Jen Kirkman Talks Trump, Mental Health, and Overthinking Comedy
With a pair of Netflix specials under her belt, appearances on Drunk History and Chelsea Lately, two nonfiction books (most recently, last year's I Know What I'm Doing–and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction), her podcast, I Seem Fun, and decades worth of standup, Jen Kirkman thought she'd try out something new: jewelry. Well, jewelry and maybe a sitcom. And more standup— like the All New Material Girl tour, which brings her to Seattle on Friday, Sept 8.
How has your 2017 been?
It’s been the worst year of my life in many ways, most of them personal. So in a really messed up way, the fact that all of America is really focused on saving our democracy and saving each other from the perils of Nazis and floods and fear has really helped me keep things in perspective. So I haven’t exactly been sitting around watching everyone have a good time without me during my shit personal year. I will continue to say, “Fuck you Susan Sarandon, is this the stupid revolution you wanted?”
Have audiences felt different this year? A little defensive or queasy?
I’m not really noticing anything different when I’m on stage because I’m there to make them laugh and think of what I want to communicate. I’m not filtering it through another complex lens of where the country is at. I will say that I’m hearing feedback from people who listen to my podcast. Everything from, “Stop talking about politics," to "Thank you for talking about how you feel about the Russia investigation," to "You’re being pretty hard on men lately," to "Thank you for being a feminist.” So, it’s the same. People want different things at different moments from a comedian and that’s why my shows are always about me and my life. Of course I’ll mention what’s going on in America, but only if I have a unique take on Trump that has more to do with why I didn’t want to go to spend time with my extended family for Christmas last year.
Seems like people have been doing a lot of self-examining these days, really taking stock of their own emotions and anxieties. How do you think that might affect standup, which can be a performance of one's own anxieties?
I swear to you, one thing I’ve noticed becoming a phenomenon is people are so into analyzing comedy and its role. And comedians just don’t approach things this way. We are way more basic. We just think about the work and go up there. Every year the collective unconscious of an audience is probably different. But part of our job is to maybe present an hour of stopping time, so even if they do feel more raw or analytical, they turn it off for an hour in that theatre. I’m just me, I go up there whether Earth has aligned with Mars into a Feminine Rebirth or whether we have a white supremacist President. How people are processing their own lives has no effect on my standup.
You’ve sort of run the gamut: standup, podcast, TV, books. Where do you feel funniest or even just most comfortable? Do you like ranting on a podcast the way you couldn’t get away with on stage?
Yes the podcast is exactly for what you said: getting away with something that wouldn’t work on stage. Why not have that medium where it does work, but only when you’re speaking to someone one-on-one as they listen to you in their car? I love the podcast, and now that I have some advertising it’s great to actually get paid to do it as well. Stand-up will always be my number one favorite art form, but I have months where I feel uninspired and don’t want to do it and I don’t force it. I’ll take time off. So that’s where I’m glad that I’m also a TV writer, podcaster, and just someone who wants to sit around refreshing Twitter every five seconds reading my leftwing conspiracy theory Russia porn.
Spend much time in Seattle? Do we take ourselves too seriously?
I think Portland takes itself more seriously. I’ve spent lots of time in Seattle. I mean, mostly on tour, but I’ve been coming for ten years. I’m not exactly as familiar with it as I am New York City or Melbourne, places that I live in for more than a month at a time for comedy every year. But I like Seattle. I feel like it’s a place where you might have to find your people. It doesn’t seem to have quite its identity on the outside like Portland does or even Los Angeles.
You’re from the Northeast originally but now live mostly in LA. Do you prefer performing on your adopted coast or back east?
This is a tough one. I prefer New York City. I always will. But I think that I really need the self-care aspect of Los Angeles. But New York is getting there. They have great health food now and meditation centers. And when you want to forget all of that it’s a great place to have a drink at any given amazing little restaurant. I’ve been in LA fifteen years. It seems as though my entire life is here. I’m older now so I can’t just hop on an Amtrak and move like I did when I got to Los Angeles. It would require thought, reason, and more money for a bigger place than I have. So, it’s with sadness that I say New York is my unrequited love for now. I got to live there for five months this year because I was writing on a TV show, but until I can afford something you would see on Million Dollar Listing I don’t want to live there. I can’t live in an apartment the size of a hotel room anymore. I have too much stuff.
As I mentioned earlier, you have had quite a few irons in the fire. Anything surprising you’re working on now?
I’m developing a sitcom idea, my billionth one based on my life. But this one I love. Nothing to report because it’s in pitching phase. Also, September 5 I have a necklace line launching. I love fashion and fun jewelry and just expressing yourself with what you wear. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I had this necklace made for myself that looks like those name necklaces that ladies wear, but it says “Over Forty.” It's my little fuck you to show business and pride at my age. So I have a line of those coming out and about 12 others that say things like "FeministAF," "Boss," "Childfree." I find it hilarious to wear things that say that around your neck. I’m working toward my goal of having my own show on QVC by age 50.
Sept 8, Neptune Theatre, $29