- Jen Kirkman
Jen Kirkman has been called "a thinking person's comedian." But the scribes at the Onion's A.V. Club didn't bestow that superlative on her merely because she's a supremely smart, witty comedian and writer — though she is. Rather, they pointed out that she does "comedy for people who live inside their own heads."
Along with sharp quips and one-liners, a contemplative quality characterizes Kirkman's comedy and writing. Her first book, the 2013 New York Times bestseller I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids, was an honest and hilarious take on eschewing a lifestyle defined by white picket fences and 2.5 kids. Her 2016 follow-up, I Know What I'm Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches From a Life Under Construction, delves even further into the perils of navigating adulthood.
Kirkman's balance of smarts and sincerity is evident in her uproarious standup act, which she's performed all over the country and on shows such as "Conan," "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show," among others. Her 2015 Netflix standup special, "I'm Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)" was named in the top 10 of the genre by both the Atlantic and Time Out New York — and was recently released as an album. Kirkman has also appeared on Comedy Central's "@midnight With Chris Hardwick" and was a writer and round-table guest on "Chelsea Lately."
All this is in addition to frequent appearances as a narrator on Comedy Central's Emmy-nominated series "Drunk History." Kirkman's podcast, "I Seem Fun: The Diary of Jen Kirkman" is regularly among the top 100 comedy pods on iTunes.
Kirkman performs five shows in three nights this Friday through Sunday, August 12 through 14, at the Vermont Comedy Club in Burlington. Seven Days interviewed the comedian by email. [Some responses have been edited and condensed.]
SEVEN DAYS: I'm a 38-year-old single guy who is most likely not going to have children and is really quite OK with that. And, like you, that's exposed me to some odd and obnoxious reactions from friends, family and even strangers. For those who haven't read I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, could you summarize why choosing to be a childless single person is a perfectly reasonable decision in 2016?
JEN KIRKMAN: I'm so sick of hearing this from people! It's a perfectly reasonable decision in 2016 for the simple reason that women can pay their own way now. In the 1970s, when a woman got divorced, she lost the ability to have her own credit card. This is true. As for men, you probably are having people assume you're a giant man-baby who can't do laundry or cook without a woman. Honestly, people are boring and basic. And "obnoxious" is too kind a word for them. They're dangerously small-minded.
I'm not single. I'm in a relationship, really happy, and deeply in love with someone I've been in love with for years. But I am unmarried, and so to some people I might as well be alone in the woods eating bark.
I find that, at a certain age, unless someone is married, their relationships aren't taken seriously. When I've been what I call "single single" — meaning not just legally unmarried but without a partner at the time — it hasn't been a problem for me. It's been welcome alone time, self-discovery time. I find it odd when people who are single single are depressed about it. How can you just blindly be longing for "someone" to be in your life romantically? People are beating themselves up over a concept that they haven't achieved.
There's no perfect way to go through life. That's why I try not to define myself as unmarried or childless. I was happy being unmarried in 2011 when I first wrote jokes about it because I was being sued up the wazoo going through a divorce. I would have been mentally ill back then to have dreamt of getting remarried right away — or at all — because divorce is expensive. And yet, that's the only thing people asked me. "Would you get married again?" It's like I had a finger fall off and people were frantic: "Please get that thing reattached! You're losing blood!"
SD: You've said in other interviews that you sometimes wish you hadn't included some of the material on your 2011 album Hail to the Freaks because it's since evolved and become better. Given the benefit of experience, how do you judge when material is ready for a special or album?
JK: Yes! One of my bits from Hail ended up on my Netflix special, I'm Gonna Die... — do you like the obnoxious way I abbreviate my own work? But it's much bigger and very different from the original joke.
I think that it's not so much about judging when something is ready but being at a different place in my career. Back in 2010, when I recorded Hail to the Freaks, there wasn't an opportunity for me to have a comedy special air worldwide, like with Netflix. I just made albums every few years, and the point of the albums was, "This is where I am right now in my comedy." And I intentionally put newer concepts on the album, because the way I work out new material is by riffing onstage, and I wanted to show some of that.
I'm filming another comedy special this October, and right now I'm perfecting the bits that will be on it. I wish I had more years to make them perfect, but I've been on tour with this material for over a year. I just have to learn to accept that the minute the special airs, I'll think of another funny tag for a joke. That's the beauty of live comedy: I can do that joke with the new tag for live audiences.
SD: In the dedication of the new book, you ask your parents not to read it. Have they? If so, what did they think? If not, do you think they will?
JK: My dad definitely hasn't read it. I don't think he read my first book, either. My mom keeps saying she wants me to send her a copy. I keep telling her that if she wants to read it she has to take matters into her own hands and buy her own. So, last time I checked, she hadn't read it.
They are coming to my gig at the Vermont Comedy Club on Saturday night. One of my sisters lives in Vermont, so they're visiting both of us. For some reason, I don't mind saying anything in front of them onstage. But I don't want them reading about any part of my sex life in my book. It's weird.
SD: Last question: In however many years from now, if they do a "Drunk History" on the 2016 presidential election, which actors get cast as the major players in the reenactment scenes?
JK: Ha! Great question. Horrible question for me because I don't know names of actors, or even who anyone is. So just know that this answer involved, like, a solid 15 minutes of thought and Google.
Meryl Streep as Hillary Clinton. Matthew McConaughey in a white wig as Bill Clinton. Steve Martin as Donald Trump. Carmen Electra as Melania Trump. Christopher Lloyd as Bernie Sanders. Mario Lopez as Ted Cruz. Susan Sarandon as herself in cutaway shots making those stupid mean faces during the DNC.