Interview: Jen Kirkman gets debriefed for 2009, but what has she done for Chelsea lately?

Jenkirkman Of all of the comedians who are part of Chelsea Handler's writer/roundtable circle, Jen Kirkman is perhaps the most interesting. Not just because I'd actually heard of her and heard her stand-up before seeing her on Chelsea Lately, but also because when I saw her more recently in Los Angeles, her stand-up offered something a little different from the rest. Here's a clip of Jen Kirkman via Candor (no embed, because that would be, what, too easy?). As 2009 comes to an end, I sat down at my computer and asked Kirkman some questions. She gladly obliged. This is what resulted from that!

Your chat with Marc Maron for his podcast was compelling. What kind of feedback did you get from fans and fellow comedians about revealing how you don't want to have kids, and/or going to therapy and taking medications to deal with people and the world?

First of all, thank you for finding it compelling. My fellow comedians and friends have known since they met me that I don’t want kids. I sort of defensively wear that posture on my sleeve, for better or for worse. And lots of them agree with that stance and the ones who don’t agree just procreate on their own and leave me alone about my choice. I think once you have kids you realize how hard it is & what a commitment it is. All of my friends with kids say to me, “If you know you don’t want them – good. Don’t have them. It’s hard and the only thing that makes it worthwhile is if you have always wanted to raise a child.” As for fans – any fans I have already know I don’t want kids. I’ve been talking about it in my act for a while. So, I assume they were just bored to tears. I did make some new fans from doing Marc’s show – some people emailed me to applaud me for my choice and my honesty about it. And some people emailed me and made comments on Marc’s message boards that I was a “creep” for not wanting kids. Someone said I was very selfish and that I watched too many Woody Allen movies as a kid. I beg to differ. I didn’t watch enough Woody Allen movies as a kid. I didn’t see my first Woody movie until I was 21. Perhaps if I had seen his stuff as a kid I wouldn’t have felt so alone in the world.

As for therapy and medications – my friends and fans already know that about me. And again a few new fans wrote to me to tell me that they related and then someone wrote Marc and he told me about it – they said I should give up wheat and then I wouldn’t panic on a plane. I can respectfully say – they are wrong. And just to make it clear – I don’t take medication to deal with the world. I find the world to be impossible to handle and because of that it makes it easy to handle because I resign myself to not trying to handle it. I only take Klonopin (an anti-anxiety pill) when I fly on airplanes to prevent panic attacks. And then pretend I had a funny sentence to cap this all off with.

I saw some of the TwitVids you shot in Australia during your brief week there with Chelsea Handler and the comedians of Chelsea Lately? Did you manage to get outside of office buildings and hotels and actually see some of Australia?

First of all – the best part of that office building was that it was the Foxtel studios in Sydney – and the floor we occupied was set up just like the set of The Office. There were people in cubicles about 10 feet away from us that had nothing to do with show business. All of a sudden, 12 very noisy and boundaryless Americans set up shop just desks away from them. They went from typing in silence to having to hear us yelling words like “pussy” and “fuck” and all kinds of things. The other great part was that there was a skin cancer screening clinic going on in a conference room just steps away from our desks. Whatever company worked on our floor was having screenings all week for their employees. (The hole in the ozone layer is pretty much directly over Sydney so they are really careful there about sun exposure.) And people would walk by our desks saying, “Is this where I get screened for skin cancer?” And the loveable idiot dudes I work with would always say, “Yeah, take off your clothes.” They were kidding and would never let it get to the point of people undressing but we forget in real life that the comment itself is offensive. And one of the girls in the office would always end up saying to the person, “He’s kidding. The skin cancer screening is that way. Sorry, we are Americans visiting on a stupid TV show.”

But yes, we did manage to not be in the building for at least 60 percent of the trip. We went out to great restaurants and pubs and clubs nightly. Australia is weird about drinking. If you go to a nightclub – they have security cameras that measure your every move, starting with watching you get out of a cab. A few times bouncers said to us, “You are too drunk to come in.” Every time that happened, none of us were drunk or even buzzed – sometimes we were completely sober. But if they saw you do anything weird getting out of a cab, they take it as a sign of intoxication and won’t let you in because they have trouble there with bar fights. So because we were stupid Americans who didn’t understand the Australian currency – we’d be exiting a cab and fumbling with our change, trying to read it, “Is this a dollar or a quarter?” Рthat type of stuff, which read as ‘drunk.’

We also got to take a yacht around Sydney Harbour for two days and that was the best. It’s a wealthy place. The architecture and real estate is insane there. Beautiful. Even the bad areas of town look like America’s good parts of town. I will say that the service at restaurants and bars is SLOOOOW. If you order a margarita – you might as well order two at once because it takes 25 minutes to get one and even longer to get the second.

You've been part of the comedy scenes in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. What did you learn from each of these city's comedy scenes, and how would you compare/contrast them for people who are just starting out in comedy?

I started comedy in Boston in 1996 and then quickly moved to NYC a year later. When I was in Boston there was one maintstream comedy club, The Comedy Connection. I performed there a couple times as part of various showcases and auditions but was never passed as a regular – because I was new and sucked, like every new comic does. But back then I was arrogant and thought I was great so I figured if I wasn’t passed at that club that I never would be – so I never tried again. Instead I met Eugene Mirman and he let me go up at the Green Street Grill, a small bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I went up every Thursday night on his show “The Lounge Soot”. It had a regular audience of misfits and dreamers and every week I’d sit on a stool and tell a story. I probably should have kept up that act because it was unique and organic but I moved to NYC and quickly became seduced by doing comedy the “right way.” (There is no right way.) But it took me 6 years to learn that. And by the right way – I thought it meant doing jokes and not revealing your inner most thoughts, quirks, ideas and etc. So I was kind of a mess. I wasn’t a great comic because I didn’t know who I was. I usually did okay at mainstream comedy clubs and I did a little better in “alternative” rooms like Luna Lounge. I had two different acts based on who was watching. The most organic act was the storytelling angry nerd who I let myself be at Luna. For some reason I thought that the way to succeed in mainstream clubs was to completely disguise who I was and just do “jokes.” It was literally like Rudolph in the old claymation special where he wears coal over his red nose and ends up sounding stuffed up and stupid. I should have let my red nose shine in clubs. In mainstream clubs there is less time and patience for one to ramble on and “tell a story” but I could have shaved down my Luna Lounge stories to their essence as jokes and done them in the clubs – but I didn’t.
I have no advice for young comics because they have advantages that I didn’t and I’m just an old idiot at this point. I started in the 1990’s – this was before people used the internet as regularly as they do now. There was no such thing as a message board. Nobody watched video on the internet. At that point I thought I could still build a career simply doing stand-up. I was on a sinking ship and I didn’t know it. And then a whole new generation of comedians who make videos and etc, blew by me. So many people that started 10 years after I did are doing just great – in ways that I’m not. And in ways I’m doing great too but my point is that I have a different frame of reference than they do. So I have no advice.
Moving to LA was great after living in NYC for four years. The crowds seemed easier here. When I moved here I remember thinking it was like I was biking uphill in NYC and then I moved to LA and did the same jokes and it felt like riding a bike with training wheels going downhill and yelling, “Wheee!” But it could be said the crowds are harder here because sometimes it’s just all industry in the crowd and they don’t laugh. But at least you know why they don’t laugh. In NYC there isn’t just one pat answer that makes sense. If the crowd doesn’t laugh in NYC – it’s usually your fault.

I also remember seeing you in "Acceptable TV," which if memory serves me right, was VH1's attempt to bring Channel 101 to actual TV. What do you take from that experience now, all these (2) years later?
Acceptable TV was a great moment in my life because it was the moment I got to quit my day job to be a real actress on TV and I’ve never had a day job since. But I realized that acting on a TV show that you don’t write yourself and only having that as your outlet can be as soul-crushing as temping. I realized that I have to always be doing my own voice in some capacity – so just being an actress on a show is not enough for me. I have to be appearing as myself or writing on said show – which is why Chelsea Lately is perfect for me. As for Acceptable TV, I got to work with Jack Black a bunch and just watch him as an actor and go to his acting coach as well. I just noticed his style and technique and what he did when he wasn’t acting was something I learned from as much as watching him act. Comedy actors are people who constantly want to have fun. It should never be taken too seriously or make you feel stressed out. I learned that from watching him. He never said as much and maybe that’s not even his feeling but he seemed to exude that and I’ll never forget it.

With the year ending, what do you see when you look back on how 2009 treated you? How do you think the year was for comedy in general?

2009 treated me ridiculously well. I have a great writing job on Chelsea Lately. I got closer with my friends at work. I got to be on TV a lot as a roundtable regular and in sketches on Chelsea. I got to be in the Comedians of Chelsea Lately special on TV – taped live at the Nokia Theatre – I usually perform in black box theatres and half-full clubs in L.A. not 2,000 seat theatres. My job on the show as well as in stand-up outside of the show took me to Vegas, DC, Texas, San Francisco, Australia & I got to vacation with my peers in Mexico. I got to do tons of stand-up at places I love in L.A. like the Improv, Laugh Factory, Largo & Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. I got to be a guest on my favorite podcasts; Comedy & Everything Else, Never Not Funny & WTF. I got married – got lots of material out of that. Just trying to keep it comedy related.

I think the year was great for comedy in general. The only thing that sucks is that it's just like how news works now — nobody sits and gets their info from Walter Cronkite. Nobody sits and watches their comedy in one place — so if you don't want to discover new comedic talent — you don't have to. You can just tune into what you already like. However there is a huge playing field now and good comedy is out there, all around — and no matter how much technology takes over, it's still friends telling their friends, "Have you seen/heard this?" that gets things going — and that is still exciting.

And what are you hoping 2010 holds for both your career personally, as well as for the rest of us in comedy?

As for 2010 — I only hope for continued and expanded peace of mind for myself, happiness for my husband and me, and I want a book deal. I'm working on it. I'm excited because the new Drunk History I narrated (drunkenly) starring Will Ferrell & Don Cheadle comes out on HBO this year…(not sure of the date). Of course, I want to continue working on Chelsea Lately — continue to tour the country doing stand-up and I want to travel personally and professionally. I have my sets set on something South of France-y or Mediterranean as well as something Caribbean-y. Now I'm just saying shit trying to manifest it. I don't want to perform in the above places, I want to lay on a beach.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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