Jenny Slate Went to Midnight Mass and Experienced the Gospel

The Gospel is Good News of Great Joy. It is a Gift That Gives When We Do Not…It Promises a Party With Endless Wine and a Fattened Calf

CJ Green / 12.10.19

Jenny Slate first came into my life in 2010, though at the time I didn’t know her as such. I knew her as Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, a tiny seashell with one googley eye who said things like, “Guess what I use to tie my skis to my car? A hair.” Marcel was also full of wisdom: “If you do drive a bug, you have to be pretty easygoing because you’re only going to go where the bug wants to go… Really what you just have to want to do is take a ride.”

In the years since Marcel outgrew the shell, Slate has done a lot — memorably guest-starring on Parks & Rec and Girls, voicing a diabolical sheep in Zootopia. This fall, she wrote a book. She also contributed this amazing thing to the New Yorker which begins, “Hello, I am a woman on a blue-and-green sphere that has dollops and doinks of mountains all over it.” In October she released a Netflix standup, “Stage Fright,” and as suspected, there is some very funny stuff in it. Mostly what you’ll find is R-rated so be warned! Slate explains the title:

Right before I go onstage, I am presented with this essential question, which is, will they like me? And I know that they will once I start to talk. But I don’t earn the love unless I give something beautiful that goes out. So my stage fright comes from a deeper thing—of exchange.

So there you have it, the law. It’s the weight of exchange which life throws at you no matter who you are; this voice says, you get what you give. It also says, you will be loved but only if you perform. Even as Slate gives so much of herself onstage, the voice continues to accuse.

With all this in mind, I wanted to share the bit when she relates her experience at midnight Mass. Not just because it’s funny but also because she’s illustrating something true. There’s a straightforwardness here as, in surprise, she receives the gospel and recognizes the humor of it, and its complete irreverence:

I recently went to a midnight Catholic Mass. First of all, midnight? Way to go. Jewish people are like, it’s sundown, you better stay inside! Be careful!

Went to this midnight mass, walked into the church, which first of all to me was like a miracle — I thought that, like, a doily that was also a spiderweb would come down and be like, Not you! and I’d be like, I know, sorry, excuse me, sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking. But like, you know, the synagogue that I went to when I was kid looked like a Chinese restaurant from the 70s without windows, it was like such a bummer, and I went into this place, and it was like holy shit, churches are just beautiful little castles for God, this is gorgeous.

But everyone in there was like dressed in red and green, and then the guys came out—the priests—and they had incense and they’re like whoaa yeahh [swinging incense]. Everyone’s dressed up, and they sing the songs, and weirdly I knew some of the songs, because they’re, like, in our culture, but even when I didn’t really know the words, I could still be like oooooh [pretending] and everyone was like yeah! It was just like the best mood. The Christians are in the best moods. I was just like, aw man, this is so annoying. Like, their God got killed as a hunk, and they’re not even upset. And he’s like, no, I don’t want to stress you out, don’t worry about it. My body’s a cracker, nom nom. Drink my blood, it’s wine. This is a party… The Christmas songs, and thinking about it, they’re all just like, jingle jangle, everybody gets a present, Santa comes down but he never catches on fire, we don’t know how it happens, everything’s fine. We’re never worried, that’s not in our culture.

This is not how all church visits go, unfortunately, but I wish it were. I wish everyone could see that no doilies will swoop down to block the doorway and that God indeed offered his blood as wine because this is a party, and everyone gets a present.

True enough, many Christians today are worried, and hurting, and living in the real world. We are not always in the best moods, nor do we have to be. But we have a reason to be. The gospel is good news of great joy. It is a gift that gives when we do not. It promises a love that we do not have to—actually, cannot—earn. It promises a party, with endless wine, and a fattened calf to eat. I’m reminded of an excellent passage from Robert Farrar Capon’s The Youngest Day:

Do you see now the last image of all? It is the image of the family reunion long after the old relationships of superiority and inferiority are over, after proprietorship has died and risen again as friendship. It is the picture of the hilarious dinner party where grownup children recount how they pilfered their father’s wine as teenagers—and where grownup adults answer them not with penance, counsel, or absolution but with smiles. In the peace that passes understanding, everything beforehand turns out to have been only misunderstanding. The eternal afternoon’s awkwardness gives way to grace, and the evening of everlasting laughter begins.

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


3 responses to “Jenny Slate Went to Midnight Mass and Experienced the Gospel”

  1. Sarah says:

    oooh!!! I love this! I needed a new standup special as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *