Brooklyn BookBeat: Famed Comedienne, Actress Fondly Recalls her Brooklyn Years

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Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp will visit Brooklyn on Oct. 26 to speak about their book “Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been.” Photo by Richard-Koek.

“Brooklyn is a place with a real beating heart, and I miss it,” famed actress and writer Jenny Slate told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent interview. Known for her starring role in the recent film “Obvious Child,” and for her involvement in numerous television shows, the L.A.-based comedienne is returning to Brooklyn to speak about one of her latest projects — an illustrated book depicting Marcel the Shell, a lovable character Slate has given voice to over the past several years.

“Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been” (Razorbill) follows the enormously popular 2010 short film Slate created with her husband Dean Fleischer-Camp, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” as well as a 2011 New York Times bestselling book, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things About Me.” Slate’s and Fleischer-Camp’s new book follows the tiny seashell Marcel on a new adventure as he’s unexpectedly projected all the way across the apartment in which he lives. As he launches through the air, Marcel sees and reflects upon all that the space houses — including a large baby and Marcel’s own beloved grandmother, Nana Connie, who sleeps in a fancy French bread.

Despite his fictional and miniature existence, Marcel’s broader thoughts and visions are acutely human. “Marcel’s story is really the expression of what it’s like to be an individual,” Slate told the Eagle.

Slate’s kid-friendly Brooklyn reading will take place on Oct. 26 at BookCourt in Cobble Hill. Fleischer-Camp — whom Slate credits for bringing Marcel to life visually — will also appear at the event. “I get a lot of credit for being the voice, but we write it together,” Slate said, explaining that Marcel has been formed through a collaborative effort. “The books are really written by the two of us very equally in kind of a sweet, combined voice that we create when we’re together.”

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Image courtesy of Razorbill, a division of Penguin Young Readers.

Slate told the Eagle that when she and her husband make the videos, they often improvise for a while, after which Fleischer-Camp — who films and animates Marcel — listens to the audio and begins to formulate the story from that. “He’ll go away to his office and really craft the story — he’s really the person who’s helming that…he tells me what he needs.”

Slate, who has always loved and collected children’s picture books, was thrilled to have the chance to create one of her own.

Though the couple now resides in L.A., Slate lived in Brooklyn from 2004 to 2012. A Milton, Mass. native, Slate moved to New York to attend Columbia University, after which she moved to Brooklyn, where several of her friends moved after graduating college.

“At the time, Carroll Gardens still had Italian social clubs…it was a bit different than it is now,” Slate said of the neighborhood she called home. She harbors fond memories of a homey, close-knit community. “I knew the name of everyone’s dogs…I worked at Sweet Melissa; it was on Court Street,” Slate recalled, reminiscing about her early morning shift at the bakery (which closed in 2013).

“When I was on ‘SNL,’ people [in the neighborhood] would recognize me…I felt like I had a million proud grandparents,” she told the Eagle.

In the winter of 2012, Slate and Fleischer-Camp made the move to L.A. “We left because it’s not that easy to be an actress and young director outside of L.A. It is the place to go if you want things to kick up a bit, and they did — I think we made the right move,” she said, though she revealed that eventually she and her husband hope to split time between Brooklyn and L.A.

Upon her visits back to Brooklyn, Slate looks forward to returning to several neighborhood haunts — among them Henry Public in Cobble Hill and Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens. She also looks forward to spending time at BookCourt — where this time, she will be in the spotlight.

The Oct. 26 event will begin at 11 a.m. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.

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