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Comedian Jen Kirkman talks Twitter and her new stand-up tour

Written by
Grace Perry
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You might know stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman from her very funny appearances on Drunk History or Chelsea Lately. If you’re tuned in to social media—specifically, into a little world called "Liberal Politics Twitter"—chances are you recognize Kirkman’s name. The New York Times bestselling author is never one to shy away from voicing her opinions, political or otherwise, via social media. 

While her online presence may be characterized by off-the-cuff snarky commentary, her stand-up is a different beast. Indeed, Kirkman is a gifted storyteller, whose work focuses more on the personal than political. And while separating art and politics feels like a near-impossible endeavor in 2017, Kirkman aims to ground any political stand-up in her trademark self-deprecation.

We caught up with the Los Angeles-based comedian ahead of the Chicago stop of her All New Material, Girl tour. You can see her at Thalia Hall on Friday, October 6. Tickets are still available for $22.

How’s your 2017 been so far?

[Laughs] Um, not great. But I just had a birthday, and my birthday is sort of like my New Year’s Eve. So, I was like, 2017’s kind of crap, but ironically just after my birthday is when more fun things are happening, like my tour. Now, I’m in the awesome part. The beginning was, I think, a shitshow for everybody.

How have you been keeping yourself sane?

I’m doing the weirdest things to keep myself sane... which includes checking Twitter every five minutes to see how to Robert Mueller investigation is going. I’m getting hits of adrenaline—it’s like a drug. Looking and hoping is keeping me sane. It’s like, news breaks on a Sunday, or Monday at 10 at night. I’m watching that investigation as if they’re like, “Robert, take a break. We need to get Jen in here.”

I joked about this in my special [2017’s Just Keep Livin’] but I do meditate. I’m a very self-care oriented person. But weirdly, that only works for life in general.

I’ve always considered myself a generally well-informed person, but for the past year, I’ve been reading the news constantly. We’re addicted to breaking news. I don’t know if it’s good for my mental health, but here we are.

Last time I was in Chicago, I did a show about growing up with a fear of nuclear war, because it was the Cold War. When that movie The Day After (1983) came out, and my parents were very honest with me—They were like, “Yeah, we’ll probably get nuked.” I’ve been worrying about stuff like that since I was a kid. So now, I’ve worried myself out. The worry is gone, and it’s fun for me to look online and watch other people freak out about stuff. I’m like “I worried about that in ‘87.” People are like, “Oh, God, we’re going to get nuked by North Korea!” and I’m like, eh, it’s fine. I’m either really evolved or really in denial.

Do you have political material in your new tour, or are you staying away from that?

It’s political for me in what I do. Twitter’s where I go to be boring, or ranting, or like, here’s a quick opinion on something I’m popping off about something. But none of that’s sustainable on the road because things happen too fast.

These days, to really do topical material, you have to hit it within 24 hours, or the jokes’s dead.

Totally. The material I’m doing that’s political is really ridiculous and through the lens of the personal. I think everyone likes to hear where you were on [2016] election night stories. It’s like, the new “Where were you when JFK was shot?” For me, I was home and ready to open my Hillary champagne, [when it became clear] that wasn’t happening. So I put up my Christmas tree to distract myself. And then I put on Hallmark TV Christmas movies—just went into complete denial. I was with my boyfriend at the time, and I was like, “Turn your phone off. No one is getting updates. We’re creating a bunker. I’m going to wake up in the morning, and she’s going to be president, and that’s it.”

It’s the kind of political stuff that could be relevant in a year from now.

You do have this base of trolls on Twitter who really like to engage with your Bernie and Hillary tweets. Does that impact the way you perform? Or do you just compartmentalize them to Twitter?

Oh it’s a totally different thing. It’s interesting—Twitter’s this thing where like, if someone writes something angry or snarky, you picture them feverishly at their desk like, “Argh!” And I’m on Twitter messing with people when I’m in line at the airport to check my bag. Sitting on the plane waiting for it to take off. I’m always doing something else [while I’m tweeting], and there’s always very little emotion going into it, or very little thought. I’m just amusing myself. I don’t think of myself as a public figure. I’m just doing what I’d be doing if I had 20 followers and no blue checkmark. It doesn’t have anything to do with my stand-up. It doesn’t change any of it.

You’ve been performing and writing far longer than Twitter has been around. How do you think Twitter—and social media in general—has changed the landscape of comedy?

Well, I think it has changed my work, now that you say it. I don’t literally think about it, but I’ve learned a lot on Twitter from following people who are different from me. Like people of color, or someone who’s trans. Twitter’s given me the ability to find out what people besides white straight women are thinking about or writing about or caring about. So that’s been really helpful—it keeps you out of your bubble, in a way.

But [take for instance] the Tina Fey sheet cake sketch that everyone was all up in arms about. I think if Tina were less famous and on Twitter all the time she may not have done that sketch. Not that I think it was offensive, but you saw it coming—that they’re gonna be like, “White women are saying ‘stay home.’” The minute something [like that] happens, I’m like, “Oh, Twitter’s gonna drag them.”

Do you consider relatability when you’re writing?

Nooooo.

...or are you just like, “The people who are gonna get me are gonna get me”?

Michael Ian Black was once interviewing... one of the guys from his group, Stella. They were talking on Black’s podcast, How To Be Amazing. And they were like, “We think we’re so mainstream. Everything we do, we’re not trying to appeal to everyone, we just assume we do. And then when we don’t, we’re like, ‘Whaaaat?’”

That’s like me. I’ve been that way when I was a kid. I went to school dressed like Mozart when I was a kid—I thought everyone was going to think it was the greatest thing. And people were like, “What?” I’ve always been called—or at least, early in my career I was—an “alternative comic,” which implies I’m trying to be weird. I would love as many people to like me as possible. But I don’t want to try to predict what they’ll relate to, because a) I’m bad at that, and b) I don’t find that stuff that funny. I’m a human and I assume other people are humans, so I’m like, “If I’ve thought this, someone else has thought this.”

I keep thinking I’m the most relatable person ever. And then I hear that I’m weird.

Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.  

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