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Massachusetts-born, Los Angeles-based Jen Kirkman, 43, is a comedian, podcaster and bestselling author. On TV, she’s known for being a panellist on Chelsea Lately and narrator of Drunk History, while her podcast
You’re coming over here to play a week of gigs…
I’m so excited. I’ve got some British heritage, actually. My uncle looked us up and the Kirkmans originated from Bury, outside of Manchester, before coming to America in the 19th century. I haven’t visited Bury yet but I’ve been to Manchester and loved it. They were a great audience. No offence but they seemed a little more loosened-up than in London. These are my people.
Are London audiences tougher?
I get cool crowds. My fanbase tend to be, for want of a better phrase, on the punk-rock side of life: feminists, lesbians, guys who wear nail polish, mums who are really fun and like to drink a lot. But in London, you sometimes think: “Are they enjoying this?” Then after the show, they come up and go: “I loved it, I so related.” I’m like: “OK, you need to tell me that during the show with loud laughter.” But I can’t generalise as much about cities as I can nights of the week.
How so? Are audiences different, depending on the day?
Totally. All over the world, it’s the same. Monday crowds are really responsive because if anyone comes out on a Monday, they must be a diehard fan. The next two nights are “meh” in comparison. By Thursday, people are excited about the weekend and in a good mood. Fridays are the toughest crowd. They’ve worked all week, they’re tired and angry, and now they’re drinking, so it’s a weird energy. Saturday is just rowdy. If you could combine the loyalty of a Monday crowd with the rowdiness of a Saturday one, it would be ideal.
You once named Morrissey as your biggest influence. Are your Manchester connections a factor there?
Oh my God, we’re probably related! It was huge for me when I found the music of the Smiths. Morrissey had that Dorothy Parker deadpan wit, that mischievous sense of morbid doom. He really influenced my humour, not so much as a comedian but as a human being. He’s said some stupid things recently but I’ll always love his music.
You’ve just written a pilot for the ABC network called The Mighty Quinn. What’s it about?
A woman who gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend at a Christmas Eve party. She rushes into a crazy rebound affair, then realises she’s not getting any younger and needs to do things differently, so she sets herself a challenge to not date or do anything romantically for a whole year. People spend so much time trying to fix relationships that aren’t working or pursuing new ones.
Is it based on your own real-life festive break-up?
Sure is. It happened at Christmas 2016 and threw my whole world into a spin. There was nothing amusing about it at the time, and I never thought I’d use it in my work. But last summer, I realised it could be a funny thing to happen to a character. Neither me nor Quinn are in our 20s. We’re at a stage where you’re settled and hoping to sail into old age together. But what happens when you’re 40 and suddenly have to start your life over? I did the one-year thing too and I’m loving it.
How has your relationship-free year been?
It whipped by really fast. It was good to feel all the sadness and waves of grief without rebounding or trying to fall in love again. Now I’m open to whatever happens next. But I know what you’re thinking – you haven’t had sex in a year?
The thought never crossed my mind…
Well, nope, I haven’t. It’s been surprisingly easy to not think about that stuff. It could be because the world seems like it’s ending and we’ve all been preoccupied. Impending armageddon tends to take the edge off the old sex drive.
What will it take to get rid of Trump?
A nuclear war. Seriously. One-third of Americans are completely brainwashed, like they’re in a cult. I’m related to some of them and it’s difficult. They don’t care that he’s dangerous and probably has dementia and that we’re terrifying the world. I think he’ll have to resign eventually. What will ultimately put Trump away are his long-standing links to the Russian mob. Something financial will come to light and he’ll implode. But even if he leaves office tomorrow, he’s done years of damage.
Maybe now Prince Harry is marrying an American, he can run for office…
Yeah! There seem to be no rules any more so if a reality TV star can become president, why not a prince? He can depose Trump and be our saviour. I like that Harry guy. He seems cool as hell. Tell him to come down to my London shows and we can hatch a plan.
Hmm, maybe, but I’m sceptical. I was wrapped up in the Louis CK scandal because I’d mentioned the rumours years ago on my podcast. All of a sudden, stupid websites were running fake headlines like “Jen Kirkman says Louis CK assaulted her” when it was so much more nuanced than that. Twelve years ago, he said something creepy to me which definitely tallies with things he’s since admitted to. But comics talk inappropriately to each other all the time so I didn’t think much of it. All I said was that I didn’t want to go on the road with him, yet it turned into this whole circus. Finally, the scandal breaks, he admits it and now nobody is calling to ask what I think – well, except you. This is about so much more than “Kevin Spacey’s bad, we fired him, who’s next?” Women have to drive the narrative. We need to change the culture.
You were a writer on Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, which won two Golden Globes last week…
I don’t want to take much credit. I was just a consultant on the standup scenes and helped punch up the script. It’s so beautifully made and was great to be involved with.
It’s loosely based on Joan Rivers’s emergence on the comedy scene. Were you a fan?
Not so much her comedy, although that’s brilliant too. For me, it was about her drive. Her memoir, Enter Talking, was so inspirational. I admire that she never stopped, no matter how bleak it was. We became friends in the last few years of her life. She told me “You’re funny” which was a dream come true. Such a warm, generous person. She was my comedy mother.
Did you make any New Year resolutions?
I don’t believe in them. January’s cold and dark, so why make it harder? Just sleep, eat and get through it, then make resolutions in spring when you’re more motivated.
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Born in Cardiff,
When were you happiest?
I’ll be at my happiest today, and probably my gloomiest at some point today, too.
What is your greatest fear?
Physically, violence done to my close family. Mentally, voids.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I take on work that I shouldn’t, and reject things I should accept. I’m lazy. I lose my cool. Become emotionally committed. And so forth.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Deploration. Criticise, by all means. Argue. Dispute. But what is all this public “shaming” and mob sanctimoniousness, because someone has expressed a view that contradicts your own?
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Forgetting a soap star’s name on stage in front of 2,000 of her fans. I can’t say who it was, because I’ve forgotten it again, and I fear that these days everybody else has, too.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
An actor. Then I grew out of that and became one by default. Or sort of one: “Not really an actor”, said Michael Billington.
What is your phone wallpaper?
A picture of my wife sitting waiting for luggage at Heathrow and exhibiting two things I don’t possess: loveliness and self-composure.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My pop eyes and my apparent agedness.
Which book changed your life?
It’s a superfluity of books that counts. Don’t just read that one book, everybody: read lots and that will keep changing your life.
To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
Sorry, I’m British and middle class, so I’ve already apologised to virtually everybody I have ever met.
What does love feel like?
Adolescent love feels like exquisite self-indulgence. Long-term love feels like a warm bath that needs a trickle of extra hot water every now and then.
What was the best kiss of your life?
I kissed all the
Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?
I am not good at saying “I love you” to people whom I do love and who need me to say it. I shudder at people who use the phrase casually: “Love you, hon!”
How do you relax?
I sail an old boat.
How often do you have sex?
What keeps you awake at night?
The next morning. It rarely turns out as bad as I think it’s going to be.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
No songs, please. Don’t make a fuss.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a charming, helpful, solicitous, generous, loving, carefree and constantly funny companion, lover and father. Some hope of that.