interview by Jenn Tisdale. Jenn Tisdale is a D.C. stand up comic. Follow her on Twitter at @Jenn_Tisdale.
Jen Kirkman’s new book, “i can barely take care of myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids,” is not damning you for having or wanting children. Nor is she suggesting kids are bad. It’s a wonderfully written, hilarious response to a question many childless women, who elect to live their lives this way, are asked today: “Why don’t you want kids?”
You might know Kirkman as a writer on “Chelsea Lately,” and her appearances on its spin-off “After Lately.” Perhaps you caught her fucking brilliant performance on “Drunk History” featuring Danny McBride.
And maybe you’ve seen her stand-up because it’s a goddamn delight. She’s toured the United States. She’s been on Conan. She’s released two comedy albums. And during a recent chat with her about the new book and her upcoming shows at The Arlington Drafthouse THIS WEEKEND, she tunneled her way straight into my heart because I’m never having kids either. Not on purpose anyway.
BYT/JENN TISDALE: First of all I just want to warn you that I’m at my grandmother’s house, taking care of her, and she’s somewhat forgetful. There is a pretty good chance she won’t remember I told her about this phone call and will come bursting in, slowly, in the middle of it.
KIRKMAN: I hope that happens.
Ha ha ha ha…well, let’s get down to it. I loved your book. I took notes and put them on sticky notes and attached them to parts of the book I wanted to remember to discuss. Oh but first let me say that while interviewing people I’m trying to make a concentrated effort not to talk about myself so if that’s happening just shoot up a flair.
Oh please, no way…talk about yourself. I’m tired of hearing myself talk.
Done. I really enjoyed the book because I feel exactly the same way you do. You said everything I’ve thought or felt on this subject.
You know that’s interesting because I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for the book and every person feels the same way. It must be a thing now.
Welcome to the new world. I think for me, and this is going to sound shallow but eh, who cares…one of the reasons I don’t want to have children is…what if they turn out horribly? By that I mean I’m an okay looking person. I get by at parties. I wouldn’t know what to do if I popped out a socially inept kid.
What’s funny about that is it wasn’t until my generation, in the ’80s, that people started being really mean. My older sisters are like “I don’t even know what all this torment is about because it wasn’t even like that for us.” So I was a really unattractive kid. I was severely underweight. I got tested for like leukemia and various other diseases and they couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t put on any weight. My eyes were too far apart. My teeth were totally bucked. It was the face a mother could love but kids were like making fun of me. My mom has always been 100% cool about me not wanting to have kids and I really really wonder if deep down she’s like I know how hard it was for Jen to be one and that is her DNA so I don’t blame her. Like you just made me think about that. That is the difference between my sisters and me is like I was a really weird kid and people were really mean to me.
A friend of mine just had a baby, well I say “just.” It was over a year ago. I haven’t seen the kid since the day it was born.
You sound like me and my friends.
That was literally the end of our friendship. When she was trying to name her child I was telling her “Listen, you have to rhyme everything with your child’s name because kids are dickheads so you have to think ahead and get into their little minds and figure out what they’re going to rhyme that name with. You can do anything with your last name but you have control over the first name. For example I never had breasts. They just went to somebody else, and all the kids called me “No Titsdale.”
Oh that’s a good one!
Yeah I know. I was begrudgingly respectful. They are usually so dumb until it comes to stuff like this. It’s like “You can’t tie your shoes but you came up with this?”
Oh that’s a good point.
You also mention, in the book, having ADHD. How did writing this book go?
Well I’m like weirdly organized with things I love doing but…and I’ll give you an example. God this is so boring but like I went to the gym and I was like “I’m going to pare down. I’m just going to bring my keys, my magazine and a wallet.” I drive to the gym and I get out of the car and I’m just going to lock my wallet in the car. And I like my magazine in the car and I take my wallet. Then I was like “Oh no, it’s the opposite.” So I go back to the car and I lock them both in there and I go back to the gym. My day is spent redoing things 20 times. I need to be completely stimulated at all times for things to work so writing the book was easy in the sense that if I just had a cabin in the woods and my only job was to write a book then I probably would have lost my mind but because I was working as a writer on “Chelsea Lately,” at the same time and going on the road and working as an actor on another show it was literally get up at 6a.m. and write or tell the editor I can’t do this. So that actually works for me, that kind of pressure, deadlines. If it was just me on my own I would’ve been screeeewed. I have that kind of, I don’t know where 3 hours just went, and I’m not even regretful it’s just “Oh that’s interesting. I don’t know what just happened.”
My mom always says “If it’s something you’re interested in suddenly you can focus.” Isn’t that everybody?
So while reading I was trying to figure out the timeline of things, not to be nosey though I did just read a book about your life.
You can be nosey. There is nothing I wouldn’t say.
Did you just get divorced?
No…it was basically…the book I pitched was about a couple who doesn’t want kids. I got the call after I pitched it to my agent. The woman who ended up buying it, we knew she was interested. It took like a month to get the callback of “yes they’re buying it,” and within that month I left my husband. And when I got the call saying they bought the book I was like “Slight change, um, can it be about a woman who’s divorced and doesn’t want kids?” And actually my editor was like “Oh I don’t give a shit as long as it’s about like how you don’t want kids. It doesn’t have to be about marriage. Please, if you can add the part in about how you have been married and you’ve seen all sides of this argument great. I’d love it, but it doesn’t take away from the argument.” That made me really happy. It made me just love her because I was expecting them to say “Well it seems kind of harsh to be single and also not want kids,” but I’ve been separated for two years and the divorce is still legally going through.
Well then I am going to say congratulations to you for the eventual, legal ending of your marriage.
While reading the book, specifically the times you had to deal with the question of why you didn’t want children; I found myself getting so mad for you. The same friend I mentioned earlier said this after having her baby “My body is finally fulfilling its purpose in life. I’m a vessel.” I was like “So my non life-giving uterus is just a complete waste of time?”
Ha ha ha ha…You’re just purposeless. You know no one would say this to a gay guy. It would be considered so homophobic to say “You know your sperm is supposed to meet someone’s egg and you’re not using it.” It’s so stupid, but of course it’s natural to have a baby. No one’s arguing that but it’s not the only thing you can do and you don’t have to do it.
There are lots of natural things. It’s natural to shit. It’s natural to fart, but we’re not going to have a 20 minute in-depth discussion about it. I will because I love a good shit story. I’ve said this many times.
A really good shit story is if you weren’t supposed to be shitting and you did.
It’s funny because in the book you talk about needing Klonopin to help you relax when you fly and my only experience with Klonopin was I accidentally shit my pants….Whoops here’s my grandmother.
*My grandmother did in fact interrupt us but it was very timely as she was announcing she was going to the bathroom, bless her heart.*
You know that’s a weird reaction to Klonopin because that’s the type of drug that makes you constipated. Maybe it relaxed you so much…?
Well this has taken quite a turn. We should get back to the book because I want people to understand how incredibly funny it is and you’re coming to town, to The Arlington Drafthouse this weekend.
Oh yeah I need to sell tickets….seems like people in D.C. will not leave D.C.
The Drafthouse is actually a really really good venue for comedy so people already know about it and it’s the kind of venue people will go to even if they’re not entirely familiar with the person that is performing. And also Dave Coulier is performing there, I believe the night before or after you?
Not only is he performing there, he’s performing there 2 hours before me.
Oh, so he’s gonna warm everybody up for ya.
I hope they change audiences because he’s super clean, right? I think he is as in you can bring your kids to his show.
I don’t think you have anything to worry about because this book is so good I want to carry it around with me like a Bible. I feel so very strongly about my decision to not have children and I’m not even as selfless as you…all these things you mention in the book you do on your own: volunteering and donating clothes. I don’t even do that. I am really incredibly selfish and I’m terrified of ruining someone’s life. Sometimes I get really angry at my cat for fairly silly reasons and I think “See, now if this was a kid I would have fucked that kid up.”
See you can have a cat. I can’t even have a cat. I’m so angry at my imaginary cat already. I’m gone for a week and I walk in on Sunday and it’s already meowing…and I’d be like “Shut up,” so see, you’re a good person.
So, are you nervous that people will become even more incensed?
No, I don’t care. I just want to make enough money to have them give me another book deal so I can write about my divorce. I could care less what anyone else thinks. They can go shove it up their ass. They don’t know me, so who gives a fuck. You know what’s so funny, the people that are mad are not people that have kids but the people that…there’s been a lot of people who tell me I’m preaching. I’m not telling anyone not to have kids. I’m answering a question when it is asked of me. They ask me if I want kids. I say “no.” Then they keep pushing, pushing, pushing, and it makes me sad and breaks my heart and then I talk about it.
This book, and consequently our conversation, lifted quite a heavy load off my shoulders. My reasons for not wanting children tend to come across as abrasive or mean-spirited but Kirkman provided me with a whole new hysterical arsenal to be used the next time someone is trying to figure out why I’m not putting my uterus to better use. To further prove how wonderful Jen Kirkman really is I thought I’d provide the non-dedication listed after the dedication in her book.
“THIS BOOK IS NOT DEDICATED TO…
One of my schoolteachers. When I told you I wanted to be a writer someday, you patted my head and told me to sit down. When I wrote an original short story about a zombie who wore ‘Calvin Klein jeans,’ you told me to write something more serious and that writing funny things isn’t good writing. When I wrote a poem and chose to read it in front of the class and then got made fun of for it—you took me aside and said, ‘When other people don’t like what we’re doing—it’s best to not keep getting up and doing it.’* You were wrong.
Thank God she didn’t listen. You can catch Jen Kirkman at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse Friday April 19th at 10pm and Saturday April 20th at 7:30pm and 10pm.