Interview: For Jen Kirkman, the stigma of child-free singledom is a hell of a joke

Jen Kirkman's "I'm Going to Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)" will visit Iowa City July 9 -- photo by Robyn Von Swank
Jen Kirkman’s I’m Going to Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) tour will visit Iowa City July 9. — photo by Robyn Von Swank

An Evening with Jen Kirkman

The Mill — Thursday, July 9 at 9 p.m.

Though the title of Jen Kirkman’s recently released Netflix special I’m Going to Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) might read as triumphant, her stand up doesn’t hinge on stumping for singlehood so much as it does on clarifying it. From her divorce to her choice to be child-free, Kirkman probes each and every bad assumption she has received until the humor spills out of their shaky foundations. With the release of her special, Kirkman is on tour to hone new material for her stand-up act. She performs at The Mill on Thursday, July 9 at 9 p.m.

A lot of your material contends with the fact that you’re not married and don’t have kids. What’s interesting is that you don’t just focus on these decisions, but rather on how negatively other people react to them, even though none of that affects them.

I am perplexed by why it matters to people. I think that’s where the comedy is. I don’t want to be preachy or act like it’s celebration. It’s not a declaration or “I think I’m better than someone.” It’s more just … somebody chose to have kids or chose to get married; I chose experiences that led me down a different path.

My family doesn’t care that I am divorced. My family doesn’t care that I don’t have kids. They have never once said anything disparaging to me. So I am always confused when I meet strangers at parties and they start in with the kid stuff. I think it is so intrusive and so rude. That is the underlying frustration that I feel.

It would never dawn on me to tell someone what I think they should do in their personal life. And maybe I’m the bad person. Maybe I’m too self-involved, and I don’t consider trying to offer advice to people. But, really, I don’t think that is my flaw. I think that it’s theirs.

Your recent Netflix comedy special builds on material that you’ve been working on for a while now, some of it drawing from your first album Self-Help (2006). Is there any material in the special that you’re particularly proud of because of its evolution?

It’s so funny because I’ve never really listened to my albums, so people who talk to me for interviews or just like the albums, they know more than I do about what is on them.

The only thing I remember that is [on the album] that’s also on my special is my bit about masturbation. I am proud of where it went, because I feel like I put more of myself into it. It wasn’t just an excuse to talk about masturbating.

I thought it was a good way to illustrate who I am, and I felt that there had to be other people that felt this way. There is no way it’s a completely unique experience that no one else on planet earth has had…

Oddly, people call it “the female masturbation bit,” which I really don’t understand because it’s just masturbation. It’s just my take on the thing in general.

In your stand up, you describe how important your independence is to you. Is that need for independence part of what attracts you to comedy?

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Between the writing and performing, you’re the one who’s in charge? Sort of. It is something I grew into. I wasn’t a touring comic for the first 12 years of being a comic. I had a lot of fears and anxieties. I had a fear of flying. I didn’t like being by myself. I always pictured myself as someone who would be married and not going about life on my own. That just started to change. I came into myself later in life. [If] you told me 10 years ago that I would be completely independent and flying around the world, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible. Back then, I also wouldn’t have thought it was possible to enjoy it.

A recent New York Times article mentioned how outspoken you are on Twitter, often using it to take on critics rather than just to make jokes. However, they neglected to mention your other account, the delightful @JenFromthe1990s (an example: “i can love dee-lite AND the misfits, sorry amy. u don’t get to define who is and isn’t punk.”). Any thoughts on how you tweet?

I like having that other persona. I still have feelings like I am a 15-year-old girl, and I’ll tweet when I feel that way. Sometimes, I actually go through old diaries of mine and I take out snippets from it. So, mostly it is true, and I thought it would just be a funny thing to do. I have a show idea in mind based on it. I thought it might serve as a way to show people something funny and maybe use it for a larger project.

I love Twitter. I think it’s the greatest thing. I love talking to other comedians. I don’t always think in jokes, so a lot of times it is just statements. I love it for everything that it is. Even the ridiculous people who say stupid crap.

Another theme that appears in your stand up is an indifference for what’s considered young and hip. Are you bucking trends, or is it more than that?

I don’t have a plan for anything. If I like something, I do it. With stuff like that … I don’t want to alienate young people.

This kid came to my show the other night, and he was talking about how he just graduated high school and he brought his dad there, who is my age. His dad isn’t a fan of me. I’m sure he enjoyed the show, but he wasn’t like his son. So what does this kid see in me, this 40 year-old woman? I don’t know what he relates to, but I know when I was younger I liked a lot of things that had nothing to do with being 15.

So it’s really cool that ends up happening. I think if you are true to yourself, you can attract more people than you’d ever think. Everyone is always changing. The girls who post things about Miley Cyrus right now probably won’t always be. So if I am trying to pander to people I am going to have to keep juggling and dancing like a monkey for my whole life. If I am just me, then I attract the right people and it’s a lot easier.

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