Icing: Jen Kirkman Is Flying High
As far as we’re concerned, Jen Kirkman has breached the glass ceiling and then some. She is one of the most hard working women in comedy and excels at writing, acting, producing and making audiences laugh. Jen has authored a New York Times best-seller called I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids. She currently writes and is a frequent round table guest on the popular Chelsea Lately progam, as well as the spinoff series After Lately. You have surely seen her shine on The Tonight Show, CONAN, The Late Late Show with Craig Furgeson, John Oliver’s New York Stand-up Show, Drunk History and more. And if that wasn’t enough success for you, her stand-up album Hail to the Freaks topped the Billboard charts upon its release. Bam! No doubt you will want to see Jen perform in person if you happen to be in Texas, North Carolina or here at Largo. Some lucky folks in Chicago can even enjoy her podcast I Seem Fun LIVE at The Hideout. We spent a lovely Friday afternoon talking to Jen about her adventures, current events and even kangaroos. Read and enjoy!
COMEDY CAKE: So first off, you just did a bunch of shows and taped your podcast in Melbourne, Australia.
JEN KIRKMAN: Yes.
CAKE: So were the Aussies as hospitable as they seem?
JEN: It was interesting. I mean the crowds were great. The people who run the festival are so great. They make sure you have a great experience. I was really surprised that anybody down here knew who I was and had heard my comedy so that was nice. It’s a little scary to go half way around the world by yourself so it’s nice when people are friendly about it.
CAKE: So did you have a lot of fans come up to you?
JEN: You know I had one encounter that made me happy. I was walking down this very cool street that had a lot of shopping and I walked into a clothing shop. They said “Oh, it’s Jen Kirkman!” so that was very exciting because that rarely happens.
CAKE: Is that what you mentioned on the live podcast, as well?
JEN: Yeah. The girl who was in the audience. Yeah.
CAKE: That’s really cool.
JEN: Yeah, that really made me happy.
CAKE: On Twitter you posted a photo of a baby kangaroo you met when you arrived back in the States?
Jen: Yeah, it was so funny. Everybody was asking me “did you meet any kangaroos on the streets of Melbourne?” No, I didn’t see any zoos or anything like that. But then when I got back to Chelsea Lately we had an Australian guy who’s an animal expert who brought these Australian animals so it was pretty ironic. He had a baby kangaroo. I didn’t go near it. I didn’t want to touch it and make it go wild.
We had a big kangaroo on Chelsea Lately once and it was insane. It was strong as an ox and I couldn’t even believe the one we had was considered trained. I thought it was going to kill everybody.
CAKE: I didn’t know they were so dangerous.
JEN: I know I didn’t either until I actually saw one and it was utterly horrifying.
CAKE: They actually have them box sometimes so I guess they can be pretty lethal. So we were talking about your “I Seem Fun” podcast that you taped at the Melbourne Comedy festival. You mentioned before the podcast that the Aussie audiences seem more polite than the American audiences.
CAKE: Why do you think that is?
JEN: You know, I don’t know. Everywhere I go in the world the people are just a little more polite in other cultures. It’s great when dealing with sales transactions or walking down the street but as a comedian you kind of miss the “aggressive” crowd. I don’t mean heckling or yelling out. It’s hard to explain. I think anybody who isn’t a comedian who is in an American show or a British show would be thinking to themselves “I don’t get the difference.” We comedians can feel it. There’s something with an American audience where you walk out on stage. No matter who it is, they are just trained to go “Wooo” and really welcome you and there’s a lot of sounds even if its not laughter. Sometimes people just react loudly … they gasp, etc. They’re a little more vocal here.
JEN: The laughter is really loud and rolling. And what I found in Britain and Australia was audiences… at certain shows, people will laugh and yell “wooo” when you get out on stage and they’re watching and they love it but they are just not as loud with the laughter. They are taught not to react. It’s just a different culture where I think Americans are like I want my reaction to be known. But a nightclub, more of a stand-up club, it was little louder here so it might just depend on the venue because when I performed in London it was at a theatre. In Australia it was more a type of theatre setting so it may just be that. The audiences were great. You can tell a thousand times the audiences are going to be a little more subtle.
CAKE: Absolutely. So during the same podcast you told a wonderful story about how you met a fellow on the plane who shared your flying anxiety and you bonded over fashion magazines. Was the flight home as eventful?
JEN: You know, the flight home wasn’t as bad. Once I conquered flying to Australia by myself. I was not at all worried about the flight home. I had more of the normal concerns like “oh, I hope my legs don’t hurt”, that kind of thing. So I was fine on the way back and I didn’t talk to anybody. People in my row seemed to know each other. I actually felt kind of left out so I wanted to say something to them but I didn’t want people to become afraid I would talk to them the whole time. If I get nervous I can talk to the person next to me, but only if I get nervous. Most of the way I was zoned out. So the flight home was less testing.
CAKE: Did you do any duty free shopping?
JEN: I’m always like at that point its just one more thing to carry. A lot of these international airports are like a mall, I don’t know why. I’m just an American, consumerism calms me before I get on a flight. But I usually never buy anything. I window shop.
CAKE: While you were gone we had a couple of earthquakes here. I think people were more stressed that the local news interrupted a pivotal episode of Hannibal. Do you find earthquakes stressful?
JEN: Weirdly, anything that’s real that’s stressful, I don’t stress about. I’ve been in a few. I’ve been in LA about 12 years and I’ve been in a few earthquakes. They always happen in the middle of the night and when you wake up the first thought “is what’s happening?” and the second thought “is someone breaking into my house?” and before you realize its over and its four seconds long. I never think “oh, here’s comes the big one.” But we did have an earthquake, a month ago maybe, that was really big. It was the biggest one I’d experienced. It was like 6:30 in the morning. I live on the fourth floor of a brand new, very stable earthquake-proof building and everything was shaking…shelves and my pictures all crooked on the wall and it seemed to last longer than… I remember thinking “I’m in an earthquake should I get up and go under the doorway?” I had enough time to think about all that and then it was over and then I just … my adrenaline was going and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I just wanted to get it out of my mind I guess so I just put it out of my mind.
Weirdly, when I was in Australia and reading about them, every ten minutes I thought “oh this must be the big one coming.” I know this sounds really selfish but I hope it happens when I’m still in Australia. I don’t worry about them because there’s nothing you can do and I adjust assume that … if it happens I just hope nothing falls on my head. I always have an earthquake kit in my car and my home. I’m always curious when I’m at work because … I’m always curious where to keep an earthquake kit. If everything falls in my apartment, you know, I can’t get to it. I don’t worry about it but I’m not excited about it.
CAKE:So getting back to comedy, America kinda went a little kookoo over the #CancelColbert campaign.
JEN: I know.
CAKE: Are you ever concerned audiences will react badly to an edgy joke?
JEN: It’s weird because it seems like there are two audiences out there. When I tour live everyone gets it and nobody’s offended and everybody’s really cool. I never worry. But then I’m on Twitter I feel like people react to things and I’m like “oh my god everyone’s like really stupid” … That’s how dumb everyone is. You can’t say anything anymore. But then I never really meet those people out and about. So I don’t know, its more Internet culture. I does worry me but I only see that behavior and lack of understanding of satire online. So, so far so good. I’ve had people who don’t get my jokes and think I’m offensive. Anyone who reviews a comedy show and jump down on me for a joke I just think is [dumb].
I have a lot of people get angry about [a bit I do] … a black woman I met who also has (I have hair extensions) … who also has hair issues and a conversation we have, the difference between the way black women talk about their weave and the way white women live with their fake hair. It’s a much more sacred thing. There’s a whole act I do about going through security at the airport and my weave and this black woman working there had to pat my head down and I was explaining nervously to her “these are extensions! these are extensions!” – I know I have them too. You know, white women always scream out that they have hair extensions. The point of having them is to look better than your real hair. So black women respect that and white women think everyone needs to know all their secrets. So I thought it was really funny and so I relayed that story. I have been called racist so many times for telling that story and I’m like “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” There’s nothing racist about a black and white person talking about differences between black and white culture. There are two cultures there. And I do this in front of audiences and they don’t have a problem with it… not that people in the audience speak for the entire black race but I always get blasted by reviewers for that. So that’s the only thing I feel people get upset at.
CAKE: Also, talking about Twitter, you recently tweeted in support of Robert Smith (from The Cure) who very justly called out a writer on her harsh judgement of a recent concert he did. I know you don’t usually read what the critics have to say but I thought it was cool you had your followers lavish a Boston Globe writer with love when she said you were “foul mouthed.”
Jen: It’s so funny about the Robert Smith thing because, you know, I’ve been a fan of the band and seeing their interviews and seeing how much they hate critics and then being able to relate to it because I have a similar job. I really relate to Robert Smith because the critic was saying that their new album is kind of a boring album and it goes on and on and I’m like “yeah, that’s what The Cure is.” If you can’t catch onto that 35 years later … I went to see them play a couple of years ago and they played maybe three of my favorite songs and I absolutely thought it was cool. They are amazing. They are amazing at what they do, that’s their style. I like that he responded “this is what we do, you idiot” You can’t critique someone by saying they used to be better.
Anyways, this reviewer from the Boston Globe said when I opened up for Chelsea Handler … I just think its poor writing. She called me “foul-mouthed“ which made no sense. I mean I swear a little bit. And then she said I liked to shock the audience. How does she know what I like unless she asked me? … I didn’t look for this review but because some of my family read the review and some people sent it to me I found her Twitter handle and asked my fans to just exactly let her know … I just wanted to confuse her so I asked my fans to send her a Dalai Lama quote, just loving things. She never responded but my mom even called me . My mom said “I’m a 74 year old woman and I’m not offended.” I usually don’t do that. I try to take a different angle and make it funny. I really don’t want hate mail but I really just wanted her to get a real taste of her own medicine.
CAKE: Later this month you’ll be doing some shows.
JEN: Yeah. I’ll be doing my live podcast April 19th at this place called The North Door in Austin, Texas. April 25th and 26th I’m in Chapel Hill doing stand-up. Those are my own solo shows. April 11-13th I’ll be in St. Louis, Minneapolis and Denver.
JEN: It will be really cool.
CAKE: Do you enjoy collaborating with Chelsea away from Chelsea Lately and After Lately?
JEN: It’s not really collaboration because it’s just two standups just doing their act so there’s nothing we’re really collaborating on but its fun. She’s obviously fun to travel with and I’m warming up for 5000 people. I got to perform in Madison Square Garden which is not something I’ll be doing any time soon. I got to do two almost sold out shows with her there and in the span of two nights I got to perform in front of 10,000 people. I got the feel of being a headliner. I got to do a shorter set and then just sit back and relax. So I’m really lucky to be able to do that.
CAKE: That sounds great. Do you have any comments about the news that Chelsea is shopping for a new home for Chelsea Lately?
JEN: No, it’s not that I can’t say anything, I just don’t have any information. That’s it. I don’t feel that I’m supposed to say anything about it but I personally, you know, you want to end the run of your show and change it up and do different things so whatever she does I support her.
CAKE: That’s cool. So your book is going to be coming out on paperback this month (April 22). Are you thinking about writing another one?
JEN: I am. I got a book deal last September. My whole goal was to keep writing as long as I had something to write about so I was really excited that they gave me a second book deal in September … it will come out 2015 or 2016 (in my lack of spare time).
CAKE: Will you be covering the same topics or will it be brand new?
JEN: The theme will be similar because its still me talking but it will cover more about relationships and me turning 40. Its supposed to be a feel good book, a little more revealing. Its going to be a book about my personal life. It will be about divorce and relationships and being a kind of loner. And hopefully it will be something that makes other people feel better.
CAKE: So David Letterman recently announced that he will be retiring in 2015. Do you think you’d want to take his job?
JEN: It would be a dream come true. I swear to God. I’m nowhere near anywhere of that level of show business. My mother has better odds of getting that show but I mean, yeah. That’s a really hard job. He’s one of my favorites and I’m really sad he’s leaving. I liked his attitude. I liked his grumpiness. I think we need more people like him on the air. I was hoping the person they replace him with has the same edge that he does.
CAKE: Well, I hope they replace him with a woman. That would be nice.
JEN: That would be nice. I really don’t know if that’s ever gonna happen. It’s sad how backwards things still are.
CAKE: I mean, women like to talk. We’re good at talking.
JEN: Exactly. It’s a great job for a woman. Women talk and are obviously funny. And they are engaging. Just hanging out with a woman is like being interviewed so I think it would be a great job. I don’t think America cares if it’s a woman or a man. It’s bizarre. I just think that the people who run show business have this weird idea about what America wants.
CAKE: I absolutely agree with you. We need something new and fresh.
JEN: I always hear from executives that the middle of the country doesn’t want to watch X, Y or Z and I’m thinking comedians are directly engaging with people you’re telling me about and they absolutely love anything … black, white, man, woman. People are, for the most part … if they are entertained “black, white, man, woman” goes away. I’m sure there are a million people watching Bill Cosby. If someone is entertaining you, you will forget for that moment that you hate their group and you’ll continue on in your daily life “women can’t drive.” If someone can make you laugh in that moment you forget all your prejudices. You forget your prejudices if you click with their energy.
CAKE: Absolutely. So your Largo show is now scheduled for June 10th.
JEN: Yeah, I was doing another show in June anyway. There’s a show I want more people to come to. It’s a stand-up show. It’s gonna be myself and a comedy legend. I’m gonna do some stand-up and then we’re gonna sit on stage for a chat based on a chat we had in real life.
CAKE: So are there any other gigs you want to mention?
JEN: People can just go to my website. I think the big ones after April are Texas, Nashville, North Carolina. In Chicago I’m taping two episodes of my podcast back to back at this place called The Hideout. That’s pretty much it for now.
CAKE: Ok, great! Thanks, Jen. It’s been an honor.