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Posted at 7:49 AM ET, 09/ 8/2010

Jenny Slate leaves 'Saturday Night Live,' and we ask, what went wrong?

By Sarah Anne Hughes

Was it this sketch -- when Jenny Slate swore on live, national television -- that sealed her fate? (YouTube screengrab of Jenny Slate on "Saturday Night Live.")

Oh, Jenny Slate, we hardly knew ye. After only one season on "Saturday Night Live," Slate received the old heave-ho and will reportedly not return to the show for its 36th season. Slate was barely on the NBC gray lady long enough to make an impression on the audience beyond her sadly infamous obscenity slip during her debut. So, what went wrong for Slate? Did that one slip of the tongue do her in? Let's examine her brief tenure on "SNL."

Saturday Night Live: Tina Tina Cheneuse from Halil Caliskan on Vimeo.

Tina Tina Cheneuse
Perhaps Slate's best-known character from "SNL" is Tina Tina Cheneuse, a customized car horn and doorbell saleswoman. Slate, dressed in head-to-toe jean clothing, speaks with a whiney East European-ish accent while she tries to sell nontraditional doorbells and car horns that play her saying inadvertently funny phrases. For example, when a computer nerd asks Tina Tina for a doorbell, she sells him one that plays her saying, "Ding dong--Router--Netflix--Whaaa." Overall, the sketches were pretty funny. Slate uses her awkwardness in a positive way and made the character her own. Tina Tina even has a Facebook page with more than 4,000 fans. Even though Tina Tina's day are done, she at least got to do a sketch with Jennifer "from the block" Lopez.

Hoda Kotb impression
Slate also played NBC's "Today" show host Hoda Kotb. Next to golden girl Kristen Wiig's wine-drinking, wise-cracking version of Kathy Lee Gifford, Slate felt more like a set piece than a breathing comedian. She replaced former-Kotb player Michaela Watkins, who was fired from "SNL" after one season. Maybe there's a Kotb curse on any cast member who plays her!

The obscenity slip
As much as I hope that Slate's obscenity slip didn't seal her fate, I'm afraid it did. It doesn't seem fair that a sketch revolving around a character saying "I frickin' love you" should be the end of her career on the show. But if Slate is recognizable for anything it is that one mistake, and it's hard to see her losing the title "Girl Who Swore on 'SNL'" while she's still on the show.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. Slate was a guest star on HBO's "Bored to Death," starring Mr. Hipster himself Jason Schwartzman, voiced the Twee-dorable "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" and is one half of the comedy duo Gabe & Jenny, so maybe she wanted to pursue those avenues. "SNL" isn't the right fit for every comedian, and I think Slate falls into that category.

By Sarah Anne Hughes  | September 8, 2010; 7:49 AM ET
Categories:  TV  
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Jenny, so sorry to see you go. We hardly f*ckin' knew ya.

Posted by: MStreet1 | September 8, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Tina Tina Cheneuse supposed to be East European...? Have you never seen the sketch, or never met someone from Eastern Europe? That was a "ghetto girl" accent, possibly intended to be a little Hispanic-sounding, nothing more.

Slate is great in everything she does except for SNL. I like her a lot and wanted her to find her place, but she never did. Even at the end of the show when they all do their hugs during the credits, she stood awkwardly on the side huddling with Abby Elliott (who, by the way, is far less talented than Slate and should be fired immediately). Just never fit in there artistically, and seemingly not personally as well. I could see her as a lead in a sitcom or film, though - great everygirl potential and wonderful comic timing.


Posted by: stabbycabby | September 8, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

stabbycabby, second the motion to promote Nasim and Bobby!

Sarah Anne, haven't there been some other one-season wonder on SNL who went on to successful careers? E.g., how long was Julia Louis-Dreyfuss on the show?

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 8, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Ack, should read, "...haven't there been some other one-season wonders..."

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 8, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

The doorbell sketch is the exact reason I haven't watched SNL in about 10-15 years. It's horrible. Not funny whatsoever. And every sketch is like that.

If she was fired for the slip of the tongue, that's just idiotic. It should be because she can't act, isn't funny and the entire cast and set of writers should be canned. Lorne Michael's should just start over completely or get out of the show!

Posted by: artod4789 | September 8, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Surely, she made life diffucult for His Royal Lorne-ness (who would have got called on the peacock carpet in midst of FCC and Supreme Court back-and-forthing on broadcast standards (thank YOU, Miss Jackson)).

So SNL's writers and cast knew she was toxic. Everyone probably figured she wouldn't make it out of her rookie season. Why be tagged as one of her co-horts? Don't pal with her. And if you're a writer, don't give her any material.

It's all pretty 7th graderish. But no one ever accused show biz people of being the adults in the room.

Posted by: molsonmich | September 8, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, Kristin Wiig plays the same annoying character over and over again and is considered some sort of comedy genius.

Posted by: yellojkt | September 8, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

stabbycabby: That accent is hard to pin down. I didn't pull Eastern European out of the air, but your guess is probably better than mine.

Nosy: Good point! Julia was on from 1982 -1985. Moveline actually did a great post on this:

Posted by: Sarah Anne Hughes | September 8, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

SNL is terrible. Every skit now is just a sight gag or punch line that they repeat over and over.

Posted by: buffysummers | September 8, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

i'm with artod
but dont blame the writers/producer...

the american sense of humor has shifted with the cuts to the education system... so long as there are people in the audience who laugh they will continue to give the people what they want

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | September 8, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

one-season wonder: Charles Rocket.

Say goodnight SNL.

Posted by: reddragon1 | September 8, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

quint, isn't the job of a TV producer to shift with the public taste? If it weren't there wouldn't be so many sitcoms with approximately one sex joke that, like the Energizer Bunny, keep on going, and going, and...

Posted by: reddragon1 | September 8, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

reddragon1, this is one reason I treasure "Big Bang Theory." At least it has two jokes.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 8, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

It's got to have a lot to do with the 'F-Bomb' moment. And the fact that audience just didn't seem to respond to her. She did a lot of skits with Kristen Wiig who is clearly 'MVP' right now - literally most valuable based on box office returns for her movies actually. For more experienced SNL-players (Forte, Armisen, Sandberg etc.), that's great as they can bounce off of Wiig's comedy - something peiple clearly love.

(No matter what people say about Wiig, NBC audience tests and the mass laughter everytime she even appears prove she is the reason the majority of viewers tune in, which is why they use her so much.)

But, for inexperienced performers who haven't got their own SNL identity yet, playing opposite Wiig can be tough. She, ultimately, is the star of the sketch so even if you're character has the funniest lines, the chances are the audience will laugh harder at Wiig. Lorne Michaels know that - there's a reason it's Wiig he's been taking with him when auditioning newbies.

Look at the two examples above - Hoda Kotb in which, as this article says, Slate didn't really stand on a par with Wiig who got all the laughs. Then, with the 'F-bomb' incident - she was acting alongside Wiig who managed to keep her cool and didn't corpse despite Jenny Slate's mistake. Instead, Wiig let the moment pass then timed her comedy perfectly with her one-liner, thus stealing the laughs and saving the day. Professionalism counts for a LOT with NBC and, in that moment, Wiig sealed her fate as 'star' / 'MVP'... Jenny Slate... not so much.

Posted by: lorna3 | September 8, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

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