WPTS Radio’s Interview With Jen Kirkman
If you’ve been following Jen Kirkman’s career (which you should be), then you’d know that the Boston-born, LA-based comedian was just diagnosed with vocal nodules. I was told she was under strict orders to not talk for more than an hour a day, which is a total bummer if you want to get her on the phone for an interview. Also ironic considering she’s one of the few performers with such a distinct, multi-platform voice. Her third special I’m Gonna Die Alone And I Feel Fine, is on Netflix. She’s the author of a New York Times best-seller, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, where she writes about her choice to not have kids. Her second book, I Know What I’m Doing And Other Lies I Tell Myself, is due out in 2016. Plus she does a weekly diary-style podcast, I Seem Fun. She’s incredibly funny, smart, and insightful and she’s coming to the Rex Theater on October 21st. We sent her some questions about her voice and all the different places we can find it.
So your special has been out on Netflix for a few months. I’ve watched it three times now. It has a great vibe to it, which I know is vague to say, but it just has this really distinct voice to it which I feel like is something other comedians often lack. Is that something that you’ve worked to perfect over your career, or did it just develop naturally with experience?
Well, thank you! That’s really nice. I can’t say what my distinct voice is – I think it is more apparent to people watching me than me. Have you ever seen a video of yourself walking? And you’re like, “That’s me? HUH. I have it pictured SO differently in my head.” Any style I have is just ME being ME for better or worse that just continued to develop naturally in life – just like our walks. I play to my strengths – which is talking and thinking fast instead of my weaknesses (which are pausing and being quiet and slow.)
How do you see your book writing influence your stand up and vice versa? Are there different techniques for each that you find helpful to use in the other?
They are two totally different beasts and it’s great to be able to switch off between them. I’m always happy thinking that my stand-up audience will read my books, knowing that while some of the stories may be similar it’s not a re-hash of my act, it has to be written so that it sounds good being read in someone else’s head. I find there’s a lot more freedom in writing books. It’s the difference between city driving with it’s stop and start rhythm and then once in a while stretching out and taking a long smooth cruise control ride on the freeway – that’s what book writing feels like – if you are already lost in my stupid analogy.
Going off the last two questions: do you see your voice changing depending on the medium (your stand-up, books, podcast)?
No my voice doesn’t change – but the way I deliver it does. The podcast is pure, raw me, so is my stand-up but I’ve applied a craft to it so that it’s actually enjoyable live. People listening to podcasts don’t want to hear quick flashy joke humor – they want to listen to TALKING and thinking. So different mediums have different delivery but you can always tell it’s me.
There’s an AV Club interview you did where you talk about recording your album Hail To The Freaks and how you were in a weird place mentally at that point. Would you say comedy acts as a sort of cathartic experience for you during times like that? Or is it just so much more stressful?
Comedy could be cathartic but if you’re not handling your issues you just seem like a lunatic on stage – so if you’re an idiot it’s cathartic for YOU and the audience is like, “Oh boy.” I don’t think it was THAT extreme for me but I look back on it now and go, “Oh man, I’m a different person I know me so well I can tell I was really stressed back then and having a hard time figuring out who I was – and I had no sense of humor about it even though I was writing jokes. I was truly mad. Oh well, I won’t do THAT again.”
I was told you curate a pre-show playlist for all your live shows. What do you have planned for your Pittsburgh show?
I do! I do! I’ll add some songs that day – songs that come to me and feel right but right now some of my favorites on the playlist are After Hours by Velvet Underground and Sissy That Walk by Ru Paul. Compliments on my playlist mean more to me than compliments on my set. I’m a ridiculous person.
Who are some current working comedians who really inspire you?
Oh, so many!!!! I always love watching my friend Eddie Pepitone work – he just seems like he’s making it up as he goes along, which is a skill in itself. I’m just going to say Eddie because he’s who I’ve seen most recently and if I start making a list – then other people will get mad that I didn’t include them. I’m dealing with friendships with comedians you know. They’re constantly Googling their own names and I don’t want to get in trouble when they don’t find their names.
What are some projects as a performer, or a writer that you are really looking forward to starting or trying out?
I wish I could tell you about two projects I have going on right now – TV stuff with two different networks but I can’t because we are still in the paperwork phase. So – there’s that. What I would love to try out is playing some gritty role with my Boston accent that I can do. Just waiting for Ben Affleck to call and produce.
– By Nuria Marquez