"When you're first starting out, you suck. I think for men, it's 'oh, he sucks but he'll get better. I'll give him a chance.' And when you're a woman and you're first starting out and you suck, it's because you're a girl."
– Jen Kirkman
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Jen. Sorry I'm late.
Jen Kirkman: No big deal.
GM: I hate it when people are late.
JK: That's all right. I just ended up getting caught by people on Instant Message.
GM: So it all works out. I fell asleep with my kid.
JK: Aw, that's nice.
GM: Isn't that darling?
JK: That's an adorable reason. My reason isn't as cute.
GM: Congratulations on giving your notice from your day job.
JK: Thank you! I'm just trying to work out everything. It's cable television, so...
GM: What do you mean?
JK: This show I'm going to be taping, or acting in, or whatever, is on cable.
JK: VH1, yes. So I might have been making more at my day job so I'm trying to figure it all out.
GM: What is the show?
JK: It's unnamed as of right now.
GM: Your blog is great, by the way.
JK: Oh, thank you!
GM: It's not only interesting, but it's well-written.
JK: Thank you very much.
GM: You don't often find that with blogs.
JK: Well, I kind of use it as a writing exercise. I write a lot. I'm writing a book right now and I write short stories and all that, so I like to label myself a writer. But my blog is mainly where I just kind of spit out what I'm thinking. But my rule with myself is not too journal-entry-ish. It's not like, "Today, me and my boyfriend...." I try to make it anecdotal or whatever. It's hard because I now have this little community of people that read it and I want to kind of write to them. Like, "Hey, guess what I got to do today?" But I usually end up erasing those.
GM: How often do you write the blogs?
JK: I try to do it every day, which is really easy because I just do it when I'm procrastinating. And I'm always procrastinating something. So I try to do it every day but it's more realistically like three to five times a week.
GM: And how often do you do your standup?
JK: I'm doing it less and less now, which is good because I'm using my nights to write. And I'm working on a one-woman show so that takes a while. But I would say I do standup... I try to keep it to two times a week. I mean, stuff always happens where people call me last minute, so I'd say anywhere from two to six times a week.
GM: Where do you find the time?
JK: I don't know. I'm a mess. I get up at like 7 a.m. and I write my book, and I go to work, and I go home. I'm crazy. I have no social life.
GM: What's the book, if I may ask?
JK: You may ask. I wrote an essay that was published on-line and this literary agent found it and wanted me to develop it further. The essay she found was about this acting class I took when I was eleven. Kind of one of those scam things, though. It was in Boston and I thought I was going to get famous. And all the disappointments that followed when I didn't. And she called me and was like, "Can you tell me more about yourself at that age?" This one-woman I have is about my mom told me when I was little that the world was going to end in the year 2000. And she made me watch the movie The Day After, I don't know if you're familiar with that. She made me watch that and it was kind of like it was real. So that was all part of my childhood and I do a one-woman show about it. So she was like, "Just write a book about that." It's kind of about how I was obsessed with TV and how I thought that since I thought I was going to have a short life, I'd better do something great and get famous before the world ends. And I was a huge dork growing up. It's just about this one very tumultuous year. It's like a memoir of an eleven-year-old going insane.
GM: How old are you?
JK: I'm 32.
GM: It's just amazing there are literary agents out there scouring the internet.
JK: There's a girl – a girl? she's a woman – her name is Hillary Carlip and she's an author and she has an amazing book out called Queen of the Oddballs. She's had kind of an oddball life. She's lived in L.A. her whole life and she's done all these different things. She's just kind of a real renaissance woman. She has this website called Fresh Yarn. She has a lot of writers who are already published authors. They're TV writers, they're comedians, but she publishes their short stories. I think she kind of uses that as a way to showcase people that she likes. And since she's a published author, her kinda lit agent friends check it out to try to get new talent. So I don't know if they're randomly going on sites.
GM: You also do Girl Comic.
JK: Yeah, I started that a long time ago but it's dead now.
GM: How long did you do it?
JK: I think about a year and then I moved to L.A. and the girl I was working with lives in New York so it was just too hard. And then I realized that it was just sort of not interesting anymore (laughs). I liked doing it but when I look back on it I'm like, "Oh God!"
JK: I was writing these essays and I hadn't found my writing voice yet. Now when I write an essay I try to make it funny and honest. Those were, like, taking myself very seriously, kind of writing in that way that I thought you had to use all this big language and stuff, that you shouldn't write in the way that it sounds like when you talk. So when I look back on that writing, I'm like, "Ugh, get it off the internet!"
GM: It's never coming off.
JK: (laughs) But I liked it. It got a lot of people writing and we got to interview some great people.
GM: Now you try to be humorous in your writing?
JK: I think so. I try to be honest. I never write about anything that is not dealt with already. People always say, "Oh, you're being so honest" about this or that. I would never... If I were in the middle of some emotional crisis, it's usually funnier once I get perspective on it. But, yeah, my main goal is to try to be funny but that is up for anyone to decide because they could have different ideas about it. I've met a lot of people who miss it completely and respond with very serious e-mails like, "Are you okay?!" (laughs)
GM: How long have you been doing standup?
JK: I've been doing it about nine years.
GM: So even while doing girlcomic.net, you were doing standup. But your writing just isn't that funny when you look at it now?
JK: Yeah, I think I just didn't know a lot about writing, which is why I'm so glad I did that site because when I moved to L.A. there was this whole thing that exists out here – it may exist in New York now but it didn't at the time – of short story reading shows that are supposed to be funny. So there's a ton of them out here where you write a short story that should be about five minutes long when you perform it. Thank God I got all that crappy, pretentious writing out of my system. I don't know what happened, I really don't, just something snapped and I realized, "Ooh, this is not enjoyable to read." Yeah, so I think my standup was okay but my writing hadn't caught up, it wasn't mature yet.
GM: When you perform up here, is it part of the one-woman show or is it solely standup?
JK: I'll just be doing standup but I have a – I'm not going to say unique because I certainly did not invent it – but it seems these days everything's one-liners. People call what I do stories. If they want to call it that, that's great. I mean, there's punchlines all throughout. It's not like a story where you're not laughing. But yeah, I tend to stay on one topic and explore it as much as I can. So if I have a 10-minute set, you might only hear me talking about two or three different things.
GM: Is your one-woman show standup-like?
JK: It's pretty similar to the way I am when I do standup. I have a very conversational style. But the one-woman show is a half-an-hour long and it has one theme and one story and it carries it through and has all that kind of one-woman-show-y-type stuff where it's like, "Okay, here's what I wanted, here's the struggle, here's how it ended." That kind of thing. But yeah, it's very similar to my standup.
GM: Do you describe yourself as a feminist?
JK: I certainly would, yes.
GM: What does that mean to you?
JK: The first thing that comes to mind is just, let's not be ridiculous. There shouldn't even be this word at this point. It just means, to me, not forgetting that just because women may have come pretty far that it's equal in all ways. I think everything always shifts. There's feminism in the sense that people can make the same money or vote or not be expected to be a nurse or a wife. That's fine, but then everything always changes depending on all the new stuff that's out in the culture.
GM: So you want to vote, too, is that what you're saying? Is that what I'm hearing?
JK: Men and women both need each other. And I love men and they're important, and women are important. I feel like there's no superior or inferior. That's all that it means to me. It's the same as if someone said, "I'm not a racist." You get what that means.
GM: What does it even mean if you're not a feminist?
JK: I think there's this whole... People who maybe don't know a lot about it would think it means, like, "I hate men" or everything is skewed so that women are victims and women this and women that. I think some people wouldn't be because they think it means somehow that this one group is trying to take over. (laughs) I don't know. But yeah, who wouldn't be? My friend and I were talking about this and he was like, even in terms of comedy, if women can't do certain things in comedy, like, "We need a hot, funny lady." I hear that all the time. Not like they're telling me I'm hot; I'm just saying that so many people just love to throw that around. But to me, if men get to do whatever they want in comedy, then women should, too, or else it's just bad for comedy. I mean, who wouldn't want everything to be equal?
GM: How is it now? I'm thinking it's getting better and then I read on your blog about the Craig's List ad looking for good-looking female comics.
JK: That to me is just one weirdo. I think that's not a good example of why it might be bad. I think it's good. For me, and all of the guys I know in their 20s and 30s and 40s... I mean, I grew up and could turn on HBO anytime and it would be Rita Rudner, Judy Tenuta, Judy Gold, Paula Poundstone, Roseanne. Every show, we already had Maude and Rhoda and Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett and all the women on SNL back then were so great, Jane Curtain and Laraine Newman. So to me, it didn't even dawn on me that there was a problem. I think it's gotten worse because now there's this thing where you have to be hot. There are some attractive female comedians and they get crap for that. It's like, "Why are you a comedian if you're attractive?" And if you're not, no one will look at you. I'm part of this group of alternative comics and there's some younger kids coming up on the scene and they were having this discussion on a message board one day called, "Are women funny?" I said to them, "What if I started a discussion called, 'Are black people funny?'" And they were like, "That's ridiculous. That would be racist." They didn't recognize that would even be a problem. They had all these statistics. It's crazy. I want to say it's getting better because I don't want to sound like I think anything's horribly wrong but at the same time I feel like it would be shining a light on things if I said it was. In L.A. it's hard, too, you know.
GM: Everyone's good-looking there.
JK: Even in clubs, I notice – I didn't notice this in Vancouver, actually, but I do notice this in L.A. – when women talk about certain things, there's this whole psychology that goes on with the audience members. Like, guys don't want to laugh at a girl on stage, women sometimes hate other women. I mean, it's crazy.
GM: You do occasionally still hear people say either women aren't funny, or you're funny – for a woman.
JK: Yeah, it's funny. Every once in a while a network will call me up and they'll be like, "Come to this audition. We can't find any funny women." I'm like, "I know a million!" This is what I think: A lot of the guys I first started with are successful, for whatever that means, either they're really wealthy or they're famous or simply just not working in day jobs but they support themselves. And that happened a lot sooner for them than it did for me. And I know a lot of other women who have this – when you're first starting out, you suck. I think for men, it's "oh, he sucks but he'll get better. I'll give him a chance." And when you're a woman and you're first starting out and you suck, it's because you're a girl. I knew guys starting out who sucked – we all did – who would get a club spot, or a manager would still be interested in them. That's kind of a subtle... Because when people ask me they don't see funny women, and I feel like I know so many, I'm like, "Why do I see it and they don't?" I come up with all these theories. That might be one of them. We don't get the stage time.
GM: I have a theory. Hear me out. Because of the way our culture is, we need to be representative. So TV producers can't put all white male comics on a show. They need a woman, they need various ethnicities. So they might take somebody who isn't necessarily ready yet in order to fill the bill. So they might get elevated and put on a national show, and people would watch and see a diamond in the rough, or somebody who's just not ready to be on national TV, and go, "If she's the best woman you can find, women must not be funny."
JK: I think that's true, too. And that happened to me, actually. Six years ago I got on that show Premium Blend on Comedy Central. I had maybe been doing standup about three years. I was okay but really shaky, had never done TV. And they make you perform in front of it seemed like a thousand, but was probably more like 500 people. I bombed. It was terrible. I found out later that they had a woman quota to fill. And it was like, "Ugh, why did you do that?!" It just makes everyone look bad. I'm shocked that there wasn't another woman more talented at the time. It's interesting. But you know, the people that I know personally, that I hang out with, and that's a lot of comics, no one ever excludes me with, "You're a girl" or any of that crap. The most they'll say is... Like, these Channel 101 people that I got involved with, they're amazing and they're not sexist at all, but they're just like, "We're nerds, we're guys, we get together and write and when we write stuff, we realize, 'Oh shoot, we need a woman! We don't have one that we normally hang out with so we have to go and audition them.'"
GM: That's how they meet girls.
JK: That's how they meet girls!
GM: Do you think way more men are doing standup as compared to women?
JK: I would say if it's not 50-50, it's maybe 60-40. I don't think it's too many more men than women. If so, women burn out more and are acting more, or something. I could name, like, a hundred female comics. It doesn't seem like it, if you look at a lineup of any show that might be on someone's blog or something. But I don't think that much more.
GM: Janeane Garofalo said that back when she started in the mid-eighties, if club owners had a woman headliner, they'd have to wait another month before another woman could headline.
JK: Yeah! Weird rules. I've gotten to clubs before and it's like the owners are frantic and everyone's freaking out: "You've got two women in this lineup?! You can't put them back-to-back!" The craziness. How many times have you had four white guys in a row? So I don't know what everyone is so terrified of. And then there's this other terrible thing. I really admire the men I know because they don't have to worry about, "My friend Joe is going to get famous before I am. I better just stay away from him and do my own thing." They all work together. And a lot of women comics I know, even though we're all close friends, it's tough because it seems like one woman gets something at a time. So we're kind of always competing with each other. It doesn't really set up this camaraderie amongst female comedians in terms of creating together.
GM: But you still have the camaraderie.
JK: Yeah, but I notice that we don't all really create together. We're not socialized that way, I guess. I don't even have a really good intellectual explanation for it, but there's always this sense of "Oh, this thing's coming up and there's the girl spot for it." When the Comedians of Comedy were thinking they were going to have a second season, this message board that I frequent was giving who they think would get it. They were like, "Oh, maybe this guy, maybe that guy." And someone was like, "What about the girl spot?" Again, what if you said, "What about the black spot or the Chinese spot?" It would sound awful. So I think there's still this kind of... It's so weird. I think it was so different long ago. But I could be romanticizing a time that I wasn't really a part of.
GM: You think it was different and better back then?
JK: I'm sure it was still just as hard for women in terms of like when you actually dealt one-on-one with the bookers or with the entertainment industry. I'm sure the female comedians that were big in the eighties would say it wasn't exactly easy. But I feel like we saw more women on television in the eighties and more different types. They weren't all hot. That kind of thing.
GM: None of them were hot, that I remember.
JK: No. They were very kind of androgynous. And not in a bad way. It was that eighties kind of jacket with the sleeves rolled up look. Everyone was doing it.... I think the misconception is that women talk about things that are specific to being a woman.
GM: Some do.
JK: Some do but I think that in general a good comic is going to take something that's really specific and make it universal. I laugh at guys all the time even when they're talking about stuff that I could never experience because I'm physically not a man. But they make it so universal because there are obviously some similarities. I think that would be my only advice to people who really think of female comics as kind of a different species. A good comic is going to bring you into their life experience and make you relate. Or if not, they're going to entertain you so much that don't care that you don't relate.
GM: I think that those who say women aren't funny as a general rule can be shown funny women that they'll admit to liking.
JK: They need some kind of statement to make. (laughs)
GM: Is your comedy more universal than woman-specific?
JK: It is all over the place. It's mainly more neurotic-specific. It's about my fears, which anyone would have. Like apocalyptic stuff and fear of flying. And most of my fans are men. Maybe it's because I'm a girl and they have a crush on me or something, I don't know. But I would say that the most people who reach out to bother to tell me they like me are dudes. And then when I do my one-woman show, that's more women.
GM: Are most of the comedy fans men? Maybe the female comedy fans actually get up and try it.
JK: I think the women who are fans just don't tell you when you're a woman. Because I think with the guys there's always that kind of sexual thing where they're like, "Ooh, I like this girl but I also think she's funny." I think women just don't tend to blather on. They're probably e-mailing the male comics. I think women love comedy. It's so funny because Comedy Central doesn't like to have any shows that feature women. They have Sarah [Silverman]'s show. She's kind of the exception right now. But they specifically don't really like women's shows because they're like, "Our demographic is male 18-49." It's like, I don't know, most of the girls I know, we've got crazy male fans. They're loyal and they don't even say "I like you for a girl." A lot of men will come up to me after I do stuff that is specific about being a woman, and they're like, "I must be a woman because I totally relate." And all different kinds of dudes. All different races, ages, size, shape, and so on. So I'm always like, "Could you guys start a petition? Then I could send it to networks that claim that men don't watch women."
GM: Do you get the weird male fans after you?
JK: I get some weirdos on myspace. I think some dudes think they have to encourage you, like at any point I might whither. No matter what I do, I'll always get an e-mail like, "Don't give up!" Or "Hey, you're really cute." Or someone will be like, "Nice boobs!" And I'm like, "No, no! Stop!" I usually ignore them or I write them back and just say please don't do that. But I get some weird people but no one that I've seen in person that's been weird. Just over the internet, where people are more comfortable to get weird.
GM: Do you feel there's always an extra hurdle you have to clear from the audience?
JK: I think so. I hate to say this, but at mainstream clubs, yes. When I do the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater or do the more what they call "rooms" or theatres, no. It's so easy it's ridiculous. I mean, it's not easy but they're just judging me as a comic. But it's a gut instinct. Because I'm very hard on myself because I want to get better. So when I go on stage and I suck, I go, "Oh, I sucked. What was I thinking?" But when there's this weird feeling you get, the only thing I can describe it as is when you're walking down a dark street late at night and you go, "You know what? I just don't think this is safe." It's that same instinct, like "I have a feeling that they're being hard on me because of their own hangups." Like, I have a bit about masturbating that is not even dirty at all. It's just about being a woman and how women like to make up all these crazy scenarios in their head, all their fantasies. It's just a neurotic journey into my mind. And when I do it at theatres they love it. And I did it in a mainstream club and it was silent. And I think it's a very well-crafted bit. And I had to lay into the audience: "Come on!" And then they laughed when I laid into them. But yeah, I think the hurdle is harder at a more touristy or kinda mainstream place where people have an already set idea of what a comedian looks like and is like. Chris Rock said this about being a black comedian: It's not good enough to just be good; you have to be the best. I think that's true. I know a ton of white guys who are amazing and I love them, but in general you really don't see that many mediocre black comics or mediocre women comics. Everyone is usually pretty good if you've heard of them because they've had to fight that much harder to get their name out there. But there's a ton of people who are just really good at marketing themselves and everyone knows their name and they're around and they might just be kind of average. I think there's a little more pressure on us.
GM: Are you talking about Dane Cook?
JK: No. Actually, no, I'm not. I'm talking more just people who do what they call theme comedy rooms in America. But I'm not talking about Dane Cook. But I did hear about his thing in Vancouver.
GM: I broke that story!
JK: Oh, you did? I was wondering what the audience thought. It seemed like some people were saying it's good for the club to get a celebrity, and other people were saying it's not like that in Vancouver – they really wanted to see the headliner and people were pissed. They didn't just want to see him and not the guy they came to see.
GM: I think that's people's prejudices. The crowd was loving him. They seemed to be on his side. The headliner could have come on after, but he chose not to.
JK: I don't think I would have. I think if ever I'm hugely famous like that, and maybe I'll change, but I know how hard it is to sit there and you get a club spot so few and far between, and to have to follow a celebrity, it's just pointless. Especially when you might be being judged that night by the booker or some festival or a manager. And they're not going to factor that in. They just don't. At least here. Every once in a while I'll do a show and, like, Michael Richards walks in and he'll do half an hour and it's like they're done after that. And then I'm trying to do a thing. I hate when that happens. I always think the celebrity should say, "I'll go on at the end of the night" or "I'll just go on and do ten minutes." Or something. But it never seems to happen that way.
GM: But another thing is it is show business. And the audience doesn't really care if it's fair for every comic. They just want a good show and something to talk about the next day.
JK: That's true. In my ideal utopia they could get both if the celebrity did their thing but did it at the end of the night so that everyone wouldn't be judged against them. Or if they do go on in the middle, keep it short. Everyone gets their thrill.
GM: I wonder if there was any miscommunication. Because when you get to be that big, you have people talking for you and then it gets back to you another way. He was originally supposed to go on last. But he gets there, and it's kinda late and he's shooting a movie the next morning, and he asks if he can go on early. The club could have said no. But they said he could go on but instead of doing the 45 minutes originally agreed on, he'd do 20 to 30. Maybe by the time his people tell him that, they forget about the time part and they just say, "Yeah, you can go on next."
JK: Yeah, that's true, that's true.
GM: And to play him off and cut off his mic at 33 minutes!
JK: I thought that was crazy. I kinda like it in one sense. It keeps it real. Like, "Hey listen, these are rules. Clubs are clubs and it doesn't matter if you're a star."
GM: But there was a new manager who most likely didn't know who Dane Cook was.
JK: Oh, is that what it was? I'm not personally a fan of his but I'm not, "I need to take him down!"
GM: You were here last year, right?
JK: I was, yeah. I loved it there last year. I'm on the alternative shows. I don't know. I'm trying to get on Eugene Mirman's show.
GM: Ah. Trying to fill the woman's spot?
JK: Trying to fill the woman's spot. Actually, he's the one who told me to start doing comedy years and years ago. We're trying to figure it out. But I know I'm there Friday and Saturday night. Last year when I did it, I was told that I was doing a couple of shows, and then when I got there I had way more shows. They just started throwing them at me. What I found interesting was that all the places they said I was going, I would get this feeling of dread: Like, Yuk Yuk's? That's not going to go well. Or this other place that's 45 minutes outside of Vancouver.
JK: Yeah. I was like, "These will be terrible." And those were the best shows. The audiences were just so warm and up for anything. And they were smart; they were not dumb. So I really appreciated that.
GM: There are a lot of great women comics coming here.
JK: Yeah. My friend Morgan Murphy I know is coming up. Is Maria [Bamford] going?
GM: Maria's coming.
JK: Oh, great!
GM: Janeane Garofalo, Elvira Kurt, Kate Flannery, Margaret Cho, Kristen Schaal, a bunch of locals.
JK: That's great. I hope I get to see everyone because I'm only there two nights.
GM: Is it because of work?
JK: No, I was told I was going Wednesday through Saturday, but then I was e-mailed my schedule and it was Friday and I was like, "Oh, all right." I guess because they're probably trying to save money.
GM: You're not a big flyer either, are you?
JK: I'm not a big flyer. I always take my sedatives when I fly but I tend to not really freak out about flying when I'm doing something like going to a comedy festival. It's usually when visiting family. That one's pretty self-explanatory. But yeah, I'm not a huge flyer. I'm a little bummed about all the liquid stuff because I use some good products and I usually like to keep them on me because I'm afraid to check them.
GM: I'm not a big flyer, either. I took a fear of flying course.
JK: Me, too! Where did you take it?
GM: At the airport here in Vancouver.
JK: Did it work?
GM: It made it better, for sure. It certainly didn't cure me of anything, though. But they suggested not to take any drugs or alcohol and to meet your phobias head-on.
JK: Alcohol, yeah, I agree. That's bad. But I did a fear of flying course when I was 19 in Boston at Logan Airport. They called it Logan's Heroes. It was very life-changing. Everyone was cured. Everyone. On our graduation flight, we just flew to New York from Boston, which is a 40-minute flight. But we circled forever. I'm like, "Why the hell aren't we landing?" Turns out there was a terrorist threat at the airport. And this was way before all that stuff. This was like '96. I knew. I was paranoid and everyone else was just breathing and like, "I can't believe I did it!" And we got to the airport and no one was there. The doctor was running to the security guard: "Don't tell these people what was going on!" (laughs) But then the doctor said to me after, "I think you also need therapy. You are just very anxious." So that was kind of funny. But yeah, I know all that breathing stuff does work but I can't seem to... I don't like the fear of fear so I like to take something to calm me down.
GM: I hope you can calm down. It's a shorter flight coming up to Vancouver.
JK: Yeah, it's not bad at all. It's just that I'm taking Alaska Airlines and I've been reading such bad things about them lately. A few planes recently had to keep landing an hour after they took off because the pressure wasn't working in the cabin correctly.
GM: I'm sure they've got it fixed now.
JK: It's all fine. Yeah, nothing bad happened. I usually stop reading those articles halfway through because I'm like, "I don't need to freak myself out." So then I have no idea what the problem is.
GM: They have Jesus on their side.
JK: I hope so. Unless he's there to just judge everyone. (laughs) "We have Jesus on this flight to judge each of you individually."
GM: Well, man, you've been off the internet for more than half an hour.
JK: I know! What am I going to do?!
GM: I should let you get back to it. Your public is waiting.
JK: Well, it was fun. Thank you so much for having me.