Comedian Jen Kirkman sort of hit reset on her life this past year
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At some point in each episode of The Pod F. Tompkast, Jen Kirkman makes Paul F. Tompkins laugh so hard that he has to lean away from the microphone to keep from spiking the recording levels with his reflexive guffaw. Kirkman’s stories so delight Tompkins that he built a segment in his popular podcast around her, but her charms shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows her as a comedian, a writer/performer for Chelsea Lately, or from the Funny Or Die series Drunk History. Whether in her act or on the phone with longtime pal Tompkins, Kirkman has a keen eye for the ridiculous, particularly if it involves foolishness on her part. She’s gone into unsparing detail about it on her two albums, 2007’s Self-Help and 2011’s Hail To The Freaks, on which she details crapping her pants on a date and shopping for fat-mom jeans, respectively. The latter happened as the result of a sudden, unexplained weight gain, which she describes on Hail To The Freaks, along with a lot of material about her husband and recent wedding. But since Freaks’ release, Kirkman has gone from heavy and married to skinny and divorced, two developments that seem sudden considering Freaks is barely a year old. They weren’t, as Kirkman told The A.V. Club when we met up with her in Los Angeles, right around the one-year anniversary of Freaks’ release. In a long conversation, she talked about making the wrong choices, Chelsea Lately and Tompkast, and what she’d do if she found $50 million.
The A.V. Club: It seems like your life has changed a lot since Hail To The Freaks came out a year ago. Does it feel that way to you?
Jen Kirkman: I think it is important to talk about the weight gain because we’re not talking about someone’s looks, as opposed to—it was a period where I just gained this very insane amount of weight very quickly, and I think it was because I was unsure and unhappy with what was going on in my life. And I don’t even mean my marriage; I was kind of burnt out at a job that, at a certain point, I was thinking I should go leave and work on a sitcom, and I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I just felt not great, and so I was kind of being gluttonous, overeating and not working out and whatever. So I can see where other people notice the change really quickly, like you go, “Oh, that album came out last May. So here it is, May of this year, and you look different and your marital status is different.” But all that stuff that leads up to things ending and changing is going on for so long behind the scenes for the person going through it. So no, it doesn’t seem like that short of a time for me, because everything leading up to no longer being married and everything leading up to, “Oh my God, I’ve got to get these pounds off”—that took two years. It seems normal and gradual to me, but then of course when you pull the trigger on anything like making lifestyle changes, switching jobs… Also, last year, I worked for Chelsea Lately as a writer and performer and had quit to go write on a sitcom, which I did for a year. Perfect Couples. Then I was not working steadily for a few months; I was just on the road or picking up projects here and there. So in the last year I have hit the final goal weight, I have gone back to a job, and I’m not in a marriage anymore. So it is a lot of change, but it didn’t overwhelm me, if that makes any sense. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. But then, yeah, when I look back on it, I go, “Holy shit.” That was a lot of big changes happening in one year. You would think I would get some great material out of it, but I don’t have any yet.
JK: I think Louis C.K. has covered the divorce stuff pretty well, and I feel like I have nothing to say because I don’t have anything mean to say about my ex, and it really is nothing personal. What I want to talk about is that I just realized I was someone that did not want to be married. It doesn’t matter if someone’s the right person; it’s a situation I don’t want to be in, and the material for me that comes out of it is not what happened in the marriage, but what’s happening after. Here I am, I’m almost 40, I did it—I did the marriage thing, and it didn’t work for me, not just because the marriage didn’t work out. I realized during it that I don’t like marriage. I just don’t think it works for me. I am told all the time by people that I’m wrong: “No, you’ll get married again,” and that’s what I want to do material about. I think it really freaked out other married people I knew, or maybe it didn’t. Ask any divorced person, and they will tell you that they felt like their married friends were freaked out, but I bet if you ask the friends, they’re like, “No, we’re fine. Calm down.”
So I don’t know which it is, but I would want to talk about that stuff, but I haven’t really found a way to make it funny yet. What I want to do is talk about how you say you’re divorced and everyone goes, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and they act like some cheatin’ guy came home with a pistol and lipstick on his collar and then took a whiskey shot and then told you to get the fuck out. Automatically people start pitying you, and so I was working on a routine about that, and then I heard Louis’ album where literally the first thing is about that. He was like, “You should be happy for me,” so I’m like, “Okay, well I can’t do that angle.” But then the minute that I became single, I got a book deal, and so I’ve been writing for a year. It doesn’t usually take that long, but I’m doing it in between other things, so I’m more stuck sitting at home writing than I am thinking of new material. So I haven’t put my stand-up brain on and processed my life through the eyes of being a stand-up. I will start doing that this summer, but it won’t be all about specifics. It’ll be, like, funny stuff my mom said when I got divorced, and how it feels like this really grown-up thing to do, but it’s really not. [Laughs.] To be sitting in a lawyer’s office, doing paperwork about it, it feels like, “Oh, I must be old,” because it seems like old people do this, but feeling like an idiot. So I’ve got germs of things, but I don’t have a lot of material about it yet.
AVC: When you were in Arizona last weekend, you retweeted somebody saying, “Oh, I’m bringing my wife to the show!” and you responded, “You’ll want to get a divorce after hearing me.”
JK: It’s sort of like my recycled marriage stuff from my album, but I do mention that I went through a divorce and I kind of recycle some of the old material and I just say, “I was probably the worst bride in the world. You don’t want to marry me. I was thinking about what music we were going to play later, and I wasn’t paying attention,” just kind of making fun of myself. But then I do talk about how I think it’s weird that people live together. I don’t understand that aspect of it. I talk about how, no matter what you’re doing in marriage, if someone dies first, I’m just not comfortable with waking up next to a dead body. It’s just weird, neurotic stuff. So that’s all I meant.
But I improvise a lot now when I’m on the road because I get bored, so I get into the crowd and I love to talk to married people. It’s really easy—and I don’t mean an easy way to get laughs because you have to do it right—but I mean people like to talk about themselves, and I actually went into the crowd in Arizona and I said, “Are you guys together?” because they had their arms around each other, and they were maybe in their 50s. And they go, “No, we’re divorced,” and I go, “Divorced from each other?” and I was kidding, and everyone laughed and they go, “Yeah.” And I go, “So you’re divorced from each other, and what are you doing here together?” and they said, “We’re on a date. We’re seeing each other,” and I said, “What?” and they said, “Yeah, we just didn’t want to be married anymore. We go on dates three times a week, we have sex three times a week,” whatever. And all the married people in the crowd were going crazy because they don’t go on dates and they don’t sleep with each other, and these divorced people are having the time of their lives. And so I think that had just happened, and that’s why I tweeted, “You’ll get divorced after you see me.”
AVC: What’s the story with the book?
JK: It won’t be out until April 2013, which is so maddening, but they have their own marketing plan. It probably could be physically ready to come out in December, but they save it for ultimate prime topic and marketing times of month, and this and that. My book is about how I don’t want kids. I do talk about it a lot, and I make jokes about it, but it has become a thing because, especially when I was married, people would just ask my husband and I casually, “Oh, do you have kids?” “No.” “Oh, are you going to?” “No.” And it doesn’t stop. “You’ll change your mind”; “What do you mean you’re not...?”; “When you grow old, this will happen…”; and all that stuff is in my act. So it’s about that. My parents totally accept the fact that I don’t want kids, and most of my friends do. They all say things here and there; they let things slip. They say, “I feel bad for you, that you don’t know the joy we have,” and all that stuff, but obviously if I don’t know it then I’m not missing anything.
So the book is about that, but it’s not complain-y or in your face or anti-kid; what I want the book to feel like is when Todd Glass came out on WTF. I want it to have that feeling where it’s not just about me telling my story about being gay, it’s… Just let people be whoever they are, and everyone feel okay about the choice you made. It’s always going to be weird to someone else, but be okay with it. It’s funny essays about situations I’ve been in where people have hounded me on the issue, but really an excuse to write a funny essay memoir about crazy things that happened when I was little and weird stuff like that, that I have a through-line of, “See, I shouldn’t have a kid because I was on Xanax until I was 18.” Which, that’s not even true—I never took a pill until I was 22—but whatever. I think people will like it, even people who have kids. Or they might not, I don’t know. I think women buy all the books anyway, but it’ll definitely be something I think women will want to read.
AVC: What’s the work process like on Chelsea Lately? You write and you’re on the roundtable, so is it like a traditional late-night TV talk show where you’re working on jokes in the morning and cranking out a show in the afternoon?
JK: I think we’re way more fast-paced than other shows. I’ve never worked on another late-night show, but from my friends that do… We don’t tape at 4, 5, or 6 and get in at 9. In other words, we’re never breaking news; we’re commenting on what is news. If John Travolta molests someone on a Friday, and we don’t have a new show to tape until Tuesday, we will still talk about it then. But we get in anywhere between 9 and 10, and then we’re taping. Sometimes we tape two shows a day, so we could be taping at 2, or we could be taping at 3. Between the time all the jokes are written and handed to Chelsea for final approval—because she picks some of them and doesn’t pick the other ones—there’s only about a two-and-a-half-hour window from final approval of jokes to when she’s live on the set taping.
We do have a writer’s assistant, but it’s not like other shows where the writer’s assistant takes all the notes; we have writing teams, so my partner and I will take handwritten notes in the meeting. Everyone’s yelling out jokes. Then we go back to our desk after the meeting, come up with more, clean up what we took notes on, type it up in a document. Everything goes to the head writer, she sorts through it, then everything goes back to Chelsea so she can process what she heard and see everything, and then she says “yes” or “no.” She’ll change things, but we don’t do a rehearsal and we don’t do rewrites, mainly because she’s in the room with us when we’re pitching, so if she hasn’t heard enough funny things, she’ll say, “Let’s drop this,” or, “Let’s keep coming up with more jokes.” So she already knows by the time we hand her the jokes what’s coming in a weird way, unlike other shows where it’s like, “We wrote for two hours, here you go,” and they say, “Nope, start over,” because it’s the first time they’re seeing it—that’s kind of what I heard on other shows that they do. We don’t do major rewrites. She says a lot of things off the top of her head anyway, so even if there’s a topic where she doesn’t end up using a lot of our jokes, she’s kind of Craig Ferguson-y in that way where it’s like, “Oh, she didn’t pick a lot on the guy who got a DUI with a baby in the car seat. She didn’t pick a lot on that topic,” but we know that means she’s then going to riff on the roundtable or something like that. It’s never, “Go back to the writers’ room, you idiots!” It’s never that kind of vibe.
We have a cold-open meeting, and that’s where we watch clips of stuff. Our cold open is different, though: We don’t do monologue jokes. She does a rant about either her life or some TV show, and usually the punchline is the clip, so we lead up to it. It’s very different, because we can’t really reveal what you’re about to see, so if it’s a clip about a someone on The Real Housewives getting in a fight, we’ll take this around-the-bend intro where she does a funny monologue and then right before the clip you realize what this is all leading to. We have that kind of meeting in the morning, then we go into the writers’ room, then we go back to our desks and write our jokes, then we do all the other little things like the lower thirds that pop up under the thing, or the out joke. Sometimes in the meeting we’ll come up with things to film that day, quick little things that can be inserted.
So it’s pretty fast-paced, and I don’t mean low-budget, but a lot of stuff that we film, unless it’s a big sketch production, we came up with that morning, so you have to film it quickly that day. It goes by really fast, and then we tape anywhere between 2 and 3. And then all the writers sit upstairs and watch the live feed, and between 4 and 6 either we’re filming something or just researching for the next day. Because we have a research team that just watches clips, so the writers research the topics. So we are working all day. Then as a roundtable person—all the writers are on the roundtable every other week, so it’s the same exact day except you go down to hair and makeup for an hour before. That’s the challenging part, because you want to yell out your best jokes in the writers’ meeting, but then you’re like, “Oh, I want to say that.” But it’s too hard to sit there and not yell out something and try to keep it to yourself. It’s too much to keep in your brain; you feel like you’re lying. So I usually just suck it up and go, “Whatever, I’ll just figure out something else to say.”
AVC: So you just got burned out on that a couple of years ago? Is that why you went to Perfect Couples?
JK: Yeah, I don’t know why I got burnt out, because I really love working there. But you know what it was? The show was really good for a stand-up to work at because you get this fan base, and you’re exposed to so many people. And our audience knows who the writers are as opposed to who is just a roundtable guest once in a while. So it’s like a little family and a little cast, and so people really care about us and follow us. It’s a great job to have if you’re a stand-up, because you get a fan base, and you get the opportunity to take Fridays off every now and then to go on the road—and club owners love saying it’s from Chelsea Lately. I must have just been in a personally miserable place, and I think I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll just change jobs and see what happens.” Basically, I wasn’t looking, and we had two weeks off in May a couple years ago, and these two guys that were Friends writers had a sitcom that had just got picked up to series, and they needed two or three staff writers. You can have amazing spec scripts or be from Harvard, but sometimes they will hire a stand-up now and again just because they like their voice, and so that’s what happened with me. They had seen my Drunk History, and then that led them to YouTubing my act, and they saw my stuff about marriage and they’re like, “Oh, it’s a show about young people who are married, so Jen might be cool.”
So I just had lunch with these guys and I told my agents that I’m not interested in leaving Chelsea Lately so stop asking me to go on meetings. But that’s always their job, is to keep your face out there. And I was like, “Fine, I’ll have lunch with these guys,” and I had the best time with them, and I really liked the concept of the show. I’m not blaming anybody here, but I was very much pushed by my representatives to think about it, because it is such a high status thing to work on a sitcom, even if it’s the shittiest sitcom in the world. I’m not talking about high status in America, but within the industry. It doesn’t matter if the show failed; it’s its own popular club, so you’re an NBC-approved writer—the network has to approve you. I don’t really know what that means, but the guys hired me, and then they have to ask NBC, “Can Jen work here?” and I don’t know what they based their “yes” on but they said, “Yes, she can.” So then your manager and your agent find out that you’re an NBC-approved writer and then bigger agents come calling, and it literally is like an overnight landslide.
It really means a lot to the industry, but it doesn’t mean anything to me as a stand-up. If I was just a writer, I guess I would kind of buy into it. Once you get a staff-writing job and you’re approved by the network, even if the show fails, you’ll probably get to work on the next NBC thing next year. Then you move up every year, union-wise, and the pay raises and the title changes are built in, so you can get a thousands-of-dollars-a-week raise just by sticking in the system for a year or two. So your agents love that, because then eventually, by the fifth year, you’re making close to a million a year, especially if it’s in syndication, and then the network usually just gives you your own deal to have a show. So that’s what my agents were thinking of, and I had to be clear on who I was and say, “No, that’s great for someone who is just a writer, but I’m a performer,” and it sucks that I have this opportunity, and I should have turned it down, honestly, but I need to keep building who I am, because when you’re working there you can’t go on the road.
AVC: And the hours can be brutal.
JK: Yeah, I mean, the hours weren’t bad, but it was just like, “Well, this is your job. What do you mean you want Friday off?” But when I was there people would say, “So you do stand-up?” and I’d say, “Yeah,” and they’d give you that look like, “Why are you here?” It felt the same way as when I used to temp and people would say, “Well, if you’re funny, why do you have a job?” It started to get weird when the casting people would say, “We need a day player for something; we’re thinking of a Kristen Schaal type,” and they’d just name funny friends of mine that they were going to cast. And I’m like, “Oh, wow, they don’t see me that way.” I’m not saying I would have been good for that part, but there is this very weird thing in Hollywood where you’re a writer, or you’re a this. And on Chelsea, you can be everything at once.
AVC: Didn’t you have a cameo as a cashier?
JK: I had a cameo as a cashier. When I met with them, they said, “We know that you’re a performer, and we will eventually write you in the show.” That was kind of a promise that was made that I’m not saying they reneged on, but it was a dumb promise for me to get excited about because it was more like, if it’s picked up for a second season. But so little is these days that that was dumb for me to leave for that.
AVC: So you had a Mindy Kaling kind of situation?
JK: They wanted to run it like The Office, but people just say stuff and then you get there and you’re like, “This isn’t running like that, though.” And all the other writers are thinking I’m weird for thinking I’m an actor. I’m so glad I went through it, and I would do it again the way I did it; it was just a total learning experience. I really am a lucky person that sometimes just gets a job, and so my attitude in life, that’s not a very career- or manipulative-driven thought process, is, “Well, it must have shown up for a reason, and I should probably do it.” So that’s just kind of how I looked at things, and so I actually don’t mean to blame my agents at all because that is really my philosophy, that if it shows up I should probably do it. So I just wanted to try it, and then I immediately realized I was wrong. When I left, it was so abrupt and sudden that I think everyone was shell-shocked; nobody leaves that place, because they don’t want to, but Chelsea said, “If you change your mind, you can always come back,” and she doesn’t say stuff like that lightly; she’s not a bullshitter. I knew she meant it, but I thought, “Well, how could that happen?” So that’s why I left. I wasn’t feeling burnt out, but I was feeling, “Wow, I can really take the fast track to something here,” and then I realized, “No, I’m a performer.”
AVC: How far along were you when you realized that?
JK: I will tell you one thing, and I think this is the most succinct way I can put why I took the job: I was 35 years old, and it’s almost like the same thing as when you decide to stop dating and you’re like, “Whoever the next person is, I’m settling down.” Eventually I’m going to be too old to be on camera, and I’ve been doing stand-up a long time. Am I going to really make it to the level of Chelsea or Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman? Am I really going to do that? Why don’t I take the nice writing job now, get some money, get comfortable? It’s going to be a great consolation prize for when my hopes and dreams don’t work out. And I really think I looked at it that way, not in a sad way, but in a very realistic… maybe the lifeboat is coming early, just get fucking in it. And I really think, deep down, that’s my real answer.
Then of course you have the agents pushing you, and every time I would say, “Maybe I should stay at Chelsea,” they’d be like, “No, no, no, the industry… this is very legit.” That’s when they would throw me that perspective. So I realized it wasn’t for me when I started getting jealous of what I was reading everyone at Chelsea was doing. Then they got the show After Lately, which is about the writers, and I know it’s not on a network and all that, but it just seemed fun. All my friends are hanging out, and they’re going on tour, and they’re getting crowds because they’re on the show. And the show is a fun show to work on, and I work in a room full of people who are very much like me: We’re all stand-ups, and we’re all kind of weird—even the married-with-kids people are all very strange people. We all fit and make sense, and the way we interacted was—I hate when people say, “It’s so inappropriate!” but it really is. We yell at each other and we fight like siblings, and we all vacationed together.
So I was sitting in the writers’ room and I realized—I did not know this, and it’s the secret of Hollywood—that most writers’ rooms feel like working in a bank. Everyone seems very straitlaced, very older, everyone is a homeowner, and it’s like, “Timmy pooped his pants today,” and everyone is always talking about their house renovations. It’s just very normal. And some people had been stand-ups but they weren’t anymore, and I just felt like a weirdo. I was like, “I’m in a writers’ room. Isn’t this another part of Hollywood where people are weird?” But it’s a very normal thing. I remember my boss one day kind of made fun of my sweatshirt because it was bright orange like, “Hey, are you going to pick up trash on the side of the road later?”—just a nothing joke and I was like, [Sarcastically.] “Oh, ha ha ha,” whereas at Chelsea we attack each other sometimes. And he apologized to me later, “I’m so sorry what I said about your sweatshirt,” and I’m like, “Huh? I didn’t even remember what you said.” And then somebody else that I wrote with—we’d become Facebook friends that day—goes, “I was looking at your Facebook and there are pictures of you in a bathing suit with your coworkers, and it’s labeled ‘Chelsea Lately Australia.’ What was that?” And I said, “Oh, we all went to Australia to film an episode and then we went to the beach together.” And he said, “You would get in bathing suits in front of your bosses?” I said, “Yeah, we’re all like family.” It’s almost like being in a musical where you’ve all seen each other in your underwear. Everyone just thought that was so weird, and they’re like, “Were spouses invited?” and I said, “God no!” and they go, “Oh, I could never go anywhere without my wife,” and I said, “I don’t know. We do that shit all the time.” I just realized that I’m not comfortable, and it was just very normal. So it wasn’t the work; it was the environment.
AVC: It seems very straitlaced for show business.
JK: It’s the most straitlaced part of show business, and I’ve talked to so many other people who have experienced this, and we all joke about how the higher-up people just sit around talking about their home renovations. Which I’m not saying is bad—I would love to have a very fancy home, and I would talk about the renovations all day. It is just that kind of thing. Maybe certain shows are different because I was working for some old-school people. I was just weirded out that they were weirded out by me—like, “Haven’t you met weird people? It’s Hollywood.” That’s when I realized it. Also it’s very mathematical, and I don’t think that way. I’m not good with plot. I’m not good with remembering, “Well, if John is going to be at the store, then he can’t be at the same scene at the movies,” and I just don’t think that way with plot structure, so I would find myself nodding off, falling asleep in the writers’ room. I was not engaged. My favorite part about it was writing dialogue jokes, writing punch-up. But I didn’t love everything else enough to ever want to do it again. I think maybe if I worked with a ton of like-minded people… and I love to work for a live audience show. The single-camera thing I found very boring. I feel like writing on Two And A Half Men would be a fucking ball. I would totally do that. Just old-school jokes, and it’s kind of fun to write jokes. It probably wouldn’t be because it’s, again, all old-school older people being boring.
AVC: You tend to interact with dissenting or confrontational people on Twitter more than a lot of comics. You also did that Tumblr reacting to some hurtful comments on The A.V. Club. Where do you draw the line between engage and ignore?
JK: It’s funny because I know how it comes off, so that’s why I don’t like to talk about it that much, because I feel like it perpetuates a thing that seems like it’s happening a lot. Because I’m not emotionally invested when it’s happening. I don’t care if someone says, “You’re not funny”—I could care less. I can’t even believe I have as many followers as I do and anyone knows who I am, so I just go from that every day. People will write me, and I know that they’re like a bug that walked into your apartment off the street; you’re like, “I understand this is not the general consensus. It’s not an infestation going on; it’s just some random person.” But I’m just fascinated with the culture of commenting.
So when somebody says, “I’m unfollowing you,” I’m like, “Why do you have to tell me?” Or when people go, “You’re a stupid cunt, I hate you,” or whatever, and then I’ll block them and then I’ll find later, somehow their friend will tweet me or they’ll find my email address and email me, “I was kidding!” And I’m like, “I’m not being a snob, but what’s the joke in just writing to someone, ‘You fucking suck’?” I’m more fascinated with the way that people decide to tell you that you suck and feel that they need to let you know. I used to engage with people and say, “Why would you write someone that?” but then unfortunately, instead of it being fun for everyone to look at, people start going, “Ignore the haters, girl! Haters be hatin’!” and I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m not really upset, stop.” And then I get upset at the people who tell me to stop being upset.
So I have a rule: I will only block someone if they write something creepy, sexual—like they’re going to rape me in an alley. If I get a vibe like that, I just block and I don’t say anything. Or if they just write, “I think you suck, and I hate you, and Chelsea Lately sucks” or, “You’re the worst part of The Pod F. Tompkast”—stuff like that, I just block and I don’t tell anybody about it and I don’t engage with them. If it’s a general thing where they say, “I’m unfollowing you because you’re stupid” or they don’t get a joke, I will retweet them and write, “You seem fun.” So that’s my new thing, and that is a signal to my regular followers and they know what that means: That person is getting blocked. And I think it’s funny. Every insult is always misspelled; it’s always someone who doesn’t get something I just wrote.
If I write a joke, sometimes people will call it a “lie,” and I’m fascinated with that. I made a joke during the some music awards. I wrote, “My friend is so dumb. She said Dave Grohl used to be in this band called Nirvana but that makes no sense. That would have been, like, 20 years ago.” Literally, within three minutes, I had 50 tweets that were like, “You idiot, he was in Nirvana!” and, “I weep for this generation.” How do you follow me and not know that I’m not the generation you’re talking about? They think I’m a teenager and they’re like, “Teenagers are stupid, you suck.” And I’m fascinated, so I just kept retweeting the crazy shit people were saying, and most people got a kick out of it, but a lot of people wrote to me, “Well, why did you write that lie in the first place and then retweeted it to make your followers look like fools?” and I go, “It wasn’t a lie; it was a joke.” So that’s the kind of stuff I feel like I’m truly engaging in.
AVC: You and Doug Benson do it more than others. His whole thing is “BLOCKED.” Sometimes he’s kidding but other times he’s like, “No, seriously.”
JK: I try to be really careful. I was worse at it a while ago, but I think now I have my two rules and then I write, “You seem fun.” Unless it’s an issue like with Chris Brown, when I don’t care what I’m saying; I’m only yelling at people, calling them ignorant. I’m not insulting them. If we’re engaged in a political or sociological discussion, I don’t mind going for it and engaging and getting nasty, but I try to be very careful. If I retweet an insult, I make sure it’s an adult insulting me and I make sure it’s not—I hate to say this—some weird-looking, like, you’re obviously in your mom’s basement and you just are trying to get my attention. Because sometimes my followers get crazy and they’ll write the person.
One time a teenage girl wrote something mean, and I didn’t even look and retweeted it and wrote, “Oh go fuck yourself, you spelled ‘you’re’ wrong” or something like that. She got bombarded and then she wrote me, “I’m a teenage girl,” and I said, “I’m so fucking sorry,” and I wrote to everyone, “Stop, don’t do this to her.” And I have to be careful; I’m a grown-up on the Internet having fun, but these are kids. So I try not to really be mean or get defensive, because you never know who you’re dealing with. But that [Podmass] thing: I don’t read comments. That’s the other thing, is that on Twitter they’re just coming at you. But I don’t read comments, and I don’t read the ASpecialThing message board, and I think people have a right to talk about their favorite comedians and say whatever they want, good or bad. It just so happened that someone said, “Hey, you were referenced...,” and I don’t even remember what it was.
AVC: It was the Tompkast review, where the writer mentioned, “It’s hard to listen to the Tompkast and not fall in love with Jen Kirkman.”
JK: Oh yes, it was a very nice thing. Someone sent that to me and I clicked on it, and I seriously just saw one comment, I zoned out, and then I just started seeing these things and I was like, “Oh my God.” It just bothered me so much to have people say weird things that weren’t true. I don’t know. It just bothered me. I feel like if you’re reading The A.V. Club, then you’re a certain kind of person, and you’re not the kind of person that… I feel like sometimes people blatantly shit on girls but they don’t realize, deep down, that it’s because that person is a girl. They’re like, “No, I just don’t like it; it’s not funny.” I know, but why? Why are you calling me a pill-popper? Paul asked me a specific story: “Tell me the time you had a fear of flying.” Well of course I’m going to mention that I was very neurotic about this, and that I took a pill and it got better. It’s not like Paul walked into my apartment and was like, “Jen, Jen, wake up, you’re overdosing on pills and I’m putting it on the podcast.” So for them to be like, “She’s a crazy… whatever,” it was just so hurtful. I don’t know; it didn’t relate to that kind of behavior. With the job I have, people always go, “Well, you do that on Chelsea.” I don’t. I personally do not, when I’m on a roundtable, go, “Lindsay Lohan is a pill-popping asshole.” I try to say something dumb or relate it back to myself, and even Chelsea—she has a reputation for saying that, she really doesn’t. She’s very careful. So I just wanted to write that thing because it just made me crazy, and then I never went back and looked again.
AVC: Speaking of the Tompkast, how did that come about?
JK: He used to take over for Doug on The Benson Interruption… Sometimes Paul would do it, and he would always put me in the show and we would riff onstage together. I just remember him telling me, “I think I’m going to start a podcast; I’m not sure what it is yet. I just know I want there to be a segment where you and I are talking, and I want it to sound like two friends talking on the phone.” I was like, “Great.” I wasn’t sure if he meant just one time or he’ll talk to different friends every episode. I really didn’t know. Even the first time we were recording, I think part of me was like, “Well, maybe I’m not going to do to it again. Is this a Jen Kirkman segment or ‘Paul talks to his friends’?” I actually never even asked him about it. I don’t even know if he knew or if he always did and I was just stupid and didn’t get it. But that’s kind of how it came about; he was like, “We’ll just try it,” and it was really that simple. He just said, “Let’s just introduce everyone to our friendship,” so the first phone call was us talking about our meeting.
We used to be really bad at it; we’d talk on the phone for an hour and a half, and I’m a really fast typist so I would help him transcribe it and he would edit it. Then we were like, “Let’s just try to talk the amount of time that it will actually air,” so now we are much better at it. But that’s how it came about and it kept going. We would try to pick a theme that we want to talk about and I would think, “Okay, I think I have something about that,” and then that’s it. I’m just a guilty person in general, but I’m always like, “Oh, c’mon, you said the funniest thing, and then you took that out.” I don’t even know if I’m supposed to talk about it—I guess it’s fine. I’m always this character on it, but I never speak about it. I think it’s fine, though, if I can talk about the process. He’ll be like, “Hey, do you want to talk about dogs?” or whatever, and I’m like, “Oh, I know he’s got funny shit to say about this,” but he’s not saying anything; he’s just prompting me and reacting with me. I think he means it to be a segment about me and our friendship, but I don’t think it’s for him to launch into a story. It’s not a story-swapping thing, but it’s not an interview either; it’s kind of a wind me up, let me go, and we chat. But if, in real life, that was your real phone friendship, I would be like, “What the fuck is this obnoxious friend that is just talking about herself and then doesn’t ask you anything?” [Laughs.] But I think it works. I think it has a sweetness to it.
AVC: The thing that’s funny is that he’s so delighted by the misadventures of Jen Kirkman. His reactions are some of the funniest parts because he’ll just crack up about something, and it’s just really funny hearing how he—
JK: How he laughs, yeah. As a comedian, it’s actually very funny because, even as a non-comedian, you know your own stories so well that nothing is interesting or surprising to you. And when you tell something for the millionth time, when someone laughs and breaks it for you and shakes you up, you’re like, “Wait, I didn’t even mean that to be funny. I didn’t even know that was funny.” So it’s always helpful for me, when we’re talking, to hear where he laughs, and it always makes me laugh. It’s not just specific to me—obviously that’s all you hear on the podcast—but that’s what it’s like to be his friend. He is truly interested in other people’s stories, and he gets so delighted at other people, and not just comedians: Anyone he’s talking to, he’s fully engaged. He’s fun and interesting that way in that he’s totally delighted by something you’re saying and you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t even know that was a thing.” And that’s one of my favorite parts, too. I like to perform and I like attention, but I always feel embarrassed by it because sometimes it feels like my friend/paternal figure is laughing; I know he’s really laughing as a comedian and a friend, but I’d be so embarrassed if this just came off like, “I’m so not funny. My friend is just so nice to me.” [Laughs.] It doesn’t at all. But I have the comment people in my head again. I’ve heard people be like, “He just wants to bang her!” and I’m like, “No, you idiot, we’re friends. We’re both comics.” Stuff like that.
AVC: So he has a theme and comes to you with it?
JK: Yeah, I don’t even know what his plan is. I honestly feel like a month-to-month renter. I accept that at any time he could be like, “This isn’t working.” The live show we did was one of my favorites because I loved being there in person with him and talking, because then I can see his face. My favorite part about that one, that I want there to be more of is—it is a friendship and it’s very sweet, but we’re really close and we’ve known each other forever, and there is a brother/sister element. So there’s times when he’s just like, “What? What do you mean you’re into this?” Not judgmental, but just that kind of, when you’re so close to someone and you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m so into tarot cards now,” and they’re just like, [Skeptically.] “All right.” When I can see it in his face, it gives me something to play off of, and so in that episode where I went surfing for the first time and I was talking about the spiritual experience I had, I fully expected him to be rolling his eyes, but he actually wasn’t, but then at different parts he was. It was one of my favorite things. But I’m on a month-to-month basis. I know I’ll always be part of it; I trust that. But I don’t know what it will look like every month; maybe I’ll do some in-studio stuff, maybe I’ll do another live thing. A lot if it is our schedules and his schedule is obviously a little crazier than mine because I’m always in the same place everyday.
AVC: What’s your ideal work situation?
JK: Nothing. I’m not ambitious. I want to travel the world and enjoy things, so if you gave me $50 million and said, “You can never perform again,” I probably would take it and be fine with it. If you let me go up at an open mic once in awhile and fuck around, that’d be fine. But I’m not obsessed with being on TV or famous or like, “I gotta get ahead and prove something to this person or that person,” or, “I want to stay in the game.” If I have to have a job, this is what I love doing, and I can’t believe I get to make a living at it, so I’m happy. But in general I would stop working any day and just travel.
But for my second, alternate situation—if I have to work—I would love to keep being an author and writing a book every two years the way that people put out albums. I would like to be the type of person that can go play a theater a Friday and a Saturday night a month and make a shitload of money. I kind of love Kathy Griffin’s career, except for the D-List show; I like her stand-up career. I have my fan base, and I do a huge theater, and I’m really successful from it so I don’t have to be on the road. I love being on the road, but to make a living as a road comic, you have to be on it most weeks out of the year. That’s just too much for me. But I would love to be such a successful road comic that I don’t have to go on it every week. I’d love to keep writing books and making albums. Just work for myself, do my own thing, and have people that like me.
I will always pitch TV shows based on my life. That’s always something that’s going on in the background. I don’t talk about it because it’s like, “What’s the point?” But it’s just something you have to do. But honestly, if someone said, “You can have your own TV show called Jen, it’s on ABC at 8,”—just because I know that you can’t ever really control it all yourself unless you’re Louis [C.K.], and I’m not willing to work that hard. [Laughs.] Ultimately, I like the live stuff; I like the, “You did it, the moment is over, it’s gone, now you’re back in your room.” I love that. Even though writing a book is a pain in the ass, I liked it, and I’d like to do more. And I like making an album. I’m kind of a loner and a do-it-yourselfer, so I think that would be my dream: book, album, live stuff. Kind of like a band, but one person. You know those band books that come out. [Laughs.] That’ll be my ultimate thing, but I realize you have to have the TV exposure to get that cooking. But the ultimate goal is just to find $50 million on the sidewalk and travel the world.