A New York Times
bestselling author (she’s written two memoirs, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself
and I Know What I’m Doing
), comedian Jen Kirkman honed her comedic skills while working for many years as a writer and guest on Chelsea Lately
The sarcastic comic likes to make fun of the fact that she doesn't have children and that she's embraced a “not-so-conventional life after 40.” This past year, she’s had a run-in with “fraudulent” spiritual healers and been accused of not being “woke.” These experiences will make up some of the material in her new stand-up show, dubbed the All New Material Girl tour, that she brings to town next week.
Kirkman, who performs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at Hilarities, recently spoke to us via phone from her Los Angeles home.
What’s it like to be a comedian given the current political climate?
I have to be honest, it’s not much different. Well, I don’t do your day-to-day late-night monologue jokes. I’m trying to work on my next special, so I can’t do any of that. To me, it’s ruined everything. You don’t have to address literally what’s going on every day, but it’s like the elephant in the room. There’s an understanding when you go to see comedy when times are good that we all have problems and the world isn’t perfect, but let’s go laugh at this comedian who’s really upset about parking. But now, you can’t launch into your stuff without acknowledging that other things are going on. In a way, it’s made me think about what’s important. I often ask myself, “How will this make me look? Will I look like some white privileged white woman who doesn’t live in the world where other people are suffering?” It’s good in that way. To me, I don’t notice much difference. I don’t know how to explain why, but I think because my comedy is so personal. I talk about what I did the night of the election and how I was really bummed the night of the election. I talk about nuclear weapons. I’ve had that bit for a long time. I have a giant bit about my family telling me the world is going to end. The only challenge is other things. Will there be a Nazi rally in town that day? You have to think about things like that now. I didn’t see that coming.
You majored in acting when you were in college. How has that helped your comedy?
Joan Rivers would love you for that question. She used to say that comedians are actors. I don’t know how it helps. I think there’s a lot of crossover for one. You learn how to just be comfortable on stage. [I learned] everything from projecting your voice to the reality that we have to behave like we haven’t said this 400 times. I don’t think we’re trying to fool people, but it shouldn’t sound like, “I say this every fucking night.” Then, there’s the little things. If you’re really angry about something and you have to talk about it on stage, you have to finesse your behavior. You can’t be screaming and yelling because people get scared. I think some form of theatrics has really helped me. This year, my stuff is more theatrical than it’s been.
You have all-new material on this tour. Is that true?
Every tour is all-new material in terms of the audience has never seen it. I just called it this because it’s not my Netflix special. That’s a big question. It’s like music. You have a new album and you go on tour and play that album. In comedy, it would be like, “What kind of jerk are you trying to say things we’ve already seen on TV.” I feel like I have to be very clear and let people know you’ll hear something you haven’t heard.
What was it like to turn 40?
It’s really funny. I couldn’t think of anything to do because my birthday is at the worst time of year. It’s at the end of August. People are always away for that weekend. I had a good friend say, “What are you doing for my fortieth.” I looked at her and said, “What are you doing for my fortieth?” Once I realized nothing was happening, I got this really cool offer to do a festival in Lund, Sweden. It’s a cool progressive town. I would be performing on my 40th. I took the gig and it was the greatest. It was great. On two weeks notice, I went to Sweden and I ran into an American comedian who spoke Swedish and convinced the hotel lobby to give us bottles of champagne. We drank champagne at midnight. I didn’t know those people. That’s the life that I like living. At any minute, I could be off meeting new people and doing something I never planned. It worked out perfectly.
You’ve been accused of not being “woke.” What’s that about?
It’s not just one incident. It’s constant. Well, my friend put it perfectly. My friend has a teenage son. You don’t have a teenage son so you’re not experiencing this. She says she experiences it every day. My friend is a huge feminist and she’s compassionate and liberal. I just get accused of young people who think I’m the problem. I’ve been told it was my generation that caused global warming. I’m like, “Guys, we’re in this together. It’s the Baby Boomers fault.” I have people tell me that I don’t have college debt so I don’t understand them. I think they think I’m so old that my college education only cost a penny. I thought the same thing when I was their age, but I didn’t have the Internet so I couldn’t tell them all the wrong things I thought about them. I like to wear a lot of fake fur. I have these stupid funny coats. They’re in style. Everyone has them. This guy comes up to me after a show and asks if I had real fur or fake. I told him it was fake. He says, “You just want to look like you support abusing animals.” I was like, “Oh God. Welcome to the new young people.” It’s not even political correctness. I’m okay with that and learning what words not to say. And he was wearing leather shoes. I couldn’t even handle it. I think it’s just happening, and I’m just becoming a grown up and I’m realizing people think I’m old and establishment.
Perhaps young people don’t know the difference between Baby Boomers and Generation X.
They don’t need to know. They’re busy being “woke.” I do tell millennials that the nickname and the mean nickname for their generation are the same thing. I’m a Gen Xer, but “slacker” was my nickname.
You’re 43 now. Have you thought about what turning 50 will be like?
I thought a lot about it. Us ladies have a special gift that you men don’t have. It’s called menopause. My doctor informed me that I would be hitting it at around 50. I wonder what it will be like to perform with hot flashes. I’m wondering how bad they’ll be and if I’ll be traveling with ice packs. I think each year that I’ve gotten older, mentally and emotionally things have gotten better. It feels really good to get older. My grandmother used to tell me, “Jennifer, when you get older, you feel so good. But it’s like you’re a mind trapped in a body that doesn’t work anymore.” That’s what’s terrible about it. Fifty will be fine. But what’s 80 going to be like? I’m worrying about that currently. I’ll still be doing standup at 50 and have my audience grow with me. Weirdly, young people seem to be interested in what older people are going through. Hopefully, my comedy will be able to thrive. that’s what’s so great about comedy unlike gymnastics. The older you get, the funnier you get. You just can’t be the old person who does the same old stuff. That’s what the older generation tended to do.