Stand-up comedian and New York Times bestselling author Jen Kirkman is a veteran with numerous accolades to her name. Known for her work on the late-night comedy show Chelsea Lately, Kirkman wows television and stand-up audiences with her hilarious takes on all-too-relatable dilemmas experienced by the everyday woman. Her recent Netflix feature Just Keep Livin’ followed her highly successful 2015 feature I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine).
This year, Kirkman returned to the beloved stage for a stand-up routine that has critics raving, with Entertainment Weekly declaring “Jen Kirkman is back and she’s not afraid to tell it like it is — again.” For comedy fans looking for a fresh, smart take on comedy, Kirkman’s shows are a must-see. She’s in the middle of her “All New Material, Girl” tour which includes dates in Europe. Next week, Kirkman will grace the stage of Durham’s Carolina Theater, bringing her effortless laughs and sharp wit to the Triangle.
I recently interviewed Kirkman about her new tour, podcast, and why freedom is essential to good comedy. Read on to hear more from our conversation and click here to purchase tickets for her Nov. 1st performance at the Carolina Theater.
Jen Kirkman Durham comedy show on the “All New Material, Girl” Tour
WHERE: Carolina Theater
WHEN: November 1, 2017 – doors at 6, show at 8
Have you performed in Durham before? And what are you looking forward to most about the Bull City?
I have performed in Chapel Hill but not Durham. What I’m looking forward to most is doing the show. I know people always want me to say that I’m excited to visit the Penny Museum or have lunch at Lunch MacDougal’s Place! (Made up places). But for me being on tour is a job. Every show day is also a travel day. And the fact that I can go to different cities in many states and people want to pay to laugh at and with me – is literally my dream come true. No local historic sighting or best cup of coffee in town can beat that. I’m thrilled to be playing the Carolina Theatre, and I can’t believe how many people have bought tickets in advance. I’m not even there yet and I’m already excited to hit the stage.
How does this tour compare to past tours you’ve had? What can the audience look forward to?
Well, every tour is different for obvious reasons like different material, different cities, I’m always at varying weights or sporting different hair. But this is the first tour I’ve done in a while that isn’t also FOR something. Usually it’s to warm up my perfected material for a Netflix special or to support a book I just released. This tour is just about doing stand-up that is pretty new to this past year. Touring is also the way I pay my bills so I’ll always tour, but this one has a sense of something special. It’s of the moment. I have my set routines but there is a lot of spontaneity on my part. I never know what I might feel like saying, so I’m actually really excited about being on stage. It doesn’t feel as route as other tours. There’s a freedom to what I’m doing and when I feel free, I’m way funnier.
As someone who’s had success in so many venues (writing, television, stand-up, etc) do you have a favorite format?
Stand up. Everything I do is to support my standup habit. I take jobs in television for the amazing health insurance. I write for TV because it’s a skill I have and I love it. But after a few months of that I’m ready to get on a plane and go back to the simple life of thinking a thought, saying it out loud and getting a response. When I’m writing for TV, even my own scripts, there is so much discussion and guessing about what’s funny. The stand-up in my finds this absurd. The only way to find out is to go on tour and say stuff out loud. We worry about reaching everyone in America with the books we write or the sitcoms we write and the stand-up in me goes, “Oh, well I can just fly to the South or Midwest and perform for them in ways unencumbered by Network or Publishing House notes.” Whenever I pitch TV shows, executives wonder if people in the Midwest would like it. I always say, “Well, I was just there last week and they loved it. So I’m gonna say yes.”
How did you develop your effortless “storytelling” comedic style?
Over 20 years of work. Years of doubting myself. Feeling like I wasn’t a real comic because people call me a story teller when really what I am is a real standup comedian. Only very few comedians and rarely any in the 21st century do one liner jokes. I do the same type of stand-up style lots of people do. Nobody called Richard Pryor a storytelling comic, but whenever a woman doesn’t change the subject after five minutes she’s called a storyteller. What I do is just straight up stand-up comedy and the correct term is narrative. A story doesn’t have to be funny. It only has to be interesting and it has to build to a huge end.
I play clubs where drunk dudes are one second away from heckling if I don’t make them laugh. And I always do because I’m telling jokes in a narrative fashion. I do the kind of stand-up comedy of the 1970’s that I grew up watching. I got up on stage every night for free for ten years. Open mics. Bookstores. Coffee shops. Clubs when they let me. I never stopped. And I grew from a 20-year-old kid into a 43-year-old woman and I’ll keep growing. Comedy is about becoming who you are and as being yourself becomes more effortless, comedy will seem more effortless.
When and why did you start your podcast, The Diary of Jen Kirkman?
I started in 2013. I wanted to do a podcast since I found out what they were back in 2006, but I had the usual reservations about starting a new venture until one day I decided “Screw it. I’m getting a microphone and a podcast recording app and I’m just going to talk solo.” I knew that having a podcast helped get butts into seats at my stand up shows and it’s a no-brainer to do one. And at the time I was a full-time writer and cast member on Chelsea Lately and I wanted to present the real me. And I see myself as not as fun as I may seem. I don’t really like drinking despite my many appearances on Drunk History. I don’t like talking about pop culture despite being on Chelsea Lately. And so it began as a way to say, “this is the real me.” I am boring and cranky and in my opinion, that’s way more fun.
Considering the rising tensions in our current social and political climate, do you think comedy can unite people and bring a sense of hope?
I think comedy can for sure. When people laugh at jokes I’m making about how I’m feeling or how I react to the world, I hear that laughter as meaning, “We relate”. I never take it as literally as meaning, “You are funny.” It goes deeper. I think of it as meaning, “You made how I feel inside sound funny. Thank you.” And so it gives me hope too when people seem to be at comedy shows looking for human connection and experience. Nothing beats a live comedy show for that. And what Kimmel is doing with his late night show is incredible. Humor is a great way to educate people. It’s like that George Bernard Shaw saying which I am paraphrasing, but “Tell the truth. But make it funny or they’ll kill you.”