In a world of Netflix specials and podcasts and Twitter, why would a stand-up comedian still put out an old-fashioned comedy album? “Someone offered me money,” Jen Kirkman explains by phone to The Daily Beast, laughing. “I swear to God, that’s really it.”
This week, Kirkman released her latest special, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) as a digital album. In the hour-long set, which first appeared on Netflix over a year ago and was filmed live in Austin, Texas, Kirkman explores what it means to be a divorced female comic who just turned 40. It opens with a bit about a seemingly normal man she once encountered at a bar who, as it turned out, did not know the difference between lemons and limes.
“I think it’s for the completist,” Kirkman says of the audio version. “And I’ve had some people tell me they prefer to listen,” she adds, joking that she hopes they don’t mean, “I don’t want to look at your ugly face.”
When Kirkman first taped the special, same-sex marriage was not yet legal nationwide. She expresses her own aversion to the institution of marriage and the guilt she feels because, at that time, not all people had the same right to get married that she did.
“I take credit for same-sex marriage becoming legal,” she jokes. “I think Obama watched my special and realized how insane it was.” She clarifies that she is not “against marriage” per se, it just wasn’t her “favorite thing to aspire to” after getting divorced. “Your odds of getting divorced if you’re not married are zero,” she says. “And divorce is very expensive and very stressful.” While she’s not against marriage, Kirkman is firmly against weddings. “I feel especially if you’re having a second one, it’s embarrassing,” she says. Not to mention a third, like one of America’s two main presidential candidates.
Kirkman says she is not a “political comedian,” but while her stand-up will include the occasional joke about climate change or gay rights, her Twitter account is full of political commentary—much of it in support of Hillary Clinton. “I just get so passionate and angry about politics, and usually passion and anger is the best way to write a joke, but I cannot make it funny,” she said. “Just like everyone else in the world, when I’m ranting and raving online about politics, I’m just talking as Jen the citizen, not Jen the comedian.”
She was on vacation in Venice, Italy, when Clinton became the first female presidential nominee of a major party in Philadelphia last month, but she did watch the major speeches from DNC on YouTube when she got home. “I think it was incredible,” she says. “I was really trying to feel that—the first woman nominee—and it wasn’t totally resonating.”
“I definitely support her now, because of the competition,” she says, adding that she used to be a “third-party kind of voter” but now that she’s getting older she has found herself “getting on board with the two-party system.” She went from being a “scared fan” of Clinton’s to a “proud fan, because of who she’s up against.”
“Not unless she becomes president will I have my historical crying moment, like, ‘Oh my God,’ the way I did with Obama eight years ago. I’m too scared to get excited,” Kirkman adds. “I don’t care if the polls say 99 percent she’s going to win, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
But as much as she opposes everything Donald Trump stands for politically, Kirkman did recently find one bit of common ground with the Republican candidate: His apparent distaste for crying babies. “I must correct the record, I actually love babies,” she says, despite some of the material on her album. “I don’t mind when they’re crying in their home.” Planes, though, are another story.
When she saw Trump kick a crying baby out of a recent rally, she says, “Not only was it funny and he was completely imploding and saying one thing then saying another, but part of me was like, you just saved that kid’s soul. You should not bring a baby to a Trump rally. It’s just bad energy.” She describes it as the opposite of playing Mozart while your baby is in womb.
“I also did agree,” she admits. “You don’t want a baby crying. It’s the only thing he’s done so far that’s made me go, ‘Well, I’d probably do the same thing.’” But then again, she adds, “I’m a comedian and the baby would be interrupting my comedy. The president has to like babies so he can sign off on programs that help children. So, it’s terrible, but I found it, as a comedian and someone who’s on planes a lot, a little satisfying.”
A mere 90 minutes after we spoke, Kirkman casually posted a joke about Hillary Clinton on Twitter that prompted a torrent of vitriolic backlash so intense that two days later she was forced to effectively stop using the service for anything but its most basic promotional use. The blatantly sarcastic one-liner, since deleted, read, “I LIKE that Hillary has murdered a lot of people.” The attacks came from Clinton-hating trolls on both sides of the political aisle, both mostly consisted of hateful misogyny, including threats of rape and murder directed towards Kirkman.
Early Friday morning, Kirkman posted the long statement below on her Twitter account that attempted to explain both the intention of the joke itself and push back against the harassment she received. While she stressed that she is not “quitting” Twitter, she said she will no longer be looking at her @ replies and has someone else managing her account. Those are the same steps that female celebrities like Lena Dunham or Leslie Jones took after they were targeted by similar armies of Twitter trolls.
“But as for ruining my career?” she asked. “Um, that’s not a thing that some tweets can do.” Kirkman said she is not doing this for publicity, and doesn’t welcome the “think pieces” that will follow, evidenced by the fact that she and her PR team were not willing to provide any follow-up comments about the Twitter incident after our original interview.
Of course, this is not the first time Kirkman has attempted to remove a piece of content from the internet that ended up causing her more trouble than she anticipated. Then, as now, she expressed fear that something she said could unintentionally “ruin” her career.
In her comedy, Kirkman openly discusses her own gray pubic hair and masturbation habits, among other personal matters, but there is one thing she has decided she will no longer discuss at all in public. Last year, she made some widely-obsessed-over comments on a since-deleted episode of her podcast, I Seem Fun, about a “very famous comic” who she chose not to go on tour with 10 years earlier because, as she said, he was a “known perv.” When I attempted to broach the subject with her, she immediately shut down, saying she had nothing more to say about the issue—period.
Various articles have identified the male comedian, who Kirkman said does “new material every year” and is “basically a French filmmaker,” as Louis C.K. Speaking to Chris Hardwick on The Nerdist podcast last summer, she admitted that it was “kind of obvious” who she was talking about and clarified that she was “never violated” and has put whatever “creepiness” occurred behind her. Kirkman also lamented the fact that it has become something that comes up in every press interview she does, saying she doesn’t want some off-hand comments she once made to define or even “ruin” her comedy career.
In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, comedian Roseanne Barr echoed Kirkman’s original story, saying “it’s not just Bill Cosby” who has been accused of making disturbing sexual advances and worse against women. “It’s Louis C.K., locking the door and masturbating in front of women comics and writers. I can’t tell you—I’ve heard so many stories,” she said. “Not just him, but a lot of them. And it’s just par for the course. It’s just shit women have to put up with.” Asked about the rumors in an interview with Vulture, Louis C.K. would only say, “I don’t care about that. That’s nothing to me. That’s not real.”
Many male comedians, including figures like Louis C.K., have seen their comedy careers blossom as they enter their 40’s, something that has not always been historically true for female comics. But Kirkman rightly believes that her comedy is getting better with age, and the last thing she seems to want is for something that happened more than a decade ago to distract from that growth. Let alone an errant tweet about the 2016 election.
“It’s not like being a gymnast, where they want you to be 18,” she says of the stand-up comedy world. “I think the older you are as a stand-up, the better. There’s a sweet spot.”
Kirkman looks at someone like Jon Stewart, who will turn 54 this year, as an example of someone who has grown into a larger-than-life comedy presence—as he demonstrated recently on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. “He’s almost statesman-like,” she says. “He’s got his gray hair and his beard.”
“In life, no matter what your job is,” Kirkman says, “I think as you get older you get more comfortable in your own skin.”
As a female comic in 2016, that skin has to be thicker than ever.