Jen Kirkman on Love, Death and Lawrence Welk
Known for multiple appearances on Drunk History — and yes, she really was drunk, or so she claims — sarcastic comic Jen Kirkman is best known for her appearances on Chelsea Lately. She’s also written books and released two comedy albums, 2006’s Self Help and 2011’s Hail to the Freaks. And she puts out her own podcast, I Seem Fun: The Diary Of Jen Kirkman. No wonder she’s on vocal rest. Here, she responds to a few questions via email.
You were the youngest of three sisters. Did that have any effect on your development as a comic?
I’m sure it did – just like I’m sure that anything we do as children has a profound effect on who we become as adults. But I don’t have any of those (what I find annoying) and overly linear, logical stories that I hear people tell on press circuits like, “I was the youngest! I had to get attention from my family so I made them laugh at dinner. That was my first big break!” My sisters are ten and fourteen years older than me so by the time I was five and what I consider a fully conscious human – they were basically adults. I wasn’t around kids a lot at home, only at school. Everyone in my family seemed grown up. I was welcomed from day one but I was aware that I was joining a tribe that had already been in progress. I had a feeling of that I was incredibly special and I was aware that I changed our course as a family. (That kind of insane ego is probably needed to start comedy.) I wanted to be taken seriously as an adult – even as a kid. The last thing I was trying to act like was a clown. I was trying to act intuitive and smart—two qualities that I think make a comedian. So, sure in some way I bet all of that lead to me pursuing a craft that is ALL about reading a room and making grownups listen. But in no way, did I know that at the time.
At what point did you become conscious of the distinctive sound of your voice?
Do you mean my speaking voice? Well, I’m very conscious of it right now because I have vocal nodules . . . that’s what causes my rasp. I always sounded like I had a stuffy nose when I was a kid. My voice was always husky. I have asthma, which I’m learning lead to me breathe a certain way which lead to me expel air a certain way when talking. Touring created vocal nodules, so right now I hate my voice. I am constantly told I have a cool voice and I just want to yell, “It’s a damaged voice! I’m in voice therapy! I have to get rid of these nodules!” But I can’t yell. So I suffer in silence. #lol
If you could go back in time and provide the voice for an animated character, who would it be?
Lisa Simpson! I WANT THAT MONEY!
Talk about the comedians that you consider influences.
I wish I could but I can’t. It was never that linear for me. I’ve said in other interviews the first comedian I saw live on stage was Anthony Clark in the 1990s but I didn’t look to ape other comedians. Every year of my life as a comic the people right in front of me influence me. I watch my peers take chances on stage, or work obsessively, or really hone their every word. Even people who don’t do comedy the way I do can inspire me. I think inspire is more where it’s at than influence.
How does Morrissey figure into the equation?
Morrissey was a very unconscious—now super conscious—figure in my life. I always thought his lyrics were hilarious . . . even the ones where he’s in bed hoping to die. It was refreshing and honest and FEELING. I’m in no way trying to emulate him but now I see I have some of the same misunderstandings he does and it only makes sense that I listened to his music obsessively for a decade before I started comedy. Just calling my special, “I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)” is a total Moz move and I’ve had to suffer through lots of pity from people who don’t get that it’s a funny title that applies to ALL OF US, even the most loved.
Would a Smiths’ reunion rule or suck?
It would suck. I love Johnny Marr but for me it’s all about Morrissey. Let’s not act like the bassist and drummer playing live themselves add much except nostalgia. When Moz plays Smiths songs with his current band live it’s all I need.
At what point did you start identifying as a feminist?
Always. I’m a woman in the world and I’ve always been aware of my experience. I started identifying as a feminist around the same time I started identifying as not a racist, not an anti-Semite, not a homophobe and not a sociopath.
Talk about what your first stand-up experience was like.
It was great actually, which is why I probably kept going back for more. I had just met the hilarious Eugene Mirman at an audition in Boston and he told me he ran a booked open mic at a place called the Green Street Grill in Cambridge, MA. I went on stage and told an improvised story about virginity. I was sitting on a stool and smoking a cigarette at the same time. I was an asshole, but a loveable one. People laughed and more importantly said they related to it. I went back every week after that. I’d found my place.
How did you end up working on Chelsea Lately and what was that experience like?
This I promise is a boring story. I simply wrote a sample packed – it’s really the only way anyone ever gets a writing job. I wrote basically two monologues and lots of late night jokes and they liked it. I had a job interview and two days after the interview was told I got the job. I was in Cleveland when I found out. I was featuring for Maria Bamford at Hilarities back in 2008 when I got the call. I canceled my spot on the Sunday night show and hit the desk on Monday. It was a great experience working there that gave me everything I have now including my great health insurance.
How’d you first get involved with Drunk History and what do you enjoy about doing the show?
Derek Waters is a friend of mine and in real life. We have gotten drunk together and he asked me to do his little web show. I did it and he’s credited me with helping it shape the direction for future narrators—meaning being really passionate about the story you tell and acting it out wildly. I enjoy being part of something that’s so crazy unique and actually ends up doing some good. I do NOT enjoy the hangovers. They are brutal and way different at 40 than they were at 33. I’ve been involved with every incarnation of this show for almost ten years.
How drunk did you get for the tapings?
Black out drunk (off of two bottles of wine) every single time (5 times). But I only puked once.
You’re now 41. You say you’re happy to be single and you’re not afraid to die alone. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about romantic relationships?
People infer a lot that I’m perpetually single and loving it. Those were just some jokes I told in my special about what it’s like when I am single. I talk about every phase I’m in but the “single” one seemed to stick and that haunt me now. I’m usually not “single” as in “alone.” I always have been lucky in love and flings. But I am legally single, meaning not married, and that’s what I try to call attention to. If I say I’m “married” people get what that means and they smile and assume I’m having a happy life, which wasn’t true when I was married. If I say I am “single” people pity me—but single can me ANYTHING. It can me you’re a slut, it can mean you’re celibate for religious reasons, it can mean you have two boyfriends, it can mean you live with someone, or it can mean you don’t want romance and are focusing by choice on other things. It just means not legally married. I’m in a relationship now and have been for six months and one thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t make you who you are. It doesn’t make you loveable and or worthy. You already are all of those things.
What material have you worked up for the Cleveland/Columbus/Pittsburgh/Vegas tour?
There will be PLENTY of new material that hasn’t been seen on my special. The special is material I have previously toured with so this time. Everyone should be delighted by all new tales of interactions with a stranger in a truck, love, death . . . the usual.
Upcoming 2015 Shows
Grog Shop (Cleveland, OH)
Woodlands Tavern (Columbus, OH)
The Rex Theatre (Pittsburgh, PA)
“Lipshtick” at the Venetian (Las Vegas)