"I work on it, but I usually come from a fearful place. Like if I get in an elevator I always think there's someone in there, if I'm driving I always think I'm going to get hit. It's this constant feeling of not feeling safe. I do feel pretty powerful when I'm on stage, so that's a great thing."
– Jessica Kirson
Guy MacPherson: Finally!
Jessica Kirson: I know. Sorry about that. It was a crazy day yesterday.
GM: Tell me all about it.
JK: I can't get too much into it but there's a new movie coming out called The Comedian that De Niro's in. So I'm going to be in it in a scene or two with him and I'm consulting with them on some comedy stuff, like helping them out with some stuff.
GM: That's on the record?
GM: Does he play the comedian?
JK: He is.
GM: He's done a lot of comedies lately.
JK: He has but this is not a comedy; it's a drama.
GM: Because all you guys lead such dour lives.
JK: Yeah, really. I don't have a big part in it; I'm just doing a couple scenes with him.
GM: So you were meeting with him yesterday?
GM: Had you ever met him before?
JK: No, I hadn't.
GM: Was it nerve-wracking?
JK: A little bit but I've been around so many celebrities I wasn't star-struck. I was just more excited and didn't really know what to expect. But it was really cool to get to know him, to meet him and talk to him. He's very sweet. A very sweet man.
GM: We see some celebrities so much but he seems a little more mysterious because he's not out there in the public eye as much.
JK: Right. Yeah, he is mysterious but very down to earth and cool and sweet. Very nice man.
GM: Well, that's exciting. When does that start?
JK: It starts in March.
GM: You're coming to Vancouver first. Have you been here before?
JK: I have. I did another show there and believe it or not I don't even know what it was for. I think it was for the JCC. So I've been there once before but it was years ago.
GM: You know we have comedy clubs here. You could come and do a weekend.
JK: Yeah, yeah, I know. I've done a ton around Canada; I just can't get everywhere. But I'm coming back.
GM: The night you're here is the first night of the comedy festival.
JK: Oh cool!
GM: And it's now partly run by Just For Laughs. And a show that you've been on is doing a night at one of the clubs, What's Your Fucking Deal?! with Big Jay Oakerson.
JK: Oh my God, I didn't even know that. That's so funny. I'll stop by. I'm doing the Montreal festival this year.
GM: Oh great. Have you done it before?
JK: Yes. This will be my third time.
GM: Things are happening for you.
JK: Mm-hmm. Things are happening.
GM: How many years ago were you on Last Comic Standing?
JK: Um, I don't know exactly what year it was. It was a long time ago. Maybe eight years ago? Seven, eight years ago? Something like that. [note: it was actually 2004 – twelve years ago.]
GM: But we still hear it in connection with your name. Who won your years? You were on twice, right?
JK: I was on two seasons. They voted me back on but it was kinda stupid because then I got voted right off. It was ridiculous.
GM: How rude.
JK: Yes, it was rude.
GM: Who won those years?
JK: John Heffron and I think Alonzo Bodden. I don't even remember.
GM: Do you think your career would be any different had you won?
JK: No. Not at all. No.
GM: It's just sort of nice in the moment?
JK: Yeah, yeah. And then you never hear about these people again, really. I mean, they have careers but it's not like they get famous.
GM: They have a bit of a blip and then they're out working the clubs like anyone else.
GM: I've seen your joke where you sing Happy Birthday. Do you have to pay royalties for singing it?
GM: Is it because it's comedy? I know you couldn't use the song in movies without having to pay royalties.
JK: Yeah, I don't know. I really have no idea. I don't know how that works with the networks.
GM: So let them deal with it.
JK: Yeah, exactly. I don't know.
GM: You come from an artistic family. Your step-siblings are actors and writers and designers. Do you share the same mother?
JK: No, my mother got married to their father when I was 17, about 30 years ago.
GM: Did you live together or were you on your way out?
JK: I lived with them for a little while and then went to college.
GM: It's kind of remarkable that you're all in the arts. What did your parents do to lead you that way?
JK: I don't think they did anything. I think they were just both fans of the arts. It just so happens I'm in the same business as them. I grew up in a different situation. I started because I was always the class clown and funny. And then my grandmother was the one to tell me that I should do standup. My mother's mother. I didn't think I could ever do it but then I listened to her and tried it out, took a class, and I loved it.
GM: Who was she watching that she knew to tell you to try standup?
JK: She was watching me one day and she called me over and said, 'This is what you need to do.'
GM: We don't often think of grandparents watching standup.
JK: She did. She watched a lot of standup because they all went to the Borscht Belt. They all went to old-time comedians. That was like a thing to do.
GM: Up in the Catskills?
JK: Right, mm-hmm. She loved that stuff and she saw that in me.
GM: Well, thank your grandmother.
JK: I know!
GM: Is she still around?
JK: She's not but she got to see me do The Tonight Show twice and The View and a lot of things so it was amazing.
GM: It must have been a real thrill for her.
JK: It was, it was. It was great.
GM: Do you use your family in your act?
JK: I do, yeah, yeah. I talk about her a lot and I talk about my mom, who's a therapist. And I talk about my father a little. I do when it feels like it's real, when it's stuff that I'm interested in talking about.
GM: You talk personal stuff, observations, anything.
JK: Yeah, I mean I talk personal about my views in life but I don't talk about my relationships a lot and that kind of stuff. I'm pretty private about certain things. But I talk more about observations of people and I imitate people. I don't talk about politics at all. I do a lot of character stuff and I talk to the audience. More that kind of style.
GM: Where were you performing last night?
JK: Last night I was at the Comedy Cellar and The Stand, which are both clubs in New York City.
GM: And you live in New York City?
JK: I don't. I live in Long Island.
GM: They have great iced tea there.
JK: They do. (laughs) They do.
GM: Are you still filled with fear?
GM: How does that manifest itself?
JK: I think most comics are. I mean I work on it, but I usually come from a fearful place. Like if I get in an elevator I always think there's someone in there, if I'm driving I always think I'm going to get hit. It's this constant feeling of not feeling safe. I do feel pretty powerful when I'm on stage, so that's a great thing. And I control it a lot. I mean, some comics, it really takes over them. I was talking about it with someone last night. It's a great comic and he's a successful comic. He said he can't go on the road and do clubs anymore because he's too fearful of doing these clubs on the road where people just get drunk and yell out. A lot of us have our little things, whether it's that or anger issues or obsessive-compulsive, whatever it is.
GM: I would imagine it would be harder for a female comic out on the road alone.
JK: For me it's not as much that as it is lonely and boring sometimes all day to be by yourself. But it's definitely fun when you're with a friend.
GM: When did you start standup?
JK: Seventeen years ago.
GM: When you started, at your grandmother's urging, and you're a fearful person, were you afraid then about performing in public or were you such a natural performer that that part was easy and it was just the day-to-day stuff that was scary?
JK: No, I was completely petrified. I never thought I could do it. I was very, very freaked out. I'm actually shocked that I ever did it.
GM: Now you're comfortable so how long did that take?
JK: It takes years. Years. But there are situations where it's scary. Like certain crowds that are harder than others. Like very, very old people or private parties when people are really drunk. I mean there's different situations where it's scarier than others. Some people deal with it every show they do. I'm grateful I don't have that. But it's hard when it's places that you've never done before, like situations you've never done, or situations that you have done that you know are going to be hard, like working at a development in Florida where everyone's in their 80s and 90s and you know you're going to struggle. I mean, it's just a hard situation.
GM: Why would you take that on?
JK: I do them a lot now because they pay very well. Normally the ones that are the most difficult pay the most.
GM: Do you deal well with old people offstage?
JK: Yes, I do. I definitely do. But sometimes when you do these shows for older people in Florida or people who have money, they say a lot of things to you that are very honest, like, 'I couldn't hear a word you said' or 'I thought it was funny but no one else did.' You know, that kind of stuff. It's hilarious.
GM: Right. 'You're no Georgie Jessel!'
JK: Oh yeah. So honest.
GM: I would imagine doing a private party would be the worst.
JK: Sometimes. And sometimes it's great. Set up well, it's great if everyone's seated and quiet. But if everyone's standing around and drunk, it's a disaster.
GM: What about fear when you're on a cruise ship? I'd hate to be in a storm on one of those things.
JK: I'm not as much worried about that as I am dealing with because it's such a mixed audience you have to be clean a lot of the time. And also just being on the ship and being in your room and kind of isolated. Because once you perform, everyone knows who you are. If you roam around, everyone's gonna talk to you. You're stuck on the ship.
GM: But you still do them, right?
JK: I do. Not as much as I could. I could do them all the time but I pick and choose which ones I want to do.
GM: I read that you said you've had items thrown at you, like cutlery and bottles.
JK: I've had a bottle thrown at me, I've had silverware and napkins and different things. Yeah, most of us have.
GM: What's the situation where that happens?
JK: Normally just someone doesn't like your comedy and they just throw something. It's insane. But that's not common at all.
GM: I guess the deeper you get into your career and more well-known and more credits, then you get more respect from the audience.
JK: Even if you have a ton of credits. You could be a huge comic and you still can get heckled. It's in Joan Rivers documentary. She was at a casino and people were heckling her. I've seen it happen to famous people. People are drunk. It doesn't matter who you are.
GM: Maybe that's performing in Long Island.
JK: No, it doesn't happen out here a lot. It's more on the road. Even on cruises people yell out.
GM: People are the worst.
JK: I know. They really are.
GM: Too bad they're such a big part of what you do.
JK: I know! (laughs) It's true. And they don't have manners like they used to, that's for sure. They're on their phones, they're talking. Last night I got on stage and a guy had his feet on the stage and I said, 'Please take your feet off the stage.' It was the first thing I said.
GM: Do you make it funny when you're scolding them like that?
JK: Yeah. I said, 'It's not your fault. I know you're just trying to be comfortable but it's like me putting my feet on your desk.'
GM: Does that start you off at a deficit?
JK: No, because I kind of make it more about me than I do about attacking someone. I just say it just bothers me.
GM: Your friend Amy Schumer's been in some hot water lately. What are your thoughts on her?
JK: Amy doesn't steal jokes. I know that she would never listen to a joke and then do it. At all. Ever. She would never, ever, ever do that. She's a great person. Very supportive. And she works hard.
GM: Do you think it's the nature of the beast that when you get to be big, people want to bring you down?
JK: Yes. It's going to keep happening.
GM: Although it was fellow comics who brought it up; it wasn't internet trolls.
JK: Yeah. I know her very well so whether maybe one of her writers heard something and then suggested it, but I know Amy would never sit and listen to something and then copy it. And we all know that. I just know her and I know she would never do that because she's very by-the-book with everything.
GM: And she'll get through this. People won't care.
JK: Yes. No, they will not care at all.
GM: Why did you only do two episodes of your podcast?
JK: Because the guy I was doing it with stopped. He helped me with a lot of stuff and has been going through his own personal stuff. So I need to find someone who can help me with it. I'm in the process of doing that now. Like an assistant who can help me with all that stuff because it's too much to take on myself. But I am very interested in doing it again.
GM: You're good in that kind of format.
JK: Thank you. Yeah, I do the Stern show. I did the wrap-up show and I've been doing prank calls for them. I love doing audio, radio and podcasts and all that kind of stuff.
GM: How do the prank calls work? Do they give you the set-up?
JK: They come up with an idea and then I kind of improv with it. And that's been really cool to be played on his show. It's been great.
GM: Do you feel for the person on the other end?
JK: No because they end up laughing after and we always get approval and it's just kinda funny. I'm never mean; I just kind of push them to a point. It's funny because Howard Stern said on air, 'Jessica keeps people on the phone longer than anyone.' I usually have to tell them it's a prank call to get them off the phone.
GM: Did you ever do prank calls as a kid?
JK: Always. It's one of my favourite things I'm doing now. It's so much fun. They come up with very, very funny ideas. They're hysterical. They're really funny. Calling a balloon shop saying I was attached to one of the Thanksgiving Day balloons and it was starting to go up in the air and what should I do? While I was on the phone with the woman, you hear me being raised up and wind blowing and I'm above the buildings. And she believed me. They're telling me to try to hook onto a tree. I mean it was hysterical.
GM: That's something we all liked to do at a much baser level when we were kids, and this gives you permission to do it as an adult. Because grown-ups maybe would still like to do things like that but we just aren't allowed to.
JK: Everyone would love to do them. They are fun to do, for sure.
GM: You have a hashtag: #alwaysbesilly. Is that your life motto?
JK: It is. And it has been for years. There are a lot of silly people but there's so many people who just don't get it and don't go there and take life way too seriously and can't laugh at themselves and can't laugh at certain situations. It's sad to me. I wish more people could just let go and be silly in life and not be so uptight and care so much what everyone thinks.
GM: Are your favourite comedians the silly ones?
JK: Yes. I mean I was always a fan of not standups but like Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett show and Gilda Radner, people from Saturday Night Live. I just love that kind of humour.
GM: Who in standup would be silly?
JK: I was a huge fan of Robin Williams, of his art, what he would do. He'd do an hour of not even doing a joke, from one thing to the next. Just so, so funny to me. I do laugh, believe it or not, at very dark, dry comics, too. I love different kinds of comedy. I love people that take risks and are honest and push the envelope. I don't mean dirty necessarily but they push the envelope and make people a little uncomfortable. That's my favourite kind of stuff.
GM: Are you familiar with Jon Steinberg, who you're performing with here?
JK: No, I'm not. My schedule's so crazy busy. I'm constantly running and moving and thank God busy. But I'm excited to meet him and see his stuff and work with him. Definitely.
GM: What can we expect from your half of the show?
JK: Probably different styles than people have seen before. I'm very in the moment. You don't have to think a lot kinda comedy. I just feel like people's brains work so fast now. Everyone's the phone, computer, da-da-da. It's just nice because I feel like I entertain people and really give them a show. And I keep it going fast so there's not a lot of lulls.
GM: Are you splitting the time?
JK: No, I think he's doing 15 and I'm doing 45 or 50. Are you able to go to our show or no?
GM: I have to check the schedule. I'd love to come.
JK: Yeah, that would be great. I'd love to meet you. It's been really sweet and funny. Let me know if you can go.