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Interrogation: Jen Kirkman

Kirkman_MicIn part one in our hopefully 19-part interview that we're hoping to publish in bookform by late 2019 -- we need to come up with a catchier title however; we think "Kirkman / Coming" might get misshelved -- Jen let's us know her controversial feelings on "pedestal" use, storytelling, and her feelings on having an entire year dedicated to her.

You're a big proponent of using a pedestal onstage to hold your notes. Was there ever any hesitation to use this archaic device? Did anyone ever try to talk you out of it?
A pedestal? I think you’re confusing a “music stand” with “what the audience puts me on.” I find it only fitting that a girl who once dubbed herself “Jenzart” uses a music stand. I didn’t know that was archaic? What are the kids doing these days…memorizing their acts? I think the first time I actually used this archaic device was back when I started doing Largo when I moved here in 2001. It was on the stage, and everyone seemed to do it. I think it sets a nice tone, “I am working out new stuff that isn’t memorized… but in a classy way.”

Your unique onstage style is that of a professional storyteller, someone who relishes the tangents and never rushes to get to a punchline. Did anyone in your personal life influence you in this regard? Did you ever try out straight setup-punchline jokes onstage? Does this question sounds too James Lipton-ey?
As President Bush would say, “I appreciate the question.” But unlike him, I really do appreciate the question. I would argue a couple of things here, even though we are not arguing. I’d say my story-telling style is not unique at all because Bill Cosby and tons of other comics in the old days (when music stands were hotter than color TV!) told stories. For me, the tangents are hardly improvised and they are a big part of my writing. Sometimes I get a little touchy with this subject because I think that there’s a misconception that I tell a story that has no pre-written laugh lines and then I end on some punchline. For example, I have a bit about how I don’t want kids. It’s about 8 minutes long when I choose to throw in every single component of that “topic”. Within that are a few longer ideas, like “I think the world is ending, who would have kids?” and then shorter jokes. Within the first few minutes of that joke there are about 7 solid punchlines, so when I do clubs, the road or a set on TV, I just remove the shorter jokes about that topic and do those. So in my opinion what I’m doing is the most old school, tried and true style of comedy. I’m most definitely telling jokes. And sometimes I tell a lot of jokes about one topic. Somewhere along the line the less-than-creative-people (bookers, managers) that I met in L.A. started getting confused and calling it “stories” or sometimes “indulgent” and I noticed that I had the same amount of jokes in my act as a one-liner comic but somehow when I did it, no one ever acknowledged that. So yes, I do straight set-up punch. Some jokes I have are only one sentence long and I might love the topic of the joke but really have nothing more to say on it. I don’t like changing topics after every punchline, I never know how to make that look natural. And also I’ve heard people say that one-liner comics are hard to ‘get to know’ on stage and people feel like they know me, which is funny to me, because when I do shows with Zach, I feel like he’s showing way more of who he truly is, and the way he truly behaves/his mannerisms when he’s doing his one-liners and stuff. And for me, I’m sort of always doing a little persona, exaggerating my thought process but I’m not really behaving like myself on stage, I’m behaving like my thoughts if that makes any sense. I don’t think anyone in comedy in my personal life influenced me in this regard but probably all of the comedy that I heard and saw growing up that had a life-experience, linear bent to it, is in my head. If anything it’s the way my friends who are not comedians talk that I’m influenced by. When they make me laugh I steal their soul.

If you want to make the question more Lipton-esque you can ask me, “Zombies versus Ghosts. Tell me about that tangent. Can we talk to ‘the ghost'?"

It seems like your particular style might not work too well in some of the louder, more glass-clinking, food-chewing kinds of "comedy clubs" that are out there. What's the worst audience you're ever played in front of?
Well, that’s where me doing this for a while comes in handy. I know not to tell stories that I would at Upright Citizens Brigade to these crowds. I do what I talked about above and pull out other stuff. Honestly, I used to have two acts, “club/TV Jen” and “theatre Jen” and I started to slowly lose my mind because I never felt like myself. Now I’ve ditched all jokes that I personally feel are not funny to me, and so when I do clubs, I always do what I find funny, but just more succinct, and I have a few jokes I open with to warm them up to the idea that a girl is coming to the stage and to assure them that I can handle myself up there. (Sad but true, I still feel like I have to do that sometimes.) I have little tricks and things I use to get people on my side, rather than have them feel bad for me…I have learned how to mention therapy or shitting my pants and keep them on my side.

Okay, but the worst gig….okay two things. The worst gigs I have had in the past year or so were not that horrible. They were only horrible in the sense that this feeling comes over me and I want to stop my act and say, “You guys, I feel like I’m not being myself. Can we start over?” Honestly, I haven’t bombed badly in a while, and the last time I bombed so badly and I wanted to cry was at Comedy Death Ray at the UCB maybe about 2 years ago where my paranoia that people ‘didn’t find me cool’ killed my instincts to be funny more than people chewing and glass-clinking ever could. One time though, last year or so, I started to get big laughs at the Improv on jokes I never thought that room would laugh at and so I got way too comfortable with them. It’s like when a girl is nice to a guy and he takes it the wrong way and tries to kiss her and she goes, “Ewww. What are you doing?” So I started to get honest with this crowd, and I confessed to them that instead of my joke notebook, I accidentally brought my diary to the club and I went to my table and got it and read a couple (what I thought were…) funny sentences from it. Dead silence. People started staring blankly and I just lost them, even when I tried to make it funny and talk about how I had just lost them. I got under the piano pretending to be hurt and when that freaked them out more I decided to finish up my time on stage by reading them the drink specials.
Between your storytelling style, your polished AST posts, and your hilarious blog, there seems to be some literary aspirations in your future. Any book deals we should know about?
Hey! Thanks for the blog shout-out. Strangely, I love doing that almost more than anything. I am writing a book but it’s not a ‘deal’ it’s just a seed between me and my book agent and then we’ll try to sell it. But I have to write the book first. I know! I actually have to do the work! What the hell? I should have sent her the first few chapters this summer and it’s almost been a year and….so it’s slow going. It’s based on my one-woman show, Cameo Kid. It’s hopefully going to be the place where I can pull out the darker stuff and not have to make it funny to make anyone feel comfortable right away. It’s easier to do that in a book, I think.

How does it feel being the barometer from which all AST Records releases will be judged? Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories, bloopers, thoughts, or therapeutic rants from/about your recording?
I’ve always wanted to be a barometer, or a nurse, so this is exciting. No bloopers from the recording, unless you want to consider the recording a blooper. I did cut one bit that I did in there because I started blabbing and hadn’t planned to put this bit on the CD. It’s about how I got drunk one night and broke down in sobs because I never made it as a ballerina and I didn’t like how my ass looked. But it makes me sound like I have a drinking problem, because I didn’t word it correctly and so I cut it. The therapeutic rant that I’d like to engage in now? I have listened to the CD and I hate the way that I talk. I was so comfortable with the crowd, I think at certain points I forget to finish sentences. I seem to be talking really fast but most people I know just say, “Yeah. That is how you talk.” And of course, I have some new tags for a handful of the routines I did on the album and I want to go to each listener’s house and explain to them how each bit has since improved.

We're officially declaring 2007 as The Year of The Kirkman. (Of course, since this is our first year of making such a declaration, we're not entirely sure if it's a blessing or a curse.) What can we look forward to, Oh Blessed One?
Oh, man. I’d be happy with just one month out of 2007, the whole year is quite a commitment. Well in March of 2007 (starting Friday night March 26th I think?) I’ll be on the new Vh1 show, The Department of Acceptable Media. It’s created by Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab and it’s based on Channel 101 and how that whole thing runs. Jack Black is our Executive Producer and he will be guest-ing on it when he can. The show is going to be a hybrid of TV as well as interactive stuff on the internet. That’s as far into the future as I’m looking. We start taping next week. This show allowed me to quit my job last year so I’m so excited. I’m also a bridesmaid in one of my best girlfriend’s wedding this summer so look for me there too.

(Join Jen, Paul F. Tompkins, Morgan Murphy, and Joe Wagner at the UCB tomorrow night for the official CD release party. Price: Free!)

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