A lot has happened to Jen Kirkman since she recorded her last comedy album, 2011’s Hail To The Freaks. She got divorced. She had a fling with a 20-year-old drummer. She turned 40. She discovered some grey pubic hairs.
Other, more positive stuff happened along the way like her regular appearances on Chelsea Lately and Drunk History, her deal to star in and write her own sitcom for FX, and the release of her first book. But that’s not really what makes good standup.
Instead Kirkman spends her first Netflix special, unashamedly (okay…maybe a little ashamedly) laying out all of the mistakes and miscues and disappointments of the past few years. Surely some funny stuff happened on the set of a talk show but the really funny stuff was happening in her head, her personal life, and her bedroom.
What makes this hour of material so refreshing is that, unfortunately, everything Kirkman discusses are the sort of subjects that women are supposed to be ashamed about in our culture. She’s supposed to be still reeling from her divorce and sad that she’s a childless single woman, living on her own at age 40 who will get discovered dead in her bathtub with her face eaten off by a cat. Instead, Kirkman is light on her feet, happy about her current situation and ready for the adventures that the second half of her life will bring. As long as she can finally come up with a decent fantasy situation to masturbate to.
The full hour is discursive in the best way. Just like two other great conversational comics, Kyle Kinane and Iliza Shlesinger, Kirkman’s material doesn’t feel mannered. It spills out of her at the pace of a great chat over drinks. So it doesn’t come off as awkward when she transitions to discussing her pubes after examining the psychology of man she overheard at a bar that apparently didn’t know what a lemon or a lime was. Maybe that’s just to cushion the blow of getting into the more personal material. But the “getting to know you” feeling of the hour works so well as she just goes deeper and deeper.
The set then follows the wonderfully unusual logic of her nimble mind, veering off from a message of support about gay marriage to a hilarious tangent about how fun it would be to actually be at the wedding of a woman marrying her cat. Or comparing her body to both a factory that’s slowly closing down and the scary house that no kids visit on Halloween after finding her grey nether hairs.
I’ve long admired Kirkman’s comedy but this new special feels like a pretty healthy step forward for her. I credit some of this momentum to her podcast I Seem Fun. Most of the episodes just feature Jen chatting about most anything that comes to her head. It’s like listening to those first few minutes of WTF, the stuff before the big interview. And it gives us a small peek or a big reveal about what makes her tick. Having that outlet and knowing people are responding to it has, I think, encouraged her to open up even more on stage. Her material is getting deeper and funnier as a result. Though I don’t wish her ill, I really hope she continues to plumb her personal depths on stage and in her new TV show for years to come.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.