The Zen of Jen

Comedian Jen Kirkman, in town Thursday, finds material across the spectrum of human experience

Nov 15, 2017 at 9:21 am
click to enlarge Jen Kirkman - PHOTO: Provided
PHOTO: Provided
Jen Kirkman

After three minutes of conversation that sounded like she was travelling through a dead zone on a bullet train, Jen Kirkman’s line went dead. When we were reconnected, she offered a plausible explanation.

“I have the new iPhone and so far it sucks for making calls,” she says from her Los Angeles home. “I think they forgot that people still use them for phones; ‘I didn’t realize we had to do that. We made the camera better, though.’ “

Like any good comedian, Kirkman finds material across the spectrum of existence, from the banality of a dropped call to the specter of apocalypse (“I’m not afraid of nuclear war because I’ve already worried about all that growing up. I can’t worry about this again. If they nuke us, they nuke us. We all had a good life.”).

Kirkman, who started doing stand-up in the ’90s and wound up as a writer and panelist for Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea Lately, has emerged as one of the great observational comics. So far, she’s released three albums, written two books, co-founded the now defunct and is currently in development on a potential television series for ABC. Her new stand-up show is titled All New Material, Girl tour, and it comes less than a year after the airing of her last Netflix comedy special, Just Keep Livin’?

She became conscious of the need to properly publicize a fresh set the hard way.

“I really did a dumb thing after my first Netflix special,” Kirkman says. “I was acting like I was Led Zeppelin. ‘I’m going on the Houses of the Holy Tour, everyone. If that was the name of the album, that’s the name of the tour.’ People were like, ‘Oh, the I’m Going to Die Alone and I Feel Fine Tour. We already saw that on Netflix.’ I spent every interview going, ‘Tell them it’s new stuff.’ This way, there’s no question.”

After taping Just Keep Livin’? last October, Kirkman knew that she would have to start developing new material relatively quickly because her current tour was already booked. Although she had begun ideating new stuff while touring Just Keep Livin’?, a trifecta of events conspired to grind her to a halt. 

“I took time off to deal with some vocal cord stuff, and I had no thoughts in my head,” she says. “Then Trump got elected and everyone seemed in chaos, and I super had no thoughts in my head. Then I went through a break-up and I triple had no thoughts in my head. 

“When you’re depressed, in the moment you might not be able to come up with anything suitable for humor onstage, just like dark humor between friends. Then, of course, it always happens. Three months later — cue the Beatles’ ‘Here Comes the Sun’ — you start to think about things differently and how you feel, and this could be material, and it starts to shine through again. So I wouldn’t say I was inspired. This is literally my job. I don’t do Netflix and then go, ‘Maybe I’ll tour for fun.’ I do Netflix so more people will come see me. It doesn’t even matter how I feel. I tour when I have to tour.” 

In All New Material, Girl, Kirkman talks about going on a silent meditation retreat this year (“Not speaking for a few days will make you insane...”), the differences between political activism 20 years ago and now (“There’s some confessional, cringeworthy growing-up memories...”) and politics in general, but not directly about the White House’s current occupant.

As a woman — you can underline that and then play sad music — I have always talked about the personal being the political,” Kirkman says. “I’ve talked about cat calling and about being judged for being divorced and not having kids. If we consider that the politics in my act, I’m going to come at it the same way again. Like what it’s like to be a woman in America at a time when I thought we were going to have our first female president. Whether people like her or not, it would have been exciting for women. And instead, we get the worst possible version of a man. It’s kind of from that angle. 

“I do a joke about how I felt bad for him one time because he looks so bad in white pants, and I relate. He gets mentioned but it’s really wild and in weird, weird ways that don’t really have to do with him. That’s not a fun job for me to get up and think about him every night.”

JEN KIRKMAN brings her All New Material, Girl tour to the Taft Theatre Thursday. Tickets/more info: