Q&A: Comedian Jen Kirkman

The 'Chelsea Lately' costar and newly minted best-selling author talks divorce, kids, and comedy. She performs Sat at Live Wire and the Hollywood Theatre.

By John Chandler May 29, 2013

Comedy connoisseurs can get a double dose of the extremely frank and funny Jen Kirkman on Saturday night. The writer and costar of E! Network's Chelsea Lately will be a guest on Live Wire! at the Alberta Rose Theater, and then she'll sprint over to the Hollywood Theatre for some standup and possibly read a few pages from her riotous best seller I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids. By the way, if you're a childless-by-choice person who feels pressure to procreate from your more domestically inclined friends, Kirkman's book is a brilliant manifesto that you should keep with you at all times.

Culturephile: I woke up in a panic today because I fell asleep reading I Can Barely Take Care of Myself and I had this terrible anxiety dream about losing my baby in a big department store and I don't even have a baby. It was terrible.
JK: (Laughs) Oh no! You don't have a baby and you lost it in a department store?

I was in this big, incomprehensible department store and I couldn't find my baby and everybody was saying "Well,what's the baby's name?" and I go "I don't know the baby's name! If you see a baby, that's probably it!" I woke up thinking, "Oh god, good thing I don't have a baby." Up to that point I thought that your whole happy and childless life thing was just the comedy hook you were hanging your hat on but now I realize it goes a lot deeper than that.
Oh no, I don't want it to be my comedy hook. I only have like three jokes about it in my act. With that hook, I got to sell a book. My standup is totally different.

See, what I naively thought up to now was that having children was how comedians age. They go from being edgy, young, and cool to Bill Cosby in a goofy sweater.
The female comedians don't have kids but the male ones do because they find the wife to have it for them. That's the difference.

They've got time to write a book and talk about how funny it all is?
Yeah, it's kind of a phenomenon. Except for maybe Joan Rivers, most female comics don't have kids. The guys always change their minds, though.

It's because they don't want to relinquish all that good comedy fodder.
That's true. I mean, it is like an automatic new half hour of material.

I was kind of worried about… well, without the baby, what do you keep riffing on as you get older? I suppose aches and pains are good.
Yeah, aches and pains, maybe a second marriage, because the guy might be a jerk. Death. All the people's funerals we'll have to start going to—it'll be funny.

It's my theory that you can lose your comedic edge as a family develops, that domesticity is kind of the death of comedy. It's like when you have a sitcom you really like, it always sucks when they introduce a new baby. You know it's going to go off the air soon.
I know it's kind of hard to introduce a baby, but I think that family situations are usually a winner. It doesn't always have to be your kid or your in-laws or whatever, but most comics I know who have had kids, their comedy has not suffered. I don't quite hold to that theory, but I do recognize in the sitcom world that it's absolutely unnecessary to realize that… like when Family Ties had that extra boy. I was like, you don't need him!

One of my favorite shows is Parenthood actually, but their new baby disappears for weeks at a time. Like, they'll just be hanging out and doing stuff and I'll go, "Where's the baby!?"
Right, exactly. The kids don't even get written into several episodes in a row.

So what would you think about a ready-made situation? What if you fell in love with someone who had a six-year-old?
I don't think I could, because ever since I got divorced, I realized I have an alternative view of everything, so for me the whole traditional falling in love and being with one person, it's not exactly what I'm going for right now. For me, the whole notion of falling in love, since I've been married and divorced, I see it… not more realistically but just in a more pragmatic way. I just don't think that my love fudge could get rolling for someone who was that traditional and had a kid in the first place. [Author's note: Ms. Kirkman contacted us via twitter to let us know that she actually said "love buzz" in the previous sentence, but we like "love fudge" better. At the time of the interview she was talking by cellphone from a parking garage so we did the best we could with the transcription.]

If I fall in love then I'll chance the heartbreak of not being with him because I don't want to be with someone who has these responsibilities that would cause my life as I know it to just end. I'd rather it be someone who is more of a free spirit like me who can travel around and is dedicated to their career—unless I took the  "I love this man, but can't be with him" route and tried to make that work. But I don't think we'd be compatible in many other ways.

After you've toured with this book, are you going to try to have a new crusade so people don't go "Oh yeah, you're the comedian who doesn't want to have kids."
Yeah, now I'm moving on to "Divorce is OK." That's my next book I want to sell. It's OK To Be Divorced. Because I'm finding that many people are shocked by my divorce and I'm like "Isn't it 2013? Isn't there a movie in the '80s about divorce in which we accept that it's a thing that can happen?" I've lost a lot of my socializing because of it.

It seems like it would be exactly the opposite now that people know you're divorced, they'd go "Oh good, I'll have someone to run around with." That's the way it is with my friends. When you become domesticated, they kind of write you off like "You're not available for fun anymore so…"
I was mostly friends with married people, with the double dating thing and all that. Because of that they're very… they don't want to make me uncomfortable and ask me to dinner with married people, so I don't see them as much because they're usually doing things around couples. So I make jokes about that now in my act, so that's kind of where I'm moving. I would say that because I have been married and someone loved me once that I have seen the realities of marriage—and it wasn't for me. I'm not like, "Oh my god, I need a man." I've got single friends who are still in the "I need a man" phase. They're a whole different strain. Then I've got my married friends who are like domesticated and don't know which way to look when I bring up divorce. So I'm like, I need more divorced people who are almost 40 to hang out with, like I need my Mary Tyler Moore…

It'll happen. I think that around 40, a lot of long-term relationships dissolve, so suddenly you'll have this posse of people who are like "My god, I'm single again you got to help me." You'll get the second wave.
That's what I'm hoping for, the second wavers. I had made up that these people exist and I'm waiting for them to appear.Jen Kirkman
Hollywood Theatre
June 1 at 7:30

And you can feel superior to them because their social life will be completely screwed, and they'll have kids, and still be working out all the stuff with their exes while you can sit there and go, "Tee-hee! Glad I'm not you!"
That's what it's all about. And I have that in my act right now, about how married people love me when they were single and loved me when I was married, but don't like me when I'm divorced. They're so afraid it's contagious and they all want to know what happened, like a serial killing took place. They're like "What happened?" and I'm like "Nothing, we just weren't in love" and they're like "Oh my god!" I have a lot of couples that come to see me perform and they hear the relationship material and are like "Hey, I came here on my anniversary."

Now that your book is selling like hotcakes you can affix the greatest descriptive tag of all to your name, and that's "best-selling author." You don't have to tell anyone what you do ever again, all you need to do is say "I'm a best-selling author."
When I'm on the road I get asked about it a lot—there's always a cab driver or something: "You don't live here, what are you here for?" And I'll go "I wrote a book, I'm on a book tour." and he's like "Yeah, but you're not a best-selling author, are you?"  and I go "Actually I am." and he goes "really?" and doesn't believe me. It's like OK, the conversation never ends

I bet your mom is thrilled because she can say "My daughter, the best-selling author." It trumps almost everything, except maybe "My daughter the saint," or something.
My dad was trying to explain it to his friends. And he said "Jen is a New York Times best-selling author," and one of the guys goes "And what does that mean? Your book is only sold in New York?" He thought it was a bad thing, and he's like "Well, you'll get there someday." You never know what people are thinking.

I just figured it was the kind of thing that was useful for anything. Like if your car breaks down…"Please get over here quickly and fix my car because I'm a best-selling author."
I don't think it'll work like that. But I'll try it.

It couldn't hurt. What horizons do you have to conquer now that you're a best-selling author? Are you going to do movies, or look into writing your own show?
Well I've been trying to pitch my own show for years and years and I figured I'm just not popular enough. But if I write a book, that'll help than me with writing a new script every year. So I'm going to write a book and see if that gets popular 'cause Hollywood likes to do things with people that are already liked. They don't put their tray down on the lunch table unless everyone does it first.

Comedians are always trying to get shows about their lives; I'd love a cable show based on some aspect of my life and I try to go for that all the time but that's so completely out of my control; it's always something I'm working on. I'd like to do another book and keep doing standup. I kind of want to be a standup comedian for a living so that'll always be the goal. For the movie thing, I work full time as a comedy writer so I can't go out and audition, even for the role of the best friend who happens to be played by a popular comedian. I don't have that the ability to leave work and do that. So I'm kind of in a totally different world. I mean, if I was the same as Janeane Garofalo or Sarah Silverman, I would be at that level where someone would just write me in but it's not happening yet.

There's always a part for a crazy, man-hungry best friend who's quirky and cute.
Nowadays the word comedian is getting stretched a little thin, so they'll put some pretty actress in a comedy and say she's a comedian. People in movies think that they want funny people but that's not how it ends up.

The best friend always ends up taking one for the team. You're primarily there so that the lead character can talk about her feelings and self-doubts and things. So you have to find a way to make that funny.

You're just there to make Cameron Diaz look pretty.For more on Portland arts and culture, sign up for our weekly On The Town newsletter, subscribe to our RSS feed, and follow us on Twitter @aarondavidscott. Visit our Arts & Entertainment Calendar  for our editors’ event picks.


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