Jen Kirkman: Stand-Up Therapy

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Jen Kirkman doesn’t know what she’s doing. On Hail to the Freaks, her new album released this past May on A Special Thing, she calls Obama a nerd, insists the American people haven’t seen the last of Sarah Palin, calls teenagers dumb and recounts her wedding preparation in which she had to continually tell people over and over that she didn’t care what her bridesmaids wore. While it certainly feels like she’s getting a lot off her chest, the comedienne/television writer insists she’s basically just winging it up there. That’s what got her started, after all.

“I just loved comedy,” she remembers of her first attempts at stand-up. “It seemed like people who didn’t were like other grown-ups who had kids and worried about dressing nicely and all that. I wanted to stay a kid forever and this seemed like the right lifestyle for that. I’m very big into just feeling good and doing what I want; I’m not very calculated or thoughtful about my moves. I just sort of do it.”

She’s been just sort of doing it for a while now. Her first stand-up show—“I just told some personal and embarrassing stories and got off stage,” she said in a recent interview—was in 1997, and it’s only gotten better since. Her first album, Self Help, arrived in 2006, and she worked on or wrote for a myriad of television shows over the years, including Phineas and Ferb, Home Movies, Perfect Couples and Chelsea Lately. Many know her from her two episodes of Drunk History, in which she recounts the historical tales of Frederick Douglas and Washington-owned slave Oney Judge after drinking much wine. Many more still know her from regular appearances on Paul F. Tompkins’ podcast, The Pod F. Tompkast. But all of this has come with time, and if it sounds kind of random, that’s because it is. But it’s also comforting for the person doing it.

“If I have a specific thought on something—and it can be as meaningless as, ‘The best way to tell if I’m drunk is to ask me how well I think I can sing Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’”—that is so specific of a personality trait of mine. If people laugh, I only assume they know exactly what I mean,” Kirkman says. “They do the same thing and that’s validating and fun and makes me feel like we are all really similar, which helps me not be a hateful person. I feel pretty lucky that I get to do a thing where I sort of almost subtly ask large groups of people, ‘Hey, do you get me?’ And if they do, I feel less alone.”

Currently, Kirkman is working on a “memoir-ish, funny essay-ish book about how I’ve never wanted kids and how people have reacted to that all throughout my life” which will be out sometime next year, and she left Perfect Couples shortly before its cancellation to rejoin Chelsea Lately full time, so she’s hardly alone—at least in the literal sense. But to hear her tell it, she’s also feeling oddly complete. In interviews over the years, she’s been pretty hard on previous versions of herself, but these days, despite not really knowing what she’s doing, she feels pretty good, overall. Maybe there’s something to this whole wandering through life, trying out new things and being open-minded thing.

“I’m glad to be who I am right now, professionally and personally,” she says. “I actually like, love and respect myself, and I try not to take anything too seriously.”

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