Jen Kirkman wants you to know – she’s a human. Meaning: She might talk about female experiences, but she also might discuss general human ones. Andrea Griffith Cash chats with the podcaster (“I Seem Fun: The Diary of Jen Kirkman Podcast”), author (her latest book is “I Know What I’m Doing – and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction”) and comedian (who’s got two specials on Netflix you should check out) about how she hates being branded – and what to expect from her act when she comes to town.
I want to start with your podcast. I love podcasts, but I still run into some people who are like, “What is that?” when I talk about the medium.
I haven’t watched a lot of TV because of podcasts. They really go well with my constant motion. When I’m at home, I’m packing. I’m unpacking. I’m puttering. I’m cleaning out my closet. I’m putting groceries away. … I do still watch TV, but it’s not the thing I have on in the background anymore as white noise. … I listen to other comedians’ podcasts, but I love a lot of spiritual-oriented ones. … I’m a podcast snob. I couldn’t care less about the serialized ones. I want to hear people talking and engaging in conversation. I want to relate because I listen when I’m alone. I don’t want to be just entertained; I want to be relating to something. And I’m a big Howard Stern fan, so that’s a commitment. That’s a three-hour-a-day commitment.
You like doing yours because you don’t have to collaborate with anyone or book guests. How much planning goes into it?
I don’t plan out words or sentences, but I have a little podcast document, and it just has things to remind me to say. … “Guy at the store. The dog that bit me.” And then I go into it. … And I have a lot of listener email. … Because I do it from home, I don’t have to set aside time in a 9-to-5 studio. So I’m going to do one today probably around 5 o’clock. A lot of times I’m driving and something will come to me. I have a notes section in my iPhone full of sentences that don’t make sense to anybody but me. … But other than that, I hit record, and I improvise. … The couple of times I’ve interviewed people, I do it from a studio.
Does the podcast help you with your on-stage material?
Not really. I’ve done some live shows with it – and even when I’m in the studio and the producer’s looking at me – a lot of times it’s stuff I don’t want to be looked at while I’m saying it. It’s not personal. But it’s complaining. … I can just tell the story as is on a podcast. I did an episode recently where I talked about a masseuse who talked the entire time and kept asking me if I wanted kids. It was relentless. … So that’s a story for the podcast. That, for stand-up, hits on themes I’ve already done. … It’s just two different things, for me.
Americans right now are just so dismissive of each other. I want to get your comments on that. We’re putting people in boxes and no longer interacting with them if they make life choices different than ours. I want to get your thoughts on that because your act has been about not making “popular” life choices – not being partnered up, not having kids.
The partnered up thing – I don’t know where people get that. In my latest special, I talk about being in a relationship. My thing is people have grossly misinterpreted it because people like to label things. I simply don’t want kids. And I don’t think it’s a very interesting topic. I’ve never wanted them. … I literally never think about it. So I made a joke on stage 10 years ago – it was about babysitting and how I [screwed] up and made this kid scared of the dark. So I made a joke, like, “Thank God I’m not a mom.” Every single night women would come up to me: “You’ll change your mind.” … I was saying nothing, and it was like an epidemic. Then I got divorced, and it was like, “Jen doesn’t want a partner.” I wrote “I’m Going to Die Alone and I Feel Fine” while married because that was the point of the special, which was: All the women on my street [growing up] were widows. I just thought you got married, and then your husband dies, and you die alone. Everyone dies alone.
Any comedy I do –please don’t put me in a box or say I represent this or that. It actually comes off really hacky, like, anytime you say, “That comedian is the one that does this,” I cringe. Because sometimes I’m single. Sometimes I’m with the love of my life. Sometimes I’m married. Sometimes I’m divorced. I’m a human, and I want all the experiences. … My point is – it doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship. What matters is – who are you as a person? And, there are no guarantees in life. I was really sad that – in both my specials – that didn’t come across. I had people tweeting me like, “I’m going to die alone, too!” Like, no. Everyone is. That’s my point. … You say one thing, and everybody brands you. Today I say this. Tomorrow I say that. I don’t want to be branded as anything.
This is my first time in the city of Durham. So I have all new stuff. … It’s not as tested and rode hard on the road. It will be very conversational. I have material about when I was an idealistic third-party voter and what I thought. I have material about seeing a shaman. How I have to preface everything now because I’ll get tweets like, “Actually, that’s offensive.” I have some stuff about how it’s preferable, if you’re with someone, for them to be assassinated rather than dump you. … I don’t have any Trump stuff. I have some stuff about my family and their intense fear of ISIS and that’s why they don’t travel and have guns. But they’ll travel to Orlando, which has had a lot of shootings and one of them ISIS claimed. … I’m sure by the time of the show, there will be more to talk about.
What do you think of comedy’s role right now? It’s a bleak time – and an exhausting time.
It is exhausting. … I know people who are normally not political. … Now, these people are engaged 24/7. Look, nobody can change what type of comedian they are. It’s like saying, “I’m a trained heart surgeon, but cancer is on the rise so I’m going to become an oncologist.” You can’t change from what you’ve been trained to do. I do the personal, which I guess is the political. … Everyone’s telling women to shut up. “Hillary, shut up.” “Nancy Pelosi, shut up.” And it’s always like, “Oh, no, no, no. We don’t hate women. Just these women should shut up.” And it’s like, “Uh-huh. Well, who shouldn’t shut up then?” And a woman is never named. … So it’s easy for me to answer. My role is just keep being a loud woman on stage until people get used to us as humans. … I’ve pitched TV shows where I’m like, “Look, the main character is a woman. She’s a person! You know like how a man is a person?” I’ve literally had to say that. … People think a female is going to talk about female things. I might. But you also might relate to me because I’m a person.