In the dedication to her new book, I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself, stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman begs her parents not to read it. What follows is an extremely personal and not-always-nice account of her adult life and what lies ahead probably won’t sit well with them. Of course, Kirkman knows that her parents will ignore the warning. That’s why the Chelsea Lately and Drunk History alum begins the introduction with the all-too appropriate line, “Ugh, my parents are going to read this.”
A spiritual sequel of sorts to her New York Times bestselling first book, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales from a Happy Life Without Kids, Kirkman’s latest literary effort combines the lessons learned from her first publication with her phenomenal 2015 stand-up special, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) and true-to-life experiences that inform her comedy. Kirkman spoke to us about the book and other topics while out on tour.
The book is replete with laugh-out-loud jokes. Did you approach the writing process the same as you would when writing an hour of stand-up, or was it completely different?
It’s completely different, yes. In a way there is a selfishness. As in, I actually do know what I’m doing when I’m writing a book. If I think something is funny, I know that someone else out there will. The good news is that my entire audience isn’t all gathered in one room reading it. So I don’t need everyone to react to the same lines at the same time. So I don’t worry about the audience when I’m writing. I worry about how well I’m communicating what is in my head and keeping the rhythm going — meaning, take them on a sincere journey in a story — but create some suspense at the end of a nice laugh to ease the tension.
It couldn’t be more different than stand-up, and I think people are always tempted to ask me if the process is similar because I do both. But if you think about it, I don’t know if in general the impulse to ask an author if they test out material in front of live audiences would be on anyone’s mind. We definitely send friends chapters to read and usually just say, “Don’t go into detail, but just tell me if this sucks.” It can mess with your mind to sit alone writing and have no idea if something is good, but as for laughs — my main goal isn’t comedy with book writing. It’s to tell a good story.
You thank your friend Sarah for reading early drafts of the book in the acknowledgments. Other than your editors, is it difficult to ask others to read the book while you’re writing it?
For me, it’s horrendously difficult to ask anyone to review early drafts because it’s a lot to ask of someone. Plus I actually don’t want to open the door and hear people give me notes. I just feel like a burden on people. It’s easier to ask other friends who have written books. There are some who haven’t and don’t want to, so I may throw them a chapter and say, “Does this move quickly or make you feel like you want to read more?” I think I just have to flow and write and put things away for a while, then pick them up again as if I’m a stranger to the material.
Was there anything you learned while writing I Can Barely Take Care of Myself that you wanted to avoid this time around?