Jen Kirkman (what has she done for you) Lately
She’s written a book for you, that’s what. I attempted to do a pop quiz interview with her, but after no response I thought it prudent not to send a phony Make-a-Wish Foundation request to her agent or something. Maybe she somehow knows I got a front row center ticket to see Morrissey in a few weeks (she’s a fan) and she got a little upset? Or maybe it’s because one of the questions was written and sent before I did some extremely important fact-checking. But I still wanted to pump up her albums and say I’m excited to read the book.
Gone are the days when almost every cable channel (back when there was just a small fraction of the 800 cable channels available today) had some sort of regular half-hour standup comedy showcase where you could discover new comedians that you liked. Unless you regularly go to comedy clubs and take a chance on a comedian based on name only, it’s pretty difficult to find out about comedians except for the handful of already-famous ones out there.
I don’t watch much primetime TV, so I’ve never seen Last Comic Standing. My only source for finding new comedic talent I like is by watching Chelsea Lately before bed. But even that can be tricky, because it’s hard for someone to be funny in the span of a few seconds during the rapid-fire roundtable discussions, especially when they’re surrounded by three other comedians (including host Chelsea Handler). And if you do start to pick up on one of the roundtable regulars, their upcoming gigs are usually somewhere in Oklahoma and not anywhere near where you live. Back at the Manhattan D.A.’s Office there was a stretch when a lot of my co-workers were reading Handler’s books, so after hearing that they were funny I put them on my list of books to read (where they still remain – among the dozens of other books I haven’t found the time to read yet…) A friend of mine knows and recommended one of the regulars, Fortune Feimster, so I watched her really funny videos on Youtube. But that was over in about an hour; there wasn’t much more I could do to support her comedy. Former regular Whitney Cummings had her own show for a few months called Love You, Mean It, which was sadly canceled despite being thoroughly entertaining. As I wrote last week in what started out as a quick review of Cummings’ show 2 Broke Girls and somehow turned into the opening arguments for the defense in the case about that show being racist, I really like that show.
But even though I’m sure the comedians featured on Chelsea Lately are funny, my interest was never really piqued to check out any of their work further. Until last month. After a few appearances last year I found that roundtable regular Jen Kirkman was eliciting giggles, so I looked up her comedy albums on iTunes. Sound clips on iTunes are a double-edged sword: I’m sure they were introduced to help promote songs or material by allowing the consumer to sample the product before buying, like cheese on a stick in a grocery store; but they also give people the opportunity to discover they don’t like something that they might’ve taken a chance on buying sight-unheard. And it’s literally like walking in on someone in the middle of telling a joke. I wasn’t convinced after listening to a few track samples from Self Help (cockroaches? done before), but my curiosity was flamed after listening to a few track samples from Hail to the Freaks. I’m usually not a gambling man, but for the price of two slices at Sizzle Pie I thought, ‘what do I have to lose?’After listening to Hail to the Freaks at work the next day I was glad I bought it. Or downloaded it, whatever. It’s hilarious, and that’s saying something because I’m usually very hard to amuse. Co-workers thought I was losing my mind because I was laughing so much while wearing headphones. I know comedy, like art, is subjective, and what one person finds funny another person will find stupid; but Kirkman has a lot of relatable material for most people (weddings, traveling, being shunned by others as a socially-unaware 11-year-old kid) without dumbing it down or going lowest-common-denominator for more but weaker laughs. She’s quick and witty. And smart – there’s a clever joke about three Marxes that no one in the audience for the taping seemed to understand. But she’s not aloof, nor does she make the common mistake of being overly self-deprecating – it’s a good balance. And unanimous positive reviews on amazon and iTunes bolster my recommendation, as well as this review I found online.
Since Hail to the Freaks was so good I bought Self Help when I got home. In hindsight, any hesitations I had about this one were unfounded because it’s also a really good set, even the bit about cockroaches. Coincidentally or ironically enough, not included in the sound sample on iTunes but on the “Cockroaches” track from the album is a really funny bit about Robert Smith, which would have sold me on buying any and all of her albums right there. Self Help is a bit raw compared to the more-polished Hail to the Freaks, but the material is still relatable and clever throughout. She does imitate her mother a bit, and you would assume she was exaggerating for comedic effect, but there’s a short hidden track at the end of Self Help that shows (or sounds?) that her imitations are accurate. Her observation on the “Thriller” video is worth the price of the album alone.
But I don’t want to go into detail about the material on the albums because that’s part of the fun(ny) of discovering it for yourself. The element of surprise, if you will. I listened to both albums about 10 days later and I still laughed at both; so they’re worth the risk of buying and can be cherished for years to come. But unlike a music album you can’t repeatedly listen to them without waiting a year or whatever until the material seems new again. That’s when I heard about Kirkman’s upcoming book “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself”. She’s done material about not wanting to have children for years now, so it’s not a quickly-thought-up topic just to fill a book. And she’s committed to the subject, even posting comments on inflammatory articles online. You wouldn’t think a book about not wanting to have children could be funny, but pre-release reviews have confirmed that it is. And it’s a topic that everyone deals with. My good friend from high school swore she “would never pop out a kid for no man,” but I rarely talk with her anymore because she’s too busy taking care of her three kids. And I’ve often thought about having a kid, probably from societal pressure (and seeing how my brother with kids is treated so much better by our parents than I am), but logic and sanity usually win out. Kirkman has a lot of funny things to say about a somewhat serious topic; but she’s not only fluff, she has some solid arguments and foundations to back up the jokes. I will make space at the top of my reading list for her book when it comes out.
To support the upcoming book she’s doing hour-long sets of new material in several cities, which I am also looking forward to. I don’t know how the Twitter works (nor do I really want to), but even the comments sections on her Facebook page are funny if you’re looking for a few laughs. People say the weirdest things to her (including me once…) Kirkman is a talented comedian with a bright future ahead of her; and I’m glad I took a chance on her work because now I have another comedian to follow.