Interview with Jen Kirkman… Organized Traveler and Comedian

All photos by Robyn Von Swank. Used with permission

Jen Kirkman is back on tour this year with all new material. Kirkman will be appearing at the newly-remodeled Variety Playhouse on November 3, 2017. For tickets and a complete list of tour dates, be sure to visit Jen Kirkman’s website.

The tour features Kirkman telling new stories and jokes you haven’t seen on her Netflix specials. Don’t worry, It’s not all about Trump. Why talk about him when Kirkman can talk about herself and her year of seeing fraudulent spiritual healers, holidays without family, being accused of not being “woke” by young people, and tales of when she was a young obnoxious third-party voter, and pretentious hater of pop culture?

Jen Kirkman is a national and internationally touring stand-up comedian. Her 2015 Netflix Original Comedy Special “I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)” was named one of the Top 10 comedy specials of 2015 by Time Out New York, New York Magazine, and The Atlantic. Her most recent Netflix Original Comedy Special, “Just Keep Livin’?” began streaming worldwide as of January 3rd, 2017.

Jen was a long-time writer and roundtable guest on “Chelsea Lately”, and is also well known for being a five-time narrator of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” She’s a regular guest on “CONAN” and Comedy Central’s “@Midnight.” Jen has appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”, “The View”, “The Wendy Williams Show”, “Harry”, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and voiced many characters Cartoon Network cult-hit “Home Movies.” She’ll be appearing in the upcoming feature film “Home Again.”

Recently she talked to TAM.

First off thank you for agreeing to this interview, I know your time is precious.

Oh Sure.

Thank you for all the funny laughs and all the “Phineas and Ferb” …

*laughs* I really didn’t do as much on that as people think. For some reason, that show credits you as a writer of an entire episode even though I just sat in on some stuff and suggested things and I came up with an idea for one episode. People are like “you wrote that!” and I am like “no, no, no!”

I have a daughter who runs an open mic night here in Atlanta… young comedians getting started are important to me. How did you know you were ready, and how did you pursue being a comic?

I love that your daughter is doing that and that you are supportive of it. That is really cool. A lot of comics I know are still fighting the battle of their parents’ disapproval in their heads. And these are old comics — almost 50. Not that that is old, but it is a long time to be struggling.

I don’t think I am so funny that the world needs to hear this. I always wanted to be an actress. There was this feeling that made itself known inside me. If I read a book about a chef, I didn’t want to be a chef, but I appreciate the story. I started reading biographies of standups…Roseanne Barr, Joan Rivers…and something about their stories was appealing to me even in the crappy parts and I thought, Yeah, I want this. And I started listening to Lenny Bruce records and thinking “Yes! I want to do this.” Then I saw my first stand-up show in Boston, I thought I cannot just passively sit here as an audience member, I need to do this. I WANT to do this. It was not like “Oh, I think I am funny,” it was just “I have to do this.”

It’s almost the truest thing that when you try to be serious, it’s when you are the funniest. When someone is yelling at you and you want to crack up. I thought I was a serious actress and my friends were “you are actually funny.” I said “no, I am not. I am dramatic.”

I think that what is funny about me is that I mean what I say, and I am very passionate.” Then I started to see what other people saw in me. And by other people, I mean my friends. Just as I was leaving college, maybe 20 or 21, I knew. Oh, God…this is not going to die down. This is what I want to do.

You talked about Roseanne Barr and Joan Rivers, but what other comedians influenced you as you were starting out or even now?

When you are started out you want to be as original as possible, but you can’t reinvent the wheel. I am a composite of a lot of different people, but I didn’t realize it when I was starting.

I had someone years ago say I remind them a lot of Richard Lewis, whom I had watched growing up. Lewis was in the air, and I think that got in me somehow. But, I thought I was Lenny Bruce. I am sitting on the stool, smoking, “telling it like it is” and I wasn’t Lenny Bruce. I was terrible. But, I thought I was Lenny Bruce.

The audiences let me know right away, “You are NOT Lenny Bruce, Honey!”

Nothing you do where you act like someone else is going to get any laughs.

David Spade is not someone a lot of people reference, but a few years into doing stand-up, I watched Spade’s HBO special, “Take a Hit.” He told personal stories about growing up and not fitting in. Wearing these weird things his mother made. And I just thought, “Hell, yes, I have stories like that.” That’s the kind of stuff I talk about. He didn’t influence me, but he let me know I could keep doing what I was doing. This is good. I am on the right track.

Norm MacDonald is the first standup I ever saw live. Just by the virtue of seeing him, he influenced me but I am nothing like him…obviously.

There were all these weird things and as I got older, no one really influences me. People inspire me. But it usually doesn’t have to do with their performance…I think it (comedy) is not like jazz where you take a little from here and add your own. I think the art of standup is style. Usually, the people we like are nothing like us. If that makes sense.

I understand completely because I am an awful stand-up. I can make people laugh, but I can’t do a set. One of the things about doing what you do is that you spend a lot of time on the road. Performing is what you are there for, and it is a thrill, but how do you deal with the rest of being on the road?

I am really organized and really good at taking care of myself. I had some vocal cord issues two years ago and it changed how I live my life and the way I do things. So, I have a very strict road regime. When I am on the road, I call it my “warrior mode.” I don’t eat certain things. Don’t drink. Don’t go out after the shows. I stay quiet the whole day, only speaking when I am at the show. And I love it. I get into this military thing and even if I change cities every day, it does not throw me off. No one can bother me. It is very regimented. There are no surprises.

When I am on the road, I call it my “warrior mode.” I don’t eat certain things, don’t drink, and don’t go out after the shows. I stay quiet the whole day, only speaking when I am at the show. And I love it. I get into this military thing and even if I change cities every day, it does not throw me off. No one can bother me. It is very regimented. There are no surprises.

I also have a career as someone who writes for TV or writes my own shows. When I am not on the road, like now I am in LA pitching different tv show ideas, I am working on this and working on that. I will get an email that the meeting is today instead of next week, and I LOSE MY MIND. The hard part of doing other things is other people’s schedules and now this is that and “here are some notes,” and I am not in control of my day.

When I am on the road, I am in total control. I have no other jobs to do. And the flight is at this time and this is at this time. It seems chaotic to others, but to me it makes so much sense. When I am home and emails are coming in and things are being moved around–it seems to me just chaotic. I don’t know how other people live that way.

My friend Matt B. Davis says he knows you. Is this true or is he lying to me?

MATTHEW DAVIS! Oh, sure! I probably haven’t seen him in …12? 12 years? 10 years?

Now that I know Matt was telling the truth, let’s talk about the Variety Playhouse. What should people expect to see?

I have never been to the Variety Playhouse!

It’s Amazing!

Good! The audience can expect, as I promised, all new material. I am not touring on the Netflix special. There may be one bit from the special, but the rest will be new. I mean I might use a strong closer. There will be jokes, stories…very conversational stand-up about the past year has been like.

I am diving into an area more about feelings than I am about political circumstances. So, my feelings about the election. How I spent election night, (which was changing the channel to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie), and a lot of rabbit holes I go down, and my love for terrible made-for-TV movies.

I talk a lot about different ways I dealt with anxiety this year that were different. And I saw a lot of whacky healers that weren’t whacky because they were healers, but because it was their second job and they were not able to really heal.

A lot of stuff like that. A lot of stories about childhood, growing up, with parents that overly warned me about the possibility of nuclear war. Growing up a really neurotic kid afraid of nuclear war, having a fear of flying, and then relating those stories to today, where everyone is afraid of North Korea, but I got all my worrying out of the way.

There is a lot of stuff about what is going on the in the world, but as always, filtered through my very selfish personal lens.

Jen, allow me to tag back to something you mentioned. The Hallmark Christmas Movie– did it have Danica Mckellers in it?

You would think it would, she is always the star! But, I think it was the other one who is always in them: Candace Cameron Burress.

They are my background music when I work.

The Hallmark movies?

Only the Christmas movies. I would have 8 of them on the DVR and I would sit and work with them running in the background.

ME TOO! THAT IS WHAT I DO! They are always on. From the minute they start in October of November. 100% The greatest!

I always hope she becomes a princess. I always do. And she does!

*Jen laughs*

Oh, that is a great one! The mother of the prince doesn’t like her. Because she’s not classy.

Okay, last question about your standup. You, in your Netflix show, included a story about going on a second date and then finding out that the guy has a girlfriend when he lets it slip. Was that a true story?

No. That story is highly exaggerated. That’s a story from about five years ago, and I was using it to make fun of male feminists.

Now would be a better time to do that bit with Joss Whedon’s wife. She recently wrote an open letter that he was not a great feminist person. There was a lot of backlash against women from male liberals that felt voting for Hillary meant you were not a feminist. I didn’t want to put it in context with the election and I didn’t want to talk about the internet. I always try to make it personal.

A lot of guys I know who are feminists have girlfriends, but they love to spend time with women at night, drinking.

You know what? I know you are a feminist, but you are not being great to your girlfriend right now. Why don’t you start at home with your feminism?

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