Living in a Material World

Jen Kirkman Has All New Material. Now, She's Ready to Share It With the World

Get to know the comedian before she stops by the Heights Theater this Friday.

By Nicki Koetting October 18, 2017

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Jen Kirkman is not Madonna. Obviously. But don't tell that to one New Yorker who saw tickets for the comedian's All New Material, Girl tour on sale and purchased enough for himself and 30 friends. When they showed up at her NYC venue, they weren’t happy.

“Obviously it's a Madonna pun, but it's not saying 'I'm the Material Girl.' It's a very specific comma placement,” Kirkman says, laughing. “He thought Madonna was doing a very small show and doing her Material Girl tour. Which is a great idea, she should think about doing that. But I don’t understand—when you buy the tickets, it says my name on it!"

With years of experience and two Netflix specials under her belt, Houstonia talked to Kirkman ahead of her Friday, Oct. 20 visit to the Heights Theater. Read on for more about her necklace line, how she turns wacky experiences into jokes, and why stand-up will always be her first love.

I loved that story in your first Netflix special about the guy who didn’t know what a lime was. What's the process for coming up with jokes like that?

Sometimes crazy things happen and we witness something that seems insane. With that kind of story, anyone could tell a friend, and it would be really funny—you don't have to be a stand-up. But for it to be funny as a stand-up, it's like you have to do a little more than just "Hey, I saw the craziest thing." So I collect a bunch of stories. I'll write down in my notes how I just saw a guy who didn't know what a lime was, or I'll write down in my notes something about kids in grocery stores on scooters.

Some things just naturally shake out—like that's a tweet, not a stand-up set, or I'll tell that on my podcast because it doesn't have to be so succinct and tight. But something about the lime inspired me to think about no, seriously, we are stupid as a culture, is that dangerous, are there enough doctors, is the world ending, what's happening. I start spinning out—and I thought, well that can be stand-up because it always has to come back to the comedian's point of view and their mind, and what it made them feel like to witness something like that. So I decided I'm going to make this stupid thing about how I saw a guy at a bar who didn't know what a lime was and turn it into this bigger thing about overpopulation and who really needs to be here and who's helping the planet and who isn't.

Is that how your brain works—you see something ridiculous, like a man who doesn't know what a lime is, and then you just kind of spiral?

Yeah, I can make myself spiral. I try to notice my thoughts a lot. Yesterday I saw a kid on a scooter, and he was going around a Whole Foods in New York City, and I was like, I just don't think when I was growing up that would've been allowed. If he slips on something wet he could hurt himself, he could run over an old lady. I just started thinking, because I was standing in line and what else am I doing? I was trying to remember, did I ever see that when I was young? Am I becoming the old lady who thinks everything is dangerous? Or are parents getting too lenient and their kids running rampant and not having respect for others? 

So I kind of go down rabbit holes, but luckily I'm not spinning out all the time, because I'd be spinning out 24/7 with things I see and things I think about.

I think people really need comedy right now.

I agree with you—it's such a cliche, but I think it's so true. After the election, I thought that being a comedian was really stupid and I should just do nothing and get a different line of work, but now I see that we're not so much distracting people from paying attention or helping others, because people are doing their part a lot. We're helping people remember that no matter what's going on, we still need that human connection.

Is going on tour stressful?

It's absolutely not stressful at all because I'm living my dream. I've wanted to perform for a living my whole life, so what sounds depressing to people is how, in most places, I just see the airport, the hotel, the venue, then I’m home. But it's my little rhythm. All I do is self-care and perform, and it keeps it really simple. I love it. People always seem very upset and say, “But you didn't get to go to the museum or the thing!” That’s not why I’m there. If I was doing it 300 days a year, it'd probably be really hard, but it's really not stressful at all. What was stressful was wanting to be a performer for a living and no one wanting me to come to their town. So this is the best thing that's ever happened. 

You do a lot besides comedy—you have a podcast, you've written books, and now this new necklace line has come out. What do you like about doing all these projects? What surprised you about doing them?

It surprised me that everything I've ever wanted to do happened all at once, and it happened when I was a little bit older. With my necklace line—it sounds so stupid to say, I feel like I'm someone with a perfume line that the world just doesn't need—but I love these, I think they're really fun. It's cool that women wear words like “child-free” and “feminist” and “over 40” around their neck instead of their name. There's something funny but a little subversive about it. I just can't believe somebody let me do it, because there's probably real jewelry designers out there who would love to work with the company I'm working with, BaubleBar, but they let a comedian do it.

What's surprising is that stand-up is always still my favorite thing to do no matter what. I didn't know I felt that way about it until I did a bunch of other things, and then I thought, oh, these are things I'll do in addition to it, but they're never going to take the place of it.

So stand-up is like your first love.

My first love, and then you think you've outgrown your first love, and then you meet new people, and then you're like, no, you're still my first love. I just have a bunch of other people on the side. [Laughs]

Jen Kirkman: All New Material, Girl on Friday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. The Heights Theater, 339 W 19th St. For more information and tickets, click here.

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