Comedian Jen Kirkman’s confessional, conversational style of humor is as relatable from behind a mic onstage as it is on the page. With almost 20 years of standup experience, the comedy special I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) currently streaming on Netflix, the New York Times bestseller I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, and a new book, I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself, out this month, she appears to be unstoppable.
Whether bemoaning how stupid people are becoming, overanalyzing the meaning of gray pubic hairs, or fessing up to her incompetence at dating, 41-year-old Kirkman’s hilarious observations about relationships, aging, and everyday life are reassuring in that “no one’s got their shit together” kind of way.
Kirkman spoke to City Pages before embarking on an international book tour, which brings her to Minneapolis on Sunday.
City Pages: Do you think professional success and a fulfilling personal life are mutually exclusive?
Jen Kirkman: I don’t think they influence one another in any way. Having a little more money and meeting survival needs can be the result of career success, but in terms of making you happy on the inside, I personally have never experienced that too much.
CP: In a recent video shot at Riot L.A., you said that, “Right now, I don’t even believe in relationships.” What was the context of that comment?
JK: I just had a really sad breakup. There’s no funny story there. I completely believe in relationships. I meant: Right now, I’m not in a place where I’m seeking to be in one. When people say they’re taking some time after a breakup, I think it shocks people. I think a lot of people believe you should get back out there, sleep with someone, or rebound to get over something. That’s not healthy for me. That’s not the way I operate anymore. I’m in that learning-about-myself phase. To involve another person would complicate it.
CP: What differences do you see in your approach to relationships now versus when you were in your 20s?
JK: I honestly think I was better at it when I was 20. I had a lot of boyfriends that I met through comedy. I’d meet someone, we’d go on a few dates and not even call it dating, then end up a relationship. A year would go by and it would work out or it would end. There was no drama. No “Where is this going?” The guys were committed.
We didn’t have texting back then, and from what I hear from women, that makes all the difference. My friends are on Tinder and the guys just text you all day and they probably do that to a million other people. It’s just people getting addicted to their phones and getting instant gratification. It’s a lot less interesting to go hang out with them and have intimacy.
Relationships are not something I’m good at. I don’t always make the best decisions. I kind of impulsively jump into things. My approach now is to take some space.
CP: What is your favorite way to respond to people who ask why you don’t have children?
JK: Oh, God. Now I just joke with them and I go, “I totally made a mistake! I’ve been in the fetal position for weeks! My life is worthless!” They just stare at me. I realize I should have done that all along, just approached it with a sense of humor rather than engaging in a debate with them.
CP: Why do you engage with haters on Twitter when they call you things like a “dumb white bitch”?
JK: [Laughs] I don’t call them “haters.” I call them “sexist.” I’m not one of the people that believe that people are terrible on the internet because they’re anonymous. Most women have experienced terrible people in real life. I see them online and I’m like, “That’s a continuation of who they are in real life.”
What I do is I block them, then I’ll retweet them with a joke or a serious point of view just to educate men who follow me and to let the women that follow me know, “Hey, I’ll never stop speaking out about this stuff.” But I never try to change the mind of the person who wrote it. I’m letting everyone see, “This is a typical day in the life of a woman who simply tweeted, ‘I’ll vote for Hillary if she’s the nominee.’”
CP: What do you think Hillary brings to the table that Bernie doesn’t?
JK: I, honest to God, will vote for whoever is the nominee, her or Bernie. I know from her campaign’s narrative that she’s not just a one-issue person. The one thing I’m not thrilled about with his campaign is anytime you use the same word over and over, it can rile people up. I’m not in any way comparing Bernie and his followers to Trump, but with the words “revolution” and “establishment” and the way he keeps saying them… it makes it really hard to speak about Hilary because anyone can come back with, “She’s establishment. We want revolution.” She’s obviously bringing so much experience of having been secretary of state.
CP: On your website, you have an extensive list of recommended books on feminism. How did that come about?
JK: I feel like there’s this whole angle of feminism that was big in the ‘90s and it was about men believing women and their experiences. All these bands were doing Rock for Choice concerts. I went to see Nirvana and they stopped the show because these guys were groping women in the audience. It wasn’t a debate like, “Were they? Or weren’t they?”
I feel like everything has been watered down and men have grown up in an almost post-feminist world where feminism means equality and equal pay and once we have that, everything’s fine. No one looks at the culture. Oftentimes, guys online will try to grasp that and they’ll ask me, “Can you explain it to me more?” I can’t explain it in 140 characters so I asked women to send in their favorite books on women’s issues by women, whether it’s from an academic point of view or a memoir. I can give that link to any guy on Twitter. It’s an ever-growing list. I think reading is the best way to learn because you feel very in control of the experience versus someone preaching at you.
CP: As far as your own books, what do you get out of writing that you don’t get from standup?
JK: It’s very hard to take what’s going on in your head and write it out and have it make sense. It’s almost a challenge and a growing experience. It’s a different feel and a different art form. I love it as well as standup. I don’t have words for it ‘cause it’s a truly hippie-dippy experience for me where I’m in a good zone when I’m writing. Even when I’m struggling to write, it’s hellish, but it’s still an enjoyable hell.
CP: Your event listing says you will be signing “books and boobs.” Do you really sign body parts?
JK: I don’t think I’ve ever signed someone’s boobs. I think I’ve signed an arm or something. But I will if it’s respectable and people aren’t being creepy.
IF YOU GO:
Jen Kirkman, I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself
7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 24