This Jen Kirkman Interview Is Not About Rape Jokes, Being Dirty, or Asking Whether Women Are Funny
"Raunchy? I don't think I'm raunchy. All my male peers get to talk about their dicks without being labeled dirty."
Jen Kirkman is a Boston-born, Los Angeles–based stand-up comedian, author, and podcaster. Her book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself is a New York Times best seller, her juicy podcast I Seem Fun: the Diary of Jen Kirkman is widely lauded, and she's a regular on Drunk History and reruns of Chelsea Lately. And if that isn't name-checking enough millennial cultural milestones, next month her stand-up special I'm Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) debuts on Netflix.
But don't let her titles fool you—she's doesn't give in to the archetype of an angry and alone female comic. Kirkman has the ability to move between topics like ingrained sexism in the media and her mother's late-life coming of age to the easiest, most disarming small talk you'll ever hear. Just please don't call her raunchy.
I recently caught up to her on her tour through Australia.
VICE: I saw your show last week—it was great.
Jen Kirkman: This is going to sound crazy, but I wish you saw it last night instead.
Why is that?
Last week I had all these men reviewing me saying weird stuff like I'm raunchy and this and that. One guy in particular wrote, "She wasn't connected enough to her material." I don't think that's how you review comedy—you don't say how you think she was feeling.
That's how men review women—they jump into your head. I mean, he doesn't know shit about my head. Then the reviewers don't get why I get upset about them. Why shouldn't I get upset about it? These are my ticket sales you're affecting, and they're dead-wrong about who I am as a person, which should not be a part of the review.
I don't want to discuss women in comedy in the hacky sense, but seeing as we're on the topic I wanted to ask if you feel as a woman you are more limited in your material? My point being, men can essentially say anything on stage, but for women the same subject matter can incite a pity party or the "that bitch crazy" reaction.
I agree. Before I came here not one person in the Australian media really knew anything about my show. I didn't preview it anywhere; it was going to be brand new for here. But without seeing my show I was getting these write-ups saying, "Go see Jen if you want to see a raunchy, dirty show. It's certainly not for everyone."
I thought all comedy isn't for everyone, what a dumb thing to say. Raunchy? I don't think I'm raunchy. All my male peers get to talk about their dicks without being labeled dirty.
I feel like the media perpetuate a lot of this "women in comedy" bullshit. Can we stop writing thinkpieces about that Vanity Fair bullshit from a decade ago?
Totally. Anytime I get a call out of the blue to comment on the latest "scandal" I give them five guys' names that are super feminist to see if they call them. Honestly, I was glad when I walked in and it was you interviewing me, because it's always all these male journalists. Like with this dude from the Herald Sun the other day, we had a great chat for a half hour, and then he quickly asked me what I thought about the rape-joke phenomenon that's happening in this festival. I didn't know what he was referring to, so I gave my opinion about it in general and then that was the entire article—"Jen Kirkman jumps into the rape-joke debate!" I was so mad because that was not what the interview was at all.
I'm vocal about this stuff. I go hard on Twitter, and I'm called insane. A woman can't go on a series of rants without being called crazy, whilst Patton Oswalt can write 50 tweets and they print it in New York magazine and say it's genius. Which it is, but why can't a woman be a genius?
How long did this show take to develop? I'm assuming it's a mix of old and new stuff?
About 75 percent of the show I've been doing in Australia will be in my special coming out on Netflix next month. I took out the generic observation stuff for the live show because I wanted it to be more of a one-woman show with a consistent theme. It's an hour of stand-up but I try make it thematic. I realized that I start talking about how I found some gray pubic hair and then end with my grandma dying on the bathroom floor with no underwear on.
It came full circle. I was hyped when you delved into mother-daughter relationships. It's under examined, these complex relationships we have with the women who raised us.
My mom and I are really close, and so was she to my grandmother. But after my gran passed my mum would say things like, "I don't know if she ever appreciated that I took her grocery shopping every week." Or, "You know I'm not as religious as her, Jen." My mom kind of came into her own after her mom passed away.
Your comedy is inspired by your life, but is there a persona within that?
It's getting more personal. What I've been working on in this show is talking about being single, which normally I don't like to do. I'm not great with relationships, but I've got to take some time for myself before I can make a joke about it onstage. I have a sense of humor about the events I discuss onstage because those things are in the past. In real life I'm a little more in the moment when something's upsetting or confusing me.
I'm honest onstage about something that happened four years ago. I'm not telling you what's happening now because it wouldn't be funny yet. So catch me in three years and you'll hear about what happened this year.
You finished working for Chelsea Handler in August. Is working for another comedian hard?
I was working seven days a week, so that can be hard. But the good thing is Chelsea was pop culture jokes and I don't do any in my act so I was fine giving them away. If I had to write personal jokes it would have been harder.
So we're having a drink now and you're nearly due onstage, is this typical?
I like to have a drink or two because it helps me feel excited, I'm just saying the same damn thing every night so you've got to create your own hype energy.
How do you keep it fresh?
I just take a minute and go, "Jen, you were a little girl in her bedroom, now you're in Australia, not because you forced yourself here but because people asked you to come and there are people coming here tonight to have a good time and they've paid money, there's an amazing energy coming your way and they're ready to laugh." I get excited knowing they haven't heard this before, maybe they're going to find it really funny so I'm going to act like I'm saying it for the first time!
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