Jen Kirkman does not want to talk about the notion of “women in comedy.” Good, because I don’t want to either. We have a Q & A set up about her upcoming Off-JFL show,, which starts Monday, July 20 at the Wiggle Room and I have been asked to avoid the whole “are women funny” debate. Nooooo problem. The more that tired old topic fades into the background, the better off we’ll all be. There is a hell of a lot of other stuff to discuss anyway; how her current tour is going, her Netflix Special and who she most wants to see perform at JFL.
A brief background: Jen Kirkman is a Boston-born, Los Angeles–based stand-up comedian, author, and podcaster whose special “I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)” has just been released on Netflix. You’ve seen her on Drunk History and Chelsea Lately and on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan and The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson. Her book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life without Kids is a New York Times best seller.
I caught up with Jen while she was en route from Detroit to Cincinnati on her tour, which started on July 7 and has her performing every single night until her Off-JFL run ends on July 25. Despite everything she has going on, she responds to my questions in mere hours with eloquence and honesty. She is genuine, she is confident, she likes David Bowie and holy shit I want to be her friend
Andrea Stanford (AS): This week in Montreal is capping off quite a tour – you’ve been on the road since early July. How has that been going?
Jen Kirkman (JK): The tour has been great. I’m exhausted but get reinvigorated on stage each night. The crowds have been coming out big and a few highlights have to do with the people I meet. I met a 15-year-old punk rock feminist boy who came with his dad who is my age. I love that I reach him somehow. Or this guy in Iowa who says he works in a warehouse and listens to my podcast (I Seem Fun: The Diary of Jen Kirkman), More than a few women have called me their Spirit Animal based on what I’m now talking about on stage, which is a lot about people not understanding how to talk to women about who they are except in cliches.
AS:What can Montreal audiences expect from your show?
JK: They can expect a more one-woman show version of my Netflix special. It’s a night of fast jokes but stories as well. Lots from the Netflix special but told in a more narrative and theatrical way. It’s the same show I performed for a month at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year.
AS: In your “I’m going to die alone” special on Netflix, you deal with divorce, turning 40 and not wanting kids and it’s all delivered in a strong, relatable way (i.e there’s no preachy bravado or “I’m-such-a-mess” undertones). Is it cathartic to be so personal?
JK: Thanks for saying that. I never want bravado because my message is that I am just me being me, just like someone married with kids is them being them. I’m not some spokeswoman for child-free or unmarried and certainly not for the single because, with the exception of the times I choose to take a break from dating, I always have some kind of boyfriend or man in my life. I don’t know what word to use. I’m not a nun. It’s just that I am picky and don’t like the average normal guy. My tastes are really eclectic and usually only 0.01% of the population has what I need. When I find it I lock in and have fun for as long as we can. I can always write jokes about being single because I’ve been single, but people read way too much into them because they do think I’m preaching being alone or that I am a mess. What’s a mess exactly about me? I don’t think I am. I’m really happy
AS: Your special starts with you talking about turning 40 and dealing with the all of the changes that brings. Now that you’re a little bit further into 40, are you finding your mindset has changed (i.e. are you more zen about stuff? Stronger in your convictions?)
JK: Well I never didn’t have a zen attitude. On stage I am performing. Nothing is funny about me behaving like I’m all good with how judgmental people can be or how strangers tell me to consider getting married again. So when I am on stage, I turn up the angst or else I would be a crappy comic. It’s a show! In real life I am neurotic and of course angry – just at anything, really. I just got angry at a sequined sweatshirt in the Detroit airport. But the way I’ve always lived my life is to take what comes and to do what I love because it fulfills my heart and just hope the money follows. Turning 40 didn’t flip me out. I found the reality of finding a gray pubic hair funny and also very striking as a reminder that as young as I feel my body is changing and my plan is to continue to laugh through it.
Ironically, the only time in my life I wasn’t zen was when I got married. I thought it would make me normal, but then I had a mini freak-out for a couple of years. Divorce hasn’t been good for me because now I’m espousing some swinging single lifestyle. It’s been good because I removed myself from a lifestyle that went against my dreams, that wasn’t fair to someone else and that was making me despondent. People can sometimes act too trite about it and make it seem like I did it to start over my life or have sex with other people. I did it to finally get back to who I always thought I was: an adventurous individual who is multi-faceted and complex. Not alone. I don’t feel alone in the world at all. I felt alone when I was married. And that has nothing to do with my ex and everything to do with how that lifestyle didn’t enhance my life.
I feel like part of why your comedy works so well is that exude an “I’ll be bloody FINE” vibe while you are delivering your material. You must get a ton of audience members wanting to share their similar experiences of well-intentioned friends wanting to “help” them. What’s more annoying to you: smug marrieds trying to set you up or smug parents trying to convince you that you really do want kids?
JK: Thank you. It’s like you know me! I hate being set up. I had two married friends recently text me that they want me to have dinner with them and some single men. They didn’t even think to ask if I am available for that. They assume because I’m traveling that I am alone, but travel is how I meet people. They are trying to set me up and assuming I am alone, but I have been involved with a man for months and they don’t know because they don’t ask! As for kids, nobody bothers me about that anymore. I’m too old. Thank GOD.
AS: You have a strong online presence and don’t cower behind safe, neutral tweets. How do you deal with the douchebags who make stupid statements while hiding behind some anonymous handle like “bigdick77”?
JK: I block people and move on. But when I want to teach some feminist concepts I use Twitter to help correct some sexist mind sets some young men might have – and I do it publicly because young women thank me for it all the time. So I do it for them to read.
AS: Your venue here in Montreal is the gorgeous, red-velveted Wiggle Room – Montreal’s première venue for burlesque entertainment and a venue known for bartenders inventing cocktails. If they made a signature cocktail for you, what would you name it?
JK: My signature cocktail would be named “Make That a Thing Quietly Please I Am Performing Up Here.” Also, I hate the whole comedians and alcohol thing so as often as I can, I emphasize I like to drink a glass of wine once in a while. Drunk history aside, I’m not your drinking friend who is a mess. That ain’t my vibe. I’m your boring friend who goes to bed.
AS: Finally, is there anyone you would really like to see perform here at JFL?
JK: Dave fucking Chapelle.
Jen Kirkman’s show is at The Wiggle Room from July 20-25 as part of Off Just For Laughs at 9:30 p.m. $21-24. Get tickets HERE.