Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman talks faux fur, the humour in reality and being young women’s “spirit animal”
By Alli Hayes
Known for her wry wit on Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea Lately talk show and her uncanny ability to recall high school social studies lessons while intoxicated on Drunk History, Jen Kirkman is the everywoman’s comic. Loose Lips caught up with the American entertainer in advance of her upcoming show in Vancouver.
Jen, your faux fur collection has come out to play for your gigs and editorials. What does a good faux (or other fashion piece) do for your soul and stage presence?
Thank you for noticing! I have gone through many “fashion” phases as a stand-up comic. During my twenties, I wore the standard uniform of many comics (both male and female) – corduroy pants (ill-fitting), a tee shirt and Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers. I think I felt that if I looked neutral the focus wouldn’t be on my clothing or gender but on my material.
I love clothing and I love a lot of different styles of clothing and if I’m standing on stage asking people to listen to me – might as well express myself without word,s too. As I look back at many of my style heroes, they were gender non-conforming with their clothing (Prince, Bowie – I’m going to cry) and so I don’t think wearing sequins or faux fur on stage makes me feel like a “woman” comic. I think it makes me feel like a freaky person, which is how I love to feel.
You’ve been channelling so much comedy realness in different mediums: your new book, your podcast, writing for TV, the billboard charts. What’s the best part about using all these tools to get your messages across? Do you try to keep the mediums separate or would you for instance use some material from your podcast in your book/stand up show?
I gots to keep it real! Just kidding.
The platforms simply exist and I approach them with what I want to say but I don’t sit around deciding what might sound or work best for each platform. You just sort of know. It’s like how you talk one way to your grandmother but maybe a little differently to your best friend. You don’t have to organize your thoughts in the morning and decide who gets what stories; it is just organic. I feel that way about podcasts, social media, albums, books and live performance. I will think “I want to write this in a book” instead of, “I want to say THIS. Where is the best place to say it?”
I think that Twitter – although sometimes I can’t help myself – is a terrible place for political rants since we only have 140 characters. So that means we have to send multiple tweets. When we’re feeling passionate about something like the election or gun control – we look unhinged tweeting 10 times in a row when really it’s just a short essay technically. But the delivery comes off like, “Uh-oh, Jen’s off the rails.” So a more earnest rant might be best for my podcast and I have the ability to interrupt myself and explain to the audience that I’m just brainstorming here and they can hear my tone.
You were on the road in Australia a couple months ago for the Melbourne comedy fest (opening night!), and said you’re taking a year off from men, as well as a couple hints on how men are approaching feminism wrong, aka going out with other women for drinks when they have a girlfriend and don’t tell you. Do you have things you want to address to men about calling themselves feminists/being more attuned with feminism?
Oh, well, the men thing is sort of two different stories. I’m working on some issues I have right now with how I approach dating and relationships and one part of the recovering from that process was to simply just STOP doing it. That had nothing to do with men. That was me. And it’s a liberating thing to do. I’ve had a complete breakthrough in truly being with myself. I’ve always been comfortable travelling or seeing a movie alone but to not be distracting my mind with flirtations or hoping to meet someone is a whole other level of just being – that blew my mind and changed my life recently.
I have a routine that I wrote a couple years ago that hasn’t been seen en masse yet – just from live audiences – about this one year where I was in a bad place and just putting way too much value on how I was 39 and I wanted to be having lots of boyfriends and being young while I could. I got too much validation by winning over dudes in that way. In this period, I met a few guys who actually just wanted to be [respectful] platonic friends and were feminists.
And I wrote a routine about it from the angle of me being the monster that was angry that they didn’t want anything from me. It’s not really how I feel now and when I felt it back then it’s because I was insane. And then when I realized how hilarious it is that I actually got mad that men wanted to be friends – I wrote a routine about it. It just so happens that we have this new Internet culture of “male feminists” who can be annoying and try to tell women how it’s done. That’s not what I was addressing at all. The story is supposed to be about me feeling rejected and going crazy-town on a perfectly reasonable person who just wanted to have a glass of wine.
Your new book, I Know What I’m Doing, explores a lot of relatable material: marriage, divorce, widowed grandmas on your childhood street, but you’ve mentioned in an interview with A.V Club that halfway through the writing process you didn’t know if you still felt the same way about the angle you were taking. How did that moment change for you and what do you feel is the new angle in this touring show?
This touring show I’m doing now is mostly a look at my childhood through my early twenties – mostly times I had no idea what I was doing: from ruining a childhood talent show to being afraid of nuclear war and wanting to move to Hollywood to get famous before what I thought was my inevitable death in 1999; lying about losing my virginity; having a love issue on 9/11; disrupting and failing a fear-of-flying course and it touches on where I am now – someone who meditates and still gets road rage.
But when I was writing my book and when I’m writing anything, I am always changing and growing and so that’s why I like to write about things after I go through them or they come out half baked or people will say, “I relate too!” And then I cringe thinking, “Oh god, I wasn’t saying THAT, I was saying THIS.” When I started writing I Know What I’m Doing, I was still in that place of “I don’t know if I believe in tradition or monogamy.” And then I started changing like, “I don’t know what I believe. I choose to not believe in either. I believe whatever is right for someone at any given time is what’s right.” And I wanted the book to reflect that. If someone is unmarried it doesn’t mean they’re sleeping around or wishing they were married or hating men or anything – it can be none of the above or sometimes all of the above and I am a spokesperson for no particular lifestyle. And for once in my life I’m beginning to enjoy people not knowing if I’m un-partnered or not because I want to be seen not as without someone and not as with someone – because both definitions can be a distraction from [who I am]. If people need to know anything – I’m sure it will be revealed.
You’ve mentioned before that your show is predominantly a young male audience. Do you ever feel that sometimes the ‘appealing demographic’ (single women in your demographic) has a hard time listening to the truth you explore on stage?
I think it’s an equal [gender] mix [at my shows]. The young males are more vocal on social media. But I have an equal mix and the dudes that come to my show are mostly very young – whereas with women it spans many generations. I hope this doesn’t sound conceited but I don’t think women in my demographic have a hard time listening to the truth. Mostly women come up to me and tell me I’m their Spirit Animal (and I love it except I’m tired of that expression…. what about Spirit Rock? I’ll be your Spirit Rock.) I really don’t think I speak that many “truths” – I only talk about me and as has been revealed a lot in this interview – my truth is always changing. So I assume that everyone else has the same human experience with their truths and hopefully everyone will keep coming back to my shows and we’ll all just figure this out together like good Spirit Rocks!
Jen Kirkman performs at the Rio Theatre this Friday (June 24). Tickets are $25 and can be found here, doors at 7 p.m.
Alli is a wildcard. Faux fur is her wingman. She is constantly moved by art, cool parties, and independent film, and continues to create her own projects. She wishes her photographic memory did her Instagram more justice. Check out her blog at http://www.thewildcardwins.com.