Jen Kirkman Wants You to Stop Comparing Her to Louis CK and Chelsea Handler
Jen Kirkman plays two sets at FilmBar in Phoenix on June 20.
Robyn Van Swank
Jen Kirkman would like to talk about death now, please.
The comedian recently released her first-ever Netflix special, titled I'm Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine). It opens with a sketch featuring a woman, an old friend of Jen's, bringing her young son backstage. What ensues is a perfectly annoying encounter between a woman trying to extoll the virtues of motherhood and having a family while coddling her terrible and thirsty kid, whose spirit just might be crushed if there is not juice in the surrounding vicinity.
It's people like this who assume Kirkman's sad because she's single, unhappily divorced, and bummed because doesn't have kids. But, once she takes the stage, she explains that the single life beats marriage by a longshot — even if she is absolutely terrified of dying alone and will only take her horse-pill vitamins in public. Inspired by people's fears and her own, the special includes her hilariously macabre takes on unabashed human stupidity, the awfulness of weddings, and why having a husband and a bunch of children still won't guarantee that any of them will bear witness to your death. You're going to die. A cat might eat your face. And, really, what can you do?
Kirkman has worked in comedy for 18 years, and her credits include writing for and appearing on Chelsea Handler's talk show Chelsea Lately, as well as After Lately. You might also recognize her as a regular from Drunk History (she took on the stories of Edith Wilson and Mary Dyer), and as the voice of multiple characters on Home Movies, including Nurse Kirkman. She caught up with New Times by phone before her June 20 performances at FilmBar to talk about her new special (and newer material), why everyone should stop being afraid of dying alone, and why she'd like it if people stopped comparing her to Chelsea Handler and Louis C.K.
Congrats on the new special. Netflix is like the new Comedy Central. It’s crazy.
I know. It’s great. I would say they’re more like the new HBO — because HBO is where you can see the unedited stand-up as it should be, without censorship or commercials. I think it's great. I’ve had so many people see it — just the way their whole system works, where they have you advertised right there when you turn on Netflix and then if you watch someone else’s comedy special they may recommend yours. It just works so well. I’m really glad I did it with them.
It’s great because it’s just there — it’s already in people’s homes. What’s that been like as a comedian?
I like it. I was a little nervous before it came out. I’m not nervous before live shows because I feel there's an understanding with everybody in the room with you: they’ve all been there, they know what's happening. There’s a nice vibe. You never know how someone's going to respond when they’re watching you on TV. So when people asked me, “Are you excited for it come out?” I thought, “Not 100 percent.” I mean, I’m excited if it all goes well when it comes out, yes. But the more people that see you, that’s more people that... could possibly not like what you do.
But I really feel they’ve targeted comedy fans, so I have a lot more diehard comedy fans who didn’t know who I was before who have found me.
There have been so many high-profile comedians [releasing Netflix specials] — Chelsea Handler, Aziz Ansari, Louis C.K. — it’s huge… I feel like Chelsea and Louie, they both come up so much when people talk about your comedy. How do you feel about those comparisons? I mean, obviously, you’ve worked with Chelsea.
I mean, I understand the comparisons to both of them. They both have an element of storytelling. They both talk honestly about their lives. I think for me, comparisons bum me out only because I started 18 years ago and I didn’t know who either of them was. I’ve always been me, and if we all are similar that’s just sort of the way it goes.
I worked for Chelsea and I know her so well. So I know that, not in a bad way, we are nothing alike. And so I get bummed out [because] I just don’t want to be compared to anybody. I’ve been doing it for so long. It’s funny, it’s like, I wrote for Chelsea and yet people think I’m ripping her off. And I think people will just make that comparison because two women are doing comedy. But, I don’t mind being in that company in terms of talent and all that... I think all of our styles are wildly different, but perhaps the one through-line is the honest confessions about our thoughts and our behavior and our life.
I’m curious... why do you think people are so afraid of dying alone?
I don’t know! By the way, I am terrified of it. [laughs] The part where I say “and I feel fine” is completely a joke. But I guess what I meant by "I feel fine" is I have to accept, as does everyone, that that’s a possibility. I have to accept that even if you get married and have 10 kids, they just may not be there on that final day.
Well, that's what I was going to say. You can’t guarantee — you could die anytime. You can’t guarantee an audience.
I also think, listen, if I’m dying in the hospital on a morphine drip, I might think that the cactus plant next to my bed is a loved one. You won’t even know what’s happening. I really think that people shouldn’t be worried about if they’re going to die alone. They should be worried about if they’re not going to die in a hospital with some nice drugs. That’s the fear. It’s like, choking on a sandwich. I can think of horrible ways [to die]. You’re on an elevator and you choke on a sandwich and you’re on a really long ride, you’re going to the 50th floor. I think of weird things like that. Like, I would like to avoid that today.
[Laughs] Yeah, definitely. I also enjoyed the sketches at the beginning and end [of the special]. Do you encounter a lot of people with absolutely terrible children?
Well, that sketch was more to illustrate that friendships change as one person has kids and one doesn’t. The times when I see my friends with kids are always so rushed. We’re talking in front of the kid. You have to have these intimate conversations while the kid is there. Or they might come into my environment and not understand that now is not the time to bring the child. I liked that that kid, we instructed him to just go wild and act crazy, because I wanted to show that this helicopter mom who thought her kid was a genius. “Oh no, he can handle anything you have to say.” I wanted to show, your weird parenting is not working. To me, it’s not the kids that are awful. It’s the parents who insist that anyone who is not having a child must be miserable, lonely, that kind of thing.
You mention that you’re not necessarily against marriage, but you are staunchly anti-wedding. I'm wondering, what’s the worst wedding you’ve ever been to?
Um, I’m gonna say my own [laughs] because I was having so many doubts and I felt like a stranger at my own wedding. I felt really strange. It was such a lovely day, and I just remember there was a lot of love in the room. It wasn’t necessarily romantic love, but I had all my friends and family. And it really was — I joke about it in the set — but it really was like a nice big party. I just felt kind of like a fraud because my doubts were so heavy and it was weighing on me. So that is my serious, not-so-funny answer.
And then I think... I went to a beach wedding once. I won’t say who it is. Those are overrated. You cannot get married on a beach unless you’re getting married somewhere in the tropics where there is no wind. Don’t get married on a beach in Massachusetts. It’s windy. It is cold. It’s always colder at the beach. Everyone remember that when you have your beach wedding.
And I feel like people should be allowed to wear shoes. People should not have to be barefoot at your wedding. I think that’s an unreasonable request.
Exactly, yeah, and they should also not have to dress up if they’re just going to get sand on something they have to dry-clean. I think a beach wedding is a little overrated — unless it’s totally tropical and you’re paying for everyone to be there.
Yeah, I think you kinda have to do that. So, what’s next for you? You have another book coming next year, right?
Yeah, I just finished doing my second book, it’s called I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself. So that will be out in April. Right now, this year, I’m just touring constantly. And the material I’m touring with is different from the Netflix special so people won’t be bored. There might be a couple jokes similar, but mostly new. And that’s it! I mean, not that’s it. Then, I’ll start gearing up for the book tour next year.
Material-wise, what can we expect this year?
I’m working on a lot of stories about me interacting with people when I travel, some road rage incidents. I have some stories about some moments of being single, stories about men who just want to be friends, and that’s a confusing new thing in the world to me, stories about my family, and I’ll probably have a couple more stories about sort of the same themes I’ve touched on, but a different situation.
Do you have road rage?
I don’t have it normally. I did have it this one day and it scared me because I try to meditate. And this one day that I actually meditated I went into a huge road rage later. And I was like, "Oh my god, that’s what happens after meditation? What if I hadn’t?" And it’s this really funny story about getting in an argument with the guy that was driving next to me. We just kept driving next to each other and arguing. It was epic in the true definition of the word where it went on and on [laughs]. Normally, I don’t have road rage. Normally, I just sing in my car.
"I think for me, comparisons bum me out only because I started 18 years ago and I didn’t know who either of them was. So I’ve always been me, and if we all are similar that’s just sort of the way it goes."
Robyn Van Swank
What have you been listening to lately?
This is so embarrassing, because I'm 41 almost and I’m still talking about Madonna. But: Madonna. I love her new album. And I've been a fan since I was a kid. And I just think her new album is great. The type of music it is, the type of pop it is isn’t normally my kind of music, but I think she just nails it. I think it’s so sophisticated and sexy and one of her best. So I’ve been listening to that nonstop. And dancing in my car, which is probably dangerous, but at least I’m not texting.
It’s better than having road rage.
Yes, Madonna keeps my road rage at bay. [Laughs]
Any specifics about the book you can share or the tour?
I’m gonna have a book tour... in the past I would do stand-up at comedy clubs and have booksellers from local bookstores come and sell books. I think what I might do next year is something a little different. Maybe I’ll tour where it’s very specific to the book. I’ll tell stories and maybe read a chapter from the book and do a Q&A. This book is about divorce, turning 40, living on my own, dating adventures, traveling the world by myself, family, dealing with family as they get older. It’ll cover a lot of different themes.
I read it’s sort-of advice?
There’s no advice really. I think it started off that way, but as I was writing it I realized I don’t have any advice for anyone. I don’t know what I’m doing. There are little pages of advice here and there. I tell people what not to say to newly divorced people. I give people advice [on what to do] right before they get married. And then I have a chapter on how to stay home on New Year’s Eve and really own it. But that’s it. That’s the only advice you’ll get from me. Otherwise, no one should listen to any advice I ever give them.
Jen Kirkman performs at 7:30 and 10 p.m. at FilmBar on Saturday, June 20. Tickets are $12 to $15 and available via www.thefilmbarphx.com.
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