Smile Politely

Jen Kirkman takes the stage

For anyone who is a Netflix fan, there’s a good chance you noticed a certain addition to the comedy section back in May. This hilarious special, entitled “I’m Gonna Die Alone,” was performed by famous comedian Jen Kirkman. For people who may not know of her: you’re missing out. Jen Kirkman is a comedian from Los Angeles who has her own book, is beginning yet another comedy tour across the country, and also has quite the track record of appearances on shows like Conan and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. With her witty and somewhat dark sense of humor regarding everyday life experiences, it’s hard not to find yourself not only laughing, but also relating to her stories.

Smile Politely: So as you’ve done previous tours and now you have a ton of places coming up on the “I’m Gonna Die Alone” tour, is there one venue in particular that you’re looking forward to from maybe past experiences?

Jen Kirkman: Well actually all of the venues on this tour are new to me; I’ve never played them before. I’ve done some of the cities before but not the venues. They’re all new for me so I’m excited in that sense; I always love to try new things. I also don’t know why I called it the “I’m Gonna Die Alone” tour because I am not doing material from the special. So I know it’s been confusing for people… it’s new stuff though, there might be one or two jokes from the special but it’s new stuff. I understand that most audiences coming have seen the special because I take a poll at the beginning of the show based on the round of applause and they have seen it. So I like to do new stuff so that the audience isn’t bored.

SP: Well that makes sense. You also recently did a tour over in Australia to sold out crowds, how was that?

Kirkman: That was fantastic, and that actually was my Netflix special except it was kind of different — it had more of a one-woman-show kind of feel to it in that some of the material was from my special I did not do because it was too generic and about “oh I ran into this weird person and I saw some strange things”. The show I did in Melbourne was just one tight hour and it was all very personal stuff and there were some moments where it was more of a, you know, five minute story that didn’t necessarily have a laugh so it was just very well rounded, almost a theatrical stand-up experience. That was fantastic, that was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival so I did that for about a month, every night for a month, and the rest of the tour was throughout Australia but I was with other comedians and I was only doing, you know, a twenty minute set so that was a little bit different. But the whole thing was amazing, I loved performing there and I would like to try and do it every year if I could. I so far have the last two years so hopefully I’ll keep that rolling.

SP: That sounds awesome. Do you have a favorite memory in particular from that tour?

Kirkman: Well for Australia, I think it’s really just the people you meet and I became friends with so many new people. I had a little romance that began there so of course there’s some good memories…and it continued. And then also just getting to be closer friends with people from America that I didn’t know who ended up being on the tour as well, if that makes sense. There were a lot of American comedians on the tour I hadn’t met; they’re based in New York and I’m based in LA and I met them through doing that Melbourne International Comedy Festival so it’s always about the people you meet and meeting comedians from all over and making new friends, as cheesy as that sounds. Because I never went to summer camp so things like that are different for me. And I think that for normal American tours, my favorite moments are when I get to the venue I’m going to perform at and I realize I sold more tickets than I thought and just getting really excited to perform for people but usually I’m just by myself so I don’t like, have any crazy stories or anything like that except that I went back to my hotel and tried to go to sleep and had to get up at 6am the next day, but that’s about it.

SP: Sounds pretty wild. Speaking of before and after your performances, do you have anything that you do to kind of prepare yourself and get excited to go on stage?

Kirkman: Well I get excited just about the minute I walk on stage because anything could happen so I don’t really need to get pumped. But my ritual usually involves just eating… I mean it’s so basic. But I’ll do things for my voice, you know, I don’t speak for a couple hours before the show so that’s why I never meet people and have dinner, I just have to save my voice. I use a Netti-pot, I drink throat-coat tea, a few hours before the show in my hotel room I’ll just chill out, light a candle, and slowly get ready. I do my hair and my makeup and those are all of my pre-show rituals. It never involves seeing anybody when I’m in town, it just involves spending a lot of time alone so that once I get out on stage with all of those people, I feel really, really excited to talk. If I’ve been talking all day and socializing, it doesn’t feel special to walk out on a stage and do that. 

SP: That makes sense, I loved the part of the Netflix special when you’re preparing before you go on stage when the old friend comes in and is trying to convince you to hang out later- I thought it was hilarious. But regarding the “I’m Gonna Die Alone” special on Netflix, did you feel there was a particular influence for that when you were writing it? Was it more of a personal thing or was it just kind of a range of different influences?

Kirkman: Oh yeah, well, the show is really just what I’ve been doing on the road lately, for the last three years. So it’s kind of a way to tape it, like, “hey people in different parts of the country or parts of the world that I’ve never been, this is what coming to see me looks like”. It wasn’t something different I did, as opposed to what I’ve been touring with, so it naturally came together after three years of life experiences happening, and me deciding to put things in a certain order that I thought might be a good narrative. Ending on the story about my grandmother dying was very deliberate but all of that material has been what I’ve been touring with. That was a no-brainer that it would be in there, but the way I structured it was very deliberate mainly because I just wanted to start with a very generic story about a guy not knowing what a lime is. It’s a way to ease in and I feel like I had to treat the TV special just the same way I would a live audience which is just, don’t come right out and start getting really personal, just ease them in with a story that seems like it’s generic but then through that, you get to see the way that I look at the world and then they’re on board, and then we can get into, “OK, so I found some grey pubic hair”. But to just come right out and say that, I think people just need a minute to relax and, you know, turn their phone off and have a couple sips of their drink.

So I very much structured the special for a live audience and the way I look at comedy specials is that it should be for the people in the room, and then whoever turns on the TV and watches it, they should feel like “oh, that’s what it was like in the room last night” instead of them feeling like they should be catered to. Because I think it should just be something that should be caught on tape instead of something made for the at-home audience. And I think those scenes; those were made for the at-home audiences so it felt like something you would watch on TV. But the actual stand-up part, that was something that in the performance of it, I catered to the room of people in front of me.

SP: Understandable. Is there a certain type of audience that you prefer the most?

Kirkman: I actually don’t know because I’ve never had just one kind of audience. My audience is made up of every demographic you could think of. Just the other night in San Francisco, I had young gay guys, older professionals that were divorced men, young women that are celebrating a bachelorette party… I had a sixty-five year old couple, black, Asian, white… I don’t have one type of audience. I wouldn’t even know who is there really, if that makes sense. I might be able to see who is there or sometimes I may speak to people, but for me, my audience is made up of all different people and I just like audiences that laugh. But aside from that, I don’t really think that there’s a “type” of audience, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an audience where everyone is kind of unified as one demographic.

SP: What are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed, if any at all, since your hit on Netflix? Have you been recognized more on the streets or are approached more after venues?

Kirkman: Yeah, a little bit. There have been a couple recognitions on the street. I got recognized in Denver when I was having dinner by myself one night, I didn’t have a show that night, I got in a night early because of the weather so I took myself out to dinner and this woman recognized me from my special and came up to me and goes, “I’m so sorry I missed your show, I know you were here last week”. And I said, “oh no, its actually this week.” And she goes, “oh…well I’m not sure that I want to go out this weekend”. It was just so perfect, like “oh God, will I ever win?”. But what I have noticed, even though there’s only been a couple of tour dates so far, is that most people have seen my Netflix special, most people hadn’t heard of me before it, and it’s not just because they think the special was funny, but they really related so they’re coming with this sense of, “I’m on board with what you’re going to say probably” and so they’ve been really receptive to the new material because I think that they already feel like kindred spirits.

So that’s good, but I cant get lazy with that, I still have to keep working to write the funniest punch lines I can, I can’t just think, “oh they love me, they’ll like it”. So that’s the biggest difference, is that people seem to be coming out because they really related to the special and that’s pretty cool, it’s not just because they saw me on someone else’s TV show. So I really like that, and I guess that’s the ideal situation…you know, except for the lady who didn’t want to go out that weekend. 

Jen Kirkman will perform at Highdive on Monday, July 13th at 9 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickests are $15 and available here.

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