*This interview was originally published on August 19, 2010.
Jen Kirkman is a stand-up comedian, television writer and actress. You probably know her/recognize her as the staff writer and roundtable regular on Chelsea Lately, (she has left to pursue other opportunities.) In 2009 Entertainment Weekly named her “One of the top 12 rising stars in comedy” and earlier this year both MSN and The Huffington Post named her as “one of the top comedians to follow on Twitter.” Just earlier tonight Serial Optimist named her as “One of our favorite people ever.” So she has a lot going on.
Jen is beautiful, funny, and just an all around pleasure. We exchanged a handful of emails over the past week, and every one of hers was sweet, and always brought a smile to my face. She made a comment after our interview:
“I just realized that none of these answers are funny but I kind of like that. So I’m sorry for that but I’m also not sorry for that.”
She might be the first person I’ve interviewed to actually get the aesthetic of what the Serial Optimist Interview section is all about.
Serial Optimist: Jen, how are you? What is it that you’re doing right now as you respond to this interview? Describe the setting: Music on? Drinking tea? In an office? Etc.
Jen Kirkman: I am great! Thanks for asking. How are you? Right now I am on my couch, sitting next to my husband who is watching the Daily Show on TiVo and I’m on my laptop – drinking some water.
SO: Aside from stand-up, what else are you currently working on? I heard something about a new show slated for the fall on NBC. Can you give me the name, and premise, or should I just anxiously await the premier?
Jen: Right now I’m a staff writer on an NBC ½ hour, single-camera sitcom called “Perfect Couples.” According to the press it will air as a mid-season replacement. It’s not currently on the 2010 Fall Line-up. And yes, you should anxiously await the premier.
In addition to that I’m also going to record my second comedy album with A Special Thing Records (AST) at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles in early December 2010. So right now I’m honing the new stories, tightening up some jokes. I want to do a bonus track that includes jokes that were just embryos on my old album (“ ” released in 2007) but have now flourished into longer bits but bits that I’m ready to put aside for now because I’ve been doing them on the road and locally for three years.
SO: You won the freaking Jury Prize for “Best Short Film” at Sundance this year for Drunk History Vol. 5. Congrats! Why do you think that one won over the other Drunk Histories, or was Drunk History Vol. 5 the only one chosen to be submitted? I’m reluctant to ask, because I’m sure you’ve been asked this a thousand times since, probably with the same wording of “I’m reluctant to ask”….but were you actually drunk?
Jen: Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner were in Utah to accept the Jury Prize. It really is their brilliance that brings Drunk History to life. Their ability to cast the big names they get (Will Ferrell, Don Cheadle and Zooey Deschanel), their directorial and interview instincts, editing, staging, and of course creating it.
But modesty aside, yes, the Drunk History starring ME as the narrator won the freaking “Best Short Film” at 2010’s Sundance! There was another Drunk History that was submitted and was in competition against mine. It was narrated by a hilarious comic/friend of mine, Duncan Trussell. (He co-hosts a great podcast with Natasha Leggero called “The Lavender Hour” everyone should check it out. They are both so charming and funny.) He told the story of Edison and Tesla (played by John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover). Duncan’s didn’t win and the only reason I can think of off the bat – is that he threw up in his and it was pretty graphic. Maybe that subconsciously lead people to vote for mine – because I was demure and all I did was black out – like a lady should.
Yes. I was really drunk. I actually can’t believe how often I get this question. Nobody believes that I was really drunk. And in my opinion, what would be funny about it if it weren’t real? I think it’s so funny to see someone acting so intense and passionate about a situation that they personally weren’t in, discussing people whom they don’t know, getting some facts wrong, and all that kind of thing. The title card shown as the first thing at the beginning, “One night in March, Jen Kirkman drank two bottles of wine and then told an historical event” – that is not a lie or a set-up to a sketch. It’s not scripted either. The narrator knows the basic framework of the event they want to tell and they talk and drink and talk and drink.
SO: You’re big on Twitter. Almost intimidating. You seem to block people a lot. Are there just that many asses that get on Twitter and say stupid shit to you, or is it that people are so dumb they don’t understand the context of what your tweeting? Maybe they don’t know when you’re joking or when you’re serious? What do you – personally – get out of Twitter?
Jen: I’m going to correct your use of “your” which is something I do on Twitter often. “You’re” big on Twitter….ha ha ha ha.*
Personally what I get out of Twitter is connecting with fans. It’s a great way to get out information re: shows I’m doing. And I like to read things, get information, from friends and people I admire on Twitter.
I block people who insult me. I would expect that anyone else would do the same thing. If most of the time someone doesn’t know I’m joking – I don’t want him or her around. I can’t use Twitter as a marketing tool and have a bunch of people show up to my shows that have no idea what sarcasm is.
And I seem to block people a lot. It’s a little game I play that amuses me. But I always say 90% of my Twittering is not anything intimidating but the 10% that is gets all the attention.
SO: Most people who don’t know you from stand-up, know you from Chelsea Lately. What was it like working on the show? As fun as it’s made out to be? Margarita Thursdays and whatnot? Is the tone totally different being in the writers room of Chelsea Lately compared to being in the writers room of other projects you’ve worked on?
Jen: I had a great time working on the show. It was one of the best professional experiences of my life! Chelsea was a great boss. She loved the writers, didn’t try to pretend that she didn’t have writers (something that not many late-night dudes are comfortable doing) and she gave us opportunities beyond our wildest dreams.
Most writers room have similarities like the group mind will get a little ADD and talk about other stuff and make fun of one another and say dirty things you could never air just to get creativity flowing. That writer’s room was great because it had a lot of women and was run by one.
But it was still a job and we worked hard. It always takes skill to make things look easy and loose. We’d come to work at nine a.m. with only news stories and ideas of what was on TV the night before and by 3pm we had a fully written, ready to tape show in front of a live audience. So it’s kind of hard to mess around and accomplish that everyday.
Thursday’s we had margaritas to celebrate the end of the taping week. But a lot of times we were prepping for something to be shot on location (like a sketch) on Friday or finalizing sketch scripts so it was like – grab a margarita from the kitchen – keep working. If we really wanted to have fun – that was for after work and vacations.
SO: I know you are a big Joan Rivers fan. Have you seen her documentary and what did you think?
Jen: I am a big Joan Rivers fan. I found her by way of her autobiography Enter Talking. That book had a huge influence on me when I started in comedy. One of my favorite moments in life was getting to meet her quickly at a party and I had her sign my copy of that book.
I loved the movie – mostly because it showed what I already knew as a fan that at age 77 she is doing the work – she’s still schlepping to clubs, writing her own material and trying it out before crowds. She did what Seinfeld did with Comedian – which is show that it doesn’t matter how famous you are, the stage is always the great equalizer.
I think there were some dramatic for effect moments in the movie. I don’t think her situation is dire. I did appreciate how she resents the “legend” term being thrown around too much. She’s still working and evolving and influencing people. I realized that being alive and hearing yourself called “a legend” could feel like people are pushing you aside. If I were Joan, I’d be incredibly jealous of the younger women doing well in comedy. It sounds petty but I would because I’m sure many people of this generation have no idea who she is and it’s probably a huge bummer for her to have to almost feel like it’s time to give up the throne when she still deserves to sit on it. So I’m glad people got to see this movie.
SO: Name three shows you always TiVo, like your three can’t miss current shows.
SO: What is your happiest, most favorite moment of each day?
Jen: Waking up and the sun is shining in the bedroom and I can snuggle up next to my husband and annoy him while he’s asleep. I can snooze for 15 more minutes. And I like that half-awake sleepy feeling before it’s time to get up. There is a lot of hope, anticipation, sense of renewal in that moment.
SO: I have to ask this, and I know it’s a tough question, but who are some of your current favorite comedians? Who makes YOU laugh?
Jen: Besides everyone I listed above for various things….I’ll say what/who makes me laugh! Loving all the podcasts my friends do – my favorite is radio show/podcast “the Best Show on WFMU hosted by Tom Scharpling”, Paul F. Tompkins, Greg Proops, Maria Bamford, Eddie Pepitone’s Tweets are THE BEST thing on Twitter. I like Ricky Gervais too and Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle are also some of my favorite big name stand-ups.
SO: What was the last song you sang out loud to?
Jen: The cover of the Beatles “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” done by The Breeders.
SO: Lastly, happy early birthday. Ours are two days apart, mine being August 26th. Now I don’t know if this is true or not, but I read that your father was the general manager of a golf club, and you used to move the hole markers after hours to confuse the morning golfers. Please, confirm this! I love it.
Jen: Yes. My dad was the groundskeeper (think Bill Murray’s character Carl in Caddyshack) and general manager of the Needham Golf Club in Massachusetts. He’s since retired as groundskeeper (officially but my parents house is on the golf course and he’s still nosing around) and he’s the general manager still.
The moving the hole markers to confuse golfers is either an exaggeration told by the Boston Globe (original place where this factoid appeared) or when the Globe interviewed my parents they said that to be funny. I didn’t nor was allowed to do that to ‘confuse golfers’.
The truth is somewhere in between. At night when I was age 5-10 my dad nightly would drive around on his go-buggy on the golf course and change the cups and tee-markers which is something that has to be done weekly anyway on the course. I would accompany my dad and “help”. I’m sure back then I thought that we were sneaking on the course in order to confuse people.
*(SO Sidenote: Yes, I had actually misused “your.” It has now been edited, thank you Jen, for calling me out!)