Evolving and Going to Fucking Therapy: An Interview with Jen Kirkman

Jen Kirkman - Photo by: Robyn Von Swank

Jen Kirkman – Photo by: Robyn Von Swank

Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman has been a writer and regular guest on Chelsea Lately and frequent narrator on the TV series, Drunk History. She wrote the New York Times Bestseller, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself in 2013. She recently filmed her Netflix stand-up special I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) at the North Door in Austin in 2015. You can also catch her weekly podcast I Seem Fun: The Diary of Jen Kirkman. She will be at North Door on Friday, April 22nd on her book tour for her latest book, I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself. Tickets for that show are available here. Pop Press International comedy correspondent Karen Early caught up with Kirkman in advance of the upcoming show for this Q&A.

First, let’s start with your relationship to Austin. You came here on your last book tour for your New York Times Bestseller, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, you’ve recorded your podcast here, and most recently filmed your Netflix standup special I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) at the North Door. What about Austin makes it a comfortable place for you to perform?

It’s not so much Austin (no offenses to Austin as a whole!), but the relationship is specifically with The North Door.  I don’t know if I speak for all comedians but the city can be amazing and the people of the city can be your biggest fans, but if you don’t find the right venue to make it all work – the show will suck.  The North Door puts more effort into their artists who roll through than any place – let’s start with the not necessary but nice – flowers in the green room! 🙂 They make drink specials according to my act or catch phrases I’ve said on my podcast. They do amazing posters.  And the venue has the best acoustics.  I keep repeating a rumor I hear that Willie Nelson recorded an album there? And entering the stage involves walking down a really cool staircase – and who doesn’t love an entrance? And the show I’m doing this time is six short stories that are insane, poignant and I swear hilarious – I think I’ve heard more laughs with this show than even my stand-up at times. But it’s structured differently than stand-up and there is no room for improvising – it’s definitely a narrative story and crowds have been loving it. I really am having fun with it.  It’s new and different and I know that everyone who has seen me before at The North Door will love another unique thing. For this book tour I figured – I’ve already done my newest stand-up hour everywhere so why don’t I write a show that is JUST for this book tour? It’s a bunch of funny little stories that actually I used to do in Los Angeles years ago, but I put them all together for a crazy narrative about how much of an idiot I’ve been in certain situations since I was a kid, from screwing up a talent show, to beating up a bully, thinking I was James Dean and moving to NYC, acting like a selfish jerk on 9/11, attending a fear of flying class, and eventually finding therapy and still managing to screw up here and there. And this show, unlike any of my others, involves some bad silly dancing.

The Austin comedy scene is at a point where it’s rapidly evolving. There’s a lot of talent here, but still a lot of people are moving to L.A. or New York City to further their careers. What was the scene like in L.A. when you were first starting out in stand-up? And how was that different than the environment now?

What’s odd is even though I live in L.A. I have no idea what the comedy scene is like now for people starting out – only they would know. Because I’m not pounding the pavement as much looking for stage time. I’m on the road ALL OF THE TIME and so if I have a new five minutes I do it on the road somewhere in my one-hour set (not for this particular show I’m doing which is a proper one woman show, but I mean in general).  But I will say that it seems like there are more places to do comedy than ever – and the old people like me – who get lots of love on the road, when I go back to UCB sometimes in LA, the interns that work the door were probably 12 when I first was working in LA, so I can’t just walk in anymore. I have to say, “Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a comic. I’m on the show?” We’re all being replaced. Nature is taking its course.

This time you’re back in Austin on a book tour for your latest book, I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself. This book is intensely personally, much like your last. Since your last book how has your life changed and how much different was your writing process from when you wrote I Can Barely Take Care of Myself

When I was writing the first book, my life was changing. I was transitioning from being separated to divorced, to living alone to become someone who is a touring comic in addition to writing on a TV show. I was busy AS HELL and my life has remained as busy. What’s changed the most is I’ve been touring the world for two years and just sort of snowballed organically. My writing process is exactly the same — write on airplanes, write whenever I can. I still find morning is an easier time for me to write. I like to get up early like 6am – I know it sounds too early, but it’s a relaxing time of day when no one else is up and you’re not going to be interrupted with work emails or calls. I write a very unedited version of part of a chapter or just pages and later in the day — over coffee, in public somewhere at a cafe, I re-read what I wrote and go over it, make it make sense, add jokes. The challenge of writing will always be getting something to sound on paper the way it does in one’s head and I can’t explain why you just can’t sit and type what you’re thinking and it all comes out perfectly. It’s evil, really that it doesn’t get to work that way. Then of course the process of working with an editor is always the same – many drafts go back and forth while changes are made and I’ll always get ONE last chance to read the entire book again – usually a year after I wrote it and I take out things that stick out to me as terrible writing — whether it’s a joke I don’t like or something minor like that. Sorry this answer is boring. There’s nothing more boring than writing…except maybe talking about writing.

You’ve been producing your weekly podcast, I Seem Fun: The Diary of Jen Kirkman, in which you’ve recently created episodes solely to answer listeners’ questions and you have a massive Twitter following, how do you think your constant access to fans changed your writing for your latest book?

Nothing changes my writing of books because it’s its own job. My podcast is a fun thing I do to connect with my fans and to hopefully attract more or to have people see a different side of me. Writing a book is its own beast, and skill. I never thought about my podcast once while writing it. It’s like I never think about my rainbows and umbrella when I’m at the beach. That makes it sound like I’m saying my podcast is a rainy bummer. That was just a bad analogy.

You’re coming off the heels of your Netflix special in which you talk about the end of your marriage and moving on as a single person. The focus of your book also revolves around being okay with still figuring things out in life and about yourself. How do you feel your attitude about accepting yourself as you are has changed since writing your last book?

As I get older my attitude about accepting myself gets better. And what I really want people to realize is I’m not talking about the annoying pop singer way of accepting oneself that almost sounds like, “This is who I am, bitches! Whatever! Whooo!” I mean accepting my limitations while trying to work on things about myself that I don’t like or things that don’t lead to a fulfilling life. I’m in therapy and yet I can’t beat myself up for what I want to change. I have to accept my shortcomings while working on them.  We have to be kind to ourselves – but not lazy about it. I think if we don’t constantly change our perspective or work to make ourselves better or work to just relax and be peaceful so we aren’t creating drama in our lives or others – then we are missing the point of life – we are throwing it away! A lot of idiots think YOLO means drive a fast car or bungee jump, but to me, YOLO means go to fucking therapy and get some sense of wonder and be grateful and help yourself so you can help others. Get out of that nightclub — you do only live once so why are you wasting it on bottle service like an idiot?

At this point in your career, you have quite a body of work. Do you feel like you’re getting better at presenting your own voice? Do you feel like your voice changes based on whether you’re doing your podcast or writing or doing stand-up?

Not to brag, but I do feel I’m getting better at it! But that’s because I’m getting older and I’ve had more time being me! My voice doesn’t change from project to project, but the way I present it does. My podcast is the more unfiltered me. It’s like how I talk with my friends but heightened — there’s a little performance, I go in feeling aggravated if I feel it that day. My stand-up voice is like the person who is your friend, but always has the perfect punchline and never misses a beat. It’s always me, but you can’t not tell jokes doing stand-up, and on a podcast you don’t have to. And I like doing different things because I feel like I’m not giving myself a chance to be found by lots of different audiences if I don’t present all sides of my performer self. Sorry that I just said, “performer self.”

Pop Press International © 2018 All Rights Reserved

All photos licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress