Despite dedicating her second book, I Know What I’m Doing — And Other Lies I Tell Myself to her parents with a plea for them not to read its contents, veteran comic Jen Kirkman probably suspects they did anyways. After all, with two Netflix specials in the bank and several prominent credits to her name, Kirkman’s family has surely seen or heard her stand-up material at some point. Especially the bits concerning them.
Hence why the Chelsea Lately and Drunk History alum decided to end her latest special, Just Keep Livin’? with a segment featuring her actual parents. Not to mention two actors playing fake versions of the pair — just in case her real parents “sucked,” as Kirkman tells us. In addition to her family’s involvement, the comedian also talks about growing up Catholic, Walking Dead fans, and her upcoming All New Material, Girl tour in September.
I topped off my vacation by rewatching your Netflix specials on a flight crowded with screaming children. Laughing out loud helped me remain sane.
That’s so awesome. I mean, I hate you because I fly a lot and I hate people like you, but I’m glad it was about me. Though I guess you were allowed to make noise in that case.
Having heard so much about your parents in your books and previous stand-up, seeing them pop up at the end was a nice touch.
I’ve never thought about involving them in anything. I knew I wanted to do the same kind of book-ending, like a little sketch at the end. I thought it would be funny if I got my real parents involved. Originally it was supposed to be about something totally different. My dad hates that I have a tattoo and he was all mad, but I told him I was 42 years old and that he couldn’t be mad at me. Because my mother wanted to look cool, she took my side. So I thought maybe the sketch would be about my dad bursting in on me backstage and saying, “I can’t believe the tattoo is real!”
I realized I’d be asking them to do a lot of acting, so I came up with a secret plan — to have actors play them, then have them bust in on the scene. That wound up being the scene. On the off chance they sucked, we would try something else with the actors playing my parents. We could’ve done something different, but I liked having them be a part of it because it involved flying them to New York City and putting them up in a hotel. They also got to wait around all day on a set, and get their hair and makeup done. It was meaningful to me to include them in the process of the stuff I get to do all the time.
Did they enjoy it?
They were so nervous. I tried to explain to them about doing a lot of takes, and how it isn’t personal. It was so hard for them to get their minds around how many times we ran the scene. I was trying to explain to them the first three takes weren’t even going to be used. It’s just the guys adjusting the lighting, and how the cameras weren’t looking at them. They just kept taking it personally and forgetting their lines, even though we were going to edit it all together. It was like they were in a play. I don’t think they really understood that you can screw up and it’s fine. I think they were nervous in front of the “real” actors, too. So my dad flubbed his line and it looked pretend, but it was my favorite part, so we kept it in. I think they ended up doing pretty great, and they got really big egos about it. They’re very non-show business, but their egos are enormous now. They’re like, “We thought we were really good!” They really aren’t modest at all.
I can’t help imagining them taking a screenshot and posting it on Facebook for all their friends to see.
If they knew what a screenshot was, I’m sure they would. That’s the thing: I asked if they were getting any compliments about it, and they said no one they know knows how to use Netflix. The fact that they said “knows how to use Netflix” tells you everything about that. No one they know is ever going to see it.
More often than not, you’re asked about your political material — be it women in comedy, the harassment female comedians face, or your active Twitter presence. Yet no one seems to ask about your family. Their presence in your stand-up is so profuse.
I was surprised more people didn’t ask me about them, too. Maybe they didn’t watch it all the way to the end. [Laughs] They’re huge. Obviously anyone’s parents… Even if I never saw them again, even if I left home at 18 and never saw them again, they’d obviously be a huge part of my life because they were my only influences for a very long time. They were always there and always around. I’m pretty sure I stole the idea of involving my parents in things, subconsciously at least, from Howard Stern. I started listening to him well before I started doing stand-up, and that was one of the first things I did in my stand-up, was talk about my parents. That’s probably where I got the idea from.
There’s also your family’s religiosity, or lack thereof, and your stories about growing up Catholic.
Of course my parents aren’t Catholic anymore. Not that I had to go to Catholic school, thank God. We were just once a week churchgoers, and I really have no damage from the Catholic church, thank God. But I still would have appreciated not having to go to church every weekend. Now they don’t go! They gamble instead. They go to the casinos and they’re like, “Oh God is in your heart.” And I’m like, “Oh great. Well he wasn’t in my heart when I was growing up because I had to go to church every Sunday morning.” Even as a teenager, which was really hard to get up in the morning for.
We don’t even go on Christmas anymore. One time my sister and I went on Christmas because we wanted to. It was very New England. It was snowing and we wanted to sit in this colonial church with candlelight. My mom straight up made fun of us. She was like, “What are you girls, religious now?” We were shocked. “What? You taught us this!”
One of the most poignant moments in Just Keep Livin’? is your story about hypochondria and getting your period early, especially for the greater context you place it in. That is, that men typically don’t want to talk or hear about it.
It’s definitely a thing women think of that men generally don’t want to know about. It’s more that. It’s less “ew” and more “I don’t want to know.” But women want to talk about it because it’s this crazy, real thing that happens to us. You watch The Walking Dead and all kinds of gory things and think they’re really cool, but this is some really cool, weird, science-y shit that actually happens. I can’t believe you like science fiction but you don’t like this. I want to tell you about it!
Truly the bit is about hypochondria, and how women bleed every month but we always know what it is and never worry it’s something else. That happened to me once in my 40s and my doctor told me I had no excuse. That I should always know what it is, and I wouldn’t be getting a gold star it. So I figured if I talked about this, I can’t just roll up and start talking about my period, so I should make it an ordeal. Anything for extra jokes! Though I’m always playing to the audience at home watching, and I want to address them as well.
It’s just such a cliché that comedians who are women talk about their period. I think we do now because we’re more comfortable talking about it, though it isn’t really a thing I remember other comedians having a bit about. It’s a stereotype without any truth to it, so I wanted to address that as well when talking about it. I went all over the country before recording the special to try things out, and was doing this same bit for drunk people who weren’t necessarily fans of mine. Yet everyone I talked to seemed fine with it. It was never the taboo we all assume it is, especially when you bring it up on stage.
Remember the tampon tax, when all these women in London went to parliament with their periods without their tampons? They just had blood on their pants. [Laughs] Some people said it was real, while others said it was just a performance and it wasn’t actual blood. Either way I loved it. I thought it was fantastic. When I would talk about it people get really grossed out, so there is a line. Talking about my period is okay, but once you mention blood it gets dicey. Though I’m a brat and want to poke at people and force them to hear about it.
The way in which you poke people about it reminds me of Ali Wong’s bit about having a miscarriage in Baby Cobra, when she jokes she forced her husband to watch.
I think too there’s supposed to be an emotion behind having a miscarriage or a period. You’re in a bad mood, you’re cramping and this and that, but it’s kind of not like that. It’s more just something else, this science-y thing we have to deal with every month. It’s such a pain in the ass. Like the bit I do reversing it, when the guy gets his period and forgets his tampon — it’s like that. We just have to carry extra things around and keep going to the bathroom more often, and it’s really annoying. That was also my point, too. Who knows how women would be if we were the ones not getting it. There’s no guarantee we’d be the nicest people about it. Anytime you don’t understand someone else’s body, you’re just like “yeah whatever.”
I also think it used to be, “Ew gross! Don’t talk about your period.” Now it’s, “Hey I just don’t want to know.” And you guys should know. [Laughs.] I think that’s the new angle on it. You know what? Let’s just know everything about each other. And then it gets into my anatomy bit, which honestly, none of us were taught shit about.
Unlike you, I endured Catholic school. From what I can recall, our sex education included many of the same lackluster charts you joke about.
They tell you once when you’re very young, and they don’t revisit it when you’re older and experiencing hormones. No one talks about it. It’s so bizarre. I didn’t get talked to at home about anything. I had to figure it all out, again, without the internet.
Your upcoming All New Material, Girl tour announced a string of dates for September. Why the long wait? Also, are you planning on prolonging the tour, or is this a limited engagement?
It’s going to be September, October and November, all over the country. There are some Southern dates, as well as the Midwest, West Coast, and East Coast, but they’re rolling out the sales slowly. It’s probably going to extend into 2018 as well. I wanted to take almost year off from the road because I was a little burnt out and I needed to come up with new stuff. I also wanted to rest my voice. I really don’t have any new stuff. I have a few new things that are percolating, and I definitely wanted to call the tour that so people wouldn’t get confused.
My last special, I named the tour the same thing as my special, and people were like, “Is it just your Netflix special again?” I had to tell everyone it was new stuff repeatedly. It was so confusing. So I decided to use a Madonna pun and make it very clear it wasn’t anything you’d already seen on Netflix. Now I’ve got to write the new stuff. I’m hoping it’ll be 80 percent new. People aren’t going to protest if I do one bit from a previous special, and they might bring a friend who doesn’t know my stuff, so it’s nice to have one solid bit.
You essentially gave yourself an assignment deadline, like back in school.
It was really deliberate. When the special goes out, we’re going to get these tour dates out so if anyone’s watching, likes me and checks out my website, they’ll see the new dates. They ended up airing the special earlier than they said they were going to, so we were clamoring to get these things finalized and booked. So some of them still aren’t up. They’re selling well, so I like it when people plan in advance. It keeps my blood pressure down because I hate not knowing.
I did a show in Eugene, Oregon years ago at a venue that sat 350 people, but we only sold 33 tickets by the time I was leaving for the gig. I wanted to cancel it because it was humiliating and I thought I’d be losing money, but when I got there 350 people showed up and bought tickets that night. Some people didn’t get in, and they had to start 45 minutes later because the box office didn’t have the capacity to get everyone through in time. I was like, “You guys, you need to buy tickets in advance or it’s going to be a disaster.” It’s so stressful for me! And you have to wait in line a long time.
Well I’m definitely looking forward to the Boston show in September.
I’m excited about the Boston show! I’ve never done the Wilbur by myself. I’ve done it in groups. It takes a lot of assess in seats to get in there, but it’s selling pretty well. I think it’s half sold right now, and I’m hoping I can sell it out. Everyone in Boston needs to come out.
If it’s February and the Boston show is already half sold, I don’t think you’ll have a problem selling it out by September. Unless I just jinxed it.
If not, I will know that you jinxed me and will ban you from the show.
Tickets for the All New Material, Girl tour are available for sale here. Jen Kirkman: Just Keep Livin’? and Jen Kirkman: I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) are currently streaming on Netflix.