Jen Kirkman doesn't take any guff. It'd be far too exhausting. She's a veritable laundry list of things society loves judge: female comedian, woman in her 40s, divorcee, woman without kids...it just keeps going. Instead of cracking, she takes that immense societal pressure and uses it to create comedic diamonds. While she's shined on shows @Midnight and Drunk History (she's by far my personal favorite drunk storytelling historian), Kirkman truly locks into her comedic voice with her terrific new Netflix standup special I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine). Passionate and unabashedly 40, she explores the struggles of ignoring your judgmental married friends as a divorcee, the follies of being single once again (20-year-old drummers be warned), and more. Get a dose of her wry wit as Kirkman heads to the Vera project this Thursday, June 25 (with new material not seen on the special).
For the latest edition of our Points of Reference series, we chatted with Kirkman about five pop cultural touchstones that influenced I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine).
I don’t think comedians quite have influences the same way musicians do, where you can borrow the sound of [another artist]. I was just listening to the Smiths, and one of their songs borrows heavily from an Elvis song called “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame.” I don’t think comedians do that. I think when they’re starting they ape other people and it looks really awkward, and if you don’t find your own voice, people will not sit and watch you. But I do think there’re a lot of influences that you can’t see in my special, where I was deliberately giving a nod to a lot of different things.
I just recently realized that Morrissey influenced me. Growing up, I just found his music so funny. I thought the lyrics to Morrissey songs were hilarious. Songs about hating your boss and wanting to be famous instead or songs about dying in your sleep, I think that is so funny. Maybe it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s so off-putting and dry. My least favorite audience members are the people who go, “Awww,” instead of laughing, because I’m purposely trying to make them laugh. I don’t have time for them. That seems like a really unsophisticated person to me. I think it’s ingrained in me from listening to Morrissey’s music and his lyrics from age 14 on. The name of my special is a nod to [that vibe].
The coat that I wore at the start of the special was a nod to Joan Rivers. Putting it on my mic stand was an homage to her, because she came out in a feather boa and sometimes draped it over the piano.
I loved Joan’s work ethic. One of my favorite moments was when I heard her on Chris Hardwick’s podcast The Nerdist. She came in the first five minutes with kind of that roast joke attitude of Well, what is this? and Oh, my career’s over. I’m just talking to this microphone and is anyone even listening. And Chris was explaining, No, no… podcasting is the future and I have so many listeners. And you could hear the wheels turning in her head. And instead of being the old lady that’s like, “Well I don’t do that!” she had a podcast within a few weeks after hearing that. I want to be like her. I want to not be jaded. I want to be able to learn from younger people. I want to never stop working, not think I’m too good for anything, and stay relevant. I’m an old woman at 40, so I have to really make sure to not act like “Oh, I don’t know what’s going on these days.” You have to engage with the world. To me, that was her greatest inspiration for me. Not getting old.
I did these scenes that bookend my special, and those are very Larry David–influenced. I kept saying I wanted to have that Larry David vibe of I’m just trying to go onstage and go to work and get offstage and people are not letting me with their craziness. I wanted it to have that kind of put-upon Curb Your Enthusiasm vibe. That style seems to be my natural inclination.
I really enjoyed the opening scene with the friend who brings her kid with her backstage before your show; just totally oblivious to your lifestyle in her own modern parent bubble.
I just wanted it to show how tough it is for people with different lifestyles to remain friends during these periods. My life isn’t always compatible with my friends’ and vice versa, and we’re both trying to shoehorn in time together, and it doesn’t work. I wanted it to show a friendship kind of changing. I feel that my friends with kids—although they’re lovely people—I probably do think that they think, “Oh my God, you’re always so tired and stressed and traveling. Do you want to give it up?” And I think, well, a child is the same thing to you, and I wouldn’t say to you, “Do you want to leave that thing on the side of the road and just come with me? We’ll go to the beach.”
The coat is also an Iris Apfel nod. She’s a little old lady that wears these big glasses and lots of crazy bracelets and she wears this outrageous coat. She’s her 90s, lives in New York, and is a huge fashion icon. She’s also in this documentary called Advanced Style, and Albert Maysles made a documentary about her called Iris. Older women and their style really are a huge influence on my personal style, so I wanted to bring that to the stage.
My style is really important to me, just so that I feel good on stage. You want to have a little bit of authority on stage so that people put their trust in you. And looking put together is part of saying, “I got this. You can trust me. I’m a grownup on stage. I’m not just messing around here. I am self-confident, I am not still finding myself up here.”
I get superstitious. If I’m in a club for five nights or something, and I jump on stage and have a really good set then I’ll think, “Oh shoot, I have to wear this same outfit all week.” [Laughs]
With my shirt and necklace, I wanted that kind of open-shirt Bee Gees album cover look. [Laughs] I wasn’t trying to go for cleavage and sexiness, I was trying to go for more androgynous disco. But that was very deliberate, because I love the timeless look of certain comedy specials. I think that Richard Pryor looked so sexy in his Live on the Sunset Strip special with his red shirt and bell-bottoms. I wanted to give a nod to that [idea].
Thankfully, in your case there was little less chest hair than what the Bee Gees were sporting back in their time.
[Laughs] I shaved that morning.
June 25 at 9, Vera Project, $16