Jen Kirkman just recently released the comedy album version of her special, I Am Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), which is streaming now on Netflix; I had the chance to hop on the phone with her a few weeks ago to talk about the album, her recent trip to Venice (during which she ran into fellow comedians Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher, and went on a dud ghost tour with a potentially suicidal Italian guide), and what her creative process generally looks like. Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, download a copy of the album, and grab tickets to see her LIVE at Bowery Ballroom on October 1st! HERE WE GO:
You were just in Europe, yeah?
Yeah, I had some shows in London and Manchester, and then I just went to Venice for a few days for a little downtime.
Amazing! Did anything interesting happen?
No, nothing out of the ordinary…I went to Venice, and that was kind of funny because I ran into Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher; I thought it was weird that three comedians were vacationing in Venice at the same time, but we ran around together for a little bit. I also went on a late-night ghost tour, and the guy who hosted it was terrible at his job. He didn’t have any ghost stories, and he just kept asking me about myself, and when he found out I was a comedian, he said this thing that people always say, which is like, “Oh, I’ve never heard of you!” or “You don’t seem funny…” But he did it in a more polite, Italian way; he was like, “Madam, this is not a provocation, but what is so interesting about your life that you have to travel the world and tell it?” And I’m like, “I think I want to ask for a refund on this walking tour.” It was good, but there’s really no rest for the weary if you’re a comedian. You’re constantly getting shit on by people, even when you’re on vacation. [Laughs]
Oh, totally. It’s either that reaction, or I also feel like some people get a weird complex where they try to be extra funny (even if they’re not naturally) when they find out someone is a comedian. Does that ever happen to you?
Yeah, well this guy got really self-conscious, because it’s a walking tour and it involves storytelling. So he’s like, “Well I have to be funny now…” and I’m like, “Honestly, no you don’t. I’m a history buff, and I just want to know this history of this bridge.” It’s very tedious. I actually don’t care if things are funny. Actually, I’d rather them be serious. You know, I only expect comedians to be funny, not anybody else.
Right, exactly. Now, tell me about the album you’ve got coming out!
It’s basically the audio version of my Netflix special, and it’s twenty-seven tracks. It’s cool, because it’s a little longer than most comedy albums, and it’s a good amount of stand-up on there.
Well I listened to it here at home, but I was kind of thinking about how limiting it is to live in New York City and want to listen to comedy on the go, at least for me, because I don’t want to be laughing hysterically when I’m like, on the train or walking down the street by myself, you know? I mean, I see other people doing it and I’m automatically like, “Oh, right, they’re probably listening to a really funny podcast!” But I still get self-conscious about it! If I lived in LA or something, I’d totally be listening in the car, but here it’s a little harder.
Oh, that’s true! Yeah, you could listen on the subway, but then you’d have a reaction.
I’ve heard a lot of people listen to things at their cubicles, which I think is weird, because you don’t want to be the person who’s laughing at your desk, because then it’s so clear you’re not working. That’s a surefire way to get everyone to hate you, but I do know a lot of people who listen to podcasts in their cubicles. Maybe they’re not laughing out loud?
Yeah, I have a very limited concept of what it’s like to work in an actual office. We have an office in DC, but up here I generally work from home, so I don’t have to adhere to any social norms that I would assume you’d have to if you were in that kind of environment.
It’s funny, too, that we’re talking about “Well, where do people listen?” Now we always have to be multi-tasking, but people used to just sit down and listen to things. I definitely don’t do that. I’m a big podcast person, and I just hover around my apartment, usually packing or unpacking for tour. I’ve never just sat and listened to something since I was maybe five years old.
Right! It’s nuts.
That’s a great way to promote my album! “Well, I don’t know where people are going to listen to this.” [Laughs]
[Laughs] So this particular album was a comedy special, but do you generally record your sets regardless of whether you plan to turn them into something bigger? You know, so you can listen to them to analyze and kind of tweak things for the next time?
I do record. I do one of two things: I bring my phone on stage meaning to record (I usually forget), or I record and I never listen. But when I’m first coming up with a premise, I’ll write on stage. So I’ll do specific shows that are about finding the jokes and stories, and I record those and listen back to them later and find a few lines that are really good. But sometimes when I’m on the road and my act’s all worked out and is 100% where it should be, I still hit record, because there might be an improvised line that I really like and would forget otherwise, but then I never listen back. But there are a lot of voice memos on my phone right now that I just haven’t listened to.
And how do your ideas for bits usually come about? Do you try to have a routine and sit down to try to brainstorm, or is it generally whenever and wherever inspiration hits you?
I know in my gut when something happens, “Oh, this is going to be a bit.” But I won’t know exactly how to approach it, because I have to figure out what I’m trying to say with it, whether it relates to anything going on in the world, and so I just think about it in the back of my head as I’m going about my day. Like that story I told about the walking tour guy, I mean, it was this whole long situation where he wasn’t doing the tour he was supposed to do, and then he ended the tour with a very bizarre, foreboding story about, “You never know who’s going to commit suicide.” And it seemed like he was saying he was going to go home and kill himself ? And I was honestly so annoyed with him that I really didn’t care if he did. I know that that’s a funny story to tell to a friend or in an interview, but is it stand-up? Not yet. Maybe in six months, something that happens in the world will remind me of that story, and I’ll weave them together and it’ll be something. When really strange things happen they stay in my wheelhouse, but I may never end up using them for stand-up. And I never try to think of stuff, because that just never works. That’s what I worry about, because when months go by and nothing pops in my head, I’m like, “Well, I guess I’ll never have another idea again, guess I better go find a real job!”
Well, you also write books, so I guess that’s a nice way to channel those stories that don’t necessarily fit into the stand-up format.
Yeah, that’s true. That’s definitely a nice break, too, when I’m sick of talking, and I can just sit down and write. You also don’t have to worry what the reaction is going to be when you write a book. I mean, you worry and hope that the reviews will be good, but I’m not worried that people are going to laugh out loud when they’re reading it, because I don’t need them to. As long as they’re interested and they feel like they liked it, that’s really it. I don’t have to worry about as much stuff as I do with stand-up. I have to worry about telling a good story and writing it well (so I don’t look stupid), but the pressure is off.
Right. And you’ve been in the comedy business for a while now, and I imagine that (like with anything else) certain things get easier over time. Is there anything that hasn’t gotten easier for you, though?
For me, it’s just stuff that I’m not great at. Like, I pitch television shows all the time, and I’m great at telling my life like it is on stage, but I’m not great with “What would the TV version of this look like?” And that’s where collaborations with other people come in, you know? It’s not like, “Well, I guess I’ll never do anything…” But for me, every year I come up with a pitch for a TV show, and it just doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s like my hell. Because it’s work! And collaborations can be hard for me sometimes, so I think that never gets easier. And just as far as knowing where my ideas come from…that never gets easier. I’m never convinced there’s more. The minute I haven’t had a thought in a while, I immediately go into disaster scenario, which is “I’m out of thoughts.” [Laughs] I think that never gets easier, but in terms of just showing up places and not being scared…that gets easier. (Not that I’m scared to go on stage, but the first time you start touring it’s like, “Oh my god, I don’t feel like a real stand-up, and I’m going to walk into this club with all these people and just talk? What if everyone stands up and leaves, and the club owner is like, ‘You’re a fraud!'”) But I think the same old stuff I’m not great at never gets easier. I think what’s not getting easier is getting the word out. With all of the social media that exists, it’s just impossible for me to figure out how to let them know I’m in town. The work side of it is hard to me.
Well, we’ll be sure to let people know you’re in New York in October! And I guess we’ll end all of this on a positive note: what is the feeling you get right after you’ve done a good show?
After a really good show I have a lot of energy. I feel alert. It’s not like I want to go out partying, but I can’t sleep. It’s not like I’m buzzing around all excited, but it’s like I honestly just want to call someone and tell them how it went, you know? That kind of thing. Or just go, “Oh, what a relief!” It just depends on how I felt going into it. Usually I don’t get to do what I want after a show because I have to get up early the next day for something, so I just kind of go to bed feeling good and lay there for about an hour because it’s hard to fall asleep after your mind has just been going. [Laughs] That’s pretty sad.