbia or Barnard grad who has found success in the arts, but it’s a great bonus this year that she’s a past performer in the show,” V118 director Alex Hare said of Slate. In addition to her role as Zoe in “Chipwrecked,” Slate has had recurring roles as Stella on the HBO series “Bored to Death” and numerous appearances on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” She is best known for her time on SNL. Though she was only a cast member for one season, Slate was known for her impersonations of Lady Gaga and Ashley Olsen, as well as her recurring character, Tina-Tina Chaneuse, an infomercial star who marketed personalized alarm clocks or car horns.
During the ceremony, Slate requested that her friend, V109 cast member Mike Barry, CC ’04, introduce her. Barry’s Columbia experience proved to have a surprising corollary with both this year’s show and the lives of current Columbia College students. During his undergraduate years, Barry used improvised flash mob comedy to interrupt a chemistry class taught by James Valentini, who has since morphed into “Deantini.”
Barry cited Slate’s turn as Starbuck, an unsteady deer who shot coffee out of her antlers, as his inspiration for auditioning himself. In turn, Slate thanked her fellow alumni. “My best friends are still my Varsity Show castmates,” she said. “We all became people with each other.” Those friends include her writing partner Gabe Liedman, CC ’04, and Lang Fisher, CC ’02, as well as Barry himself. It was with friends at a wedding that Slate first created the voice of perhaps her largest claim to fame, “Marcel the Shell.” Correspondingly, V118’s design team handcrafted Slate’s award in the shape of Marcel.
Slate emphasized her surprise at being honored, fearing that it might be a prank. “I knocked down a trash can on Amsterdam Avenue. I thought I might be finally getting into trouble for that,” she said. The comedienne made serious comments as well, her cheeks still wet from crying during Barry’s introduction. Slate emphasized the importance of performers having an education, and that intelligence and performance were not mutually exclusive. “The biggest gift is my college education by my grandmother,” Slate said, her grandmother present in the audience.
After graduation, Slate struggled at first to make ends meet as a performer, which, as she noted, was a difference from her previous academic life. “There is no application process. There is no one door,” she said. However, she expressed no regrets, only thanks and encouragement. “I’m proud that a group of people I respect thinks I’m successful,” Slate said. She also credited Varsity Show with heightening her work ethic as she sought to support a team to which she felt responsibility—even if the commitment became so intense that she had to drop a class while doing the show.
Slate closed by encouraging her fellow Columbians to continue pursuing performing, as she did, after graduation. “It’s terrible to not do what you love,” she said.