Jen Kirkman @ The Orange Peel: Thursday, Nov. 2 (Interview)

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Jen Kirkman @ The Orange Peel: Thursday, Nov. 2 (Interview)

Jen Kirkman. Photo:  Robyn Van Swank

Jen Kirkman is a national and internationally touring stand-up comedian. Her 2015 Netflix Original Comedy Special “I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)” was named one of the Top 10 comedy specials of 2015 by Time Out New York, New York Magazine, and The Atlantic.  Her most recent Netflix Original Comedy Special “Just Keep Livin’?” is streaming worldwide as of January 3rd, 2017.

Jen was a long time writer and round table guest on Chelsea Lately, and is also well known for being a five-time narrator of Comedy Central’s Drunk History. She’s a regular guest on CONAN and Comedy Central's @Midnight

Jen Kirkman is coming to The Orange Peel on Thursday, November 2nd as part of her “All New Material, Girl” Tour and Asheville’s Minori Hinds will be opening for her. Asheville’s comedy scene is growing, just like everything else in the city. We are very fortunate that well-known comedians are coming to town and giving local comedians a chance to reach a bigger audience. Check out www.avlcomedy.com for an updated list of various upcoming comedy shows and open mic nights.

Do you have any favorite stories about opening for other comedians or the first time you got a big opportunity like that?

Jen Kirkman (JK): I used to open for Maria Bamford before she found her current audience—and to watch her talk about mental illness at mainstream comedy clubs where people there might not be familiar with her was awe-inspiring. She always got them in the end and didn’t pander. I used to open for Greg Behrendt as well and he taught me that even if a room is packed, it doesn’t mean that those people will come back and see you next year. But there are probably ten people in that room who are falling in love with your work and will be lifelong fans and you have to sort of perform for them in your head. And I got to open up for Joan Rivers at the Montreal Comedy Festival, in this gala, which is really a fancy name for their TV tapings where you do seven minutes in front of the most unfriendly crowd of your life. Joan introduced her opening acts, and she said about me, “This woman hates kids more than Casey Anthony!” The crowd was somehow mad at me for what she said and I bombed. But it was an honor. 

Is there any update on your potential series Jen?

JK: Oh I hate Wikipedia! LOL. That was a script deal I had at FX five years ago. It’s pretty routine. Comedian pitches a show. Gets paid to write a script, doesn’t get picked up. That’s not a sad thing. That’s just like another day, another dollar type of stuff. And I’m glad it didn’t get made because it wasn’t quite right. But I just sold a script to ABC network called "The Mighty Quinn," so I’ll be writing that while on tour and if all goes well they make a pilot and then they make a show. The odds of that are slim because the odds of anything like that are slim. I’m just proud to have sold a script. That in and of itself is rare and to be celebrated. But I love this show idea. It’s about a woman who gets dumped on Christmas and decides to take a year off of men. It may be based on me and by "may" I mean it is based on me. 

Jen Kirkman. Photo:  Robyn Van Swank​

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I reached out to Grayson Morris, a prominent Asheville comedian, to see if she had any questions for Jen. Grayson has appeared in numerous comedy festivals including The Great American Comedy Festival and Limestone Comedy Festival, and has toured the nation with her one woman show, Am I a Grownup Yet? She has opened for Maria Bamford and Louis C.K. and appeared on AXS TV’s Gotham Comedy Live. Here are Grayson's questions for Jen.

In our rapidly changing world, are white male comics finally taking a backseat to diverse voices?

JK: You know, I have no idea. I really don’t. I don’t think so. I think there is so much comedy out there, I haven’t seen anyone have to take a backseat, and if someone diverse is getting attention there is no way to know if some white guy would’ve had that attention instead. So, can we celebrate? Not yet. Should white guys feel paranoid? No. I think it’s just actually a beautiful thing that’s happening. We are seeing that when we let everyone play, it doesn’t actually edge anyone else out. The more the merrier and the merrier the more become. (I literally just made that expression up, I think.)

Do female comedians have to choose between having a baby and a having a career?

JK: I don’t use the term female comedian. It implies comédian means man. But do women who do comedy have to make that choice? I don’t think so. I just never wanted kids and I didn't want them when I had no career and had all the time in the world to have a kid. I think any parent with a kid has to think about how long they’re away on the road, and all that. I guess with women it’s different since we have the babies, unless you’re a lesbian with a wife who is going to carry the baby and then you have the sweet life of being a mom who doesn’t have to worry about not being able to fly to a comedy club in her third trimester.  

Was there a point in your career at which you stopped doubting yourself or felt like you finally knew what you were doing?

JK: Yes, but it wasn’t based on anything external that happened to me. It wasn’t like I got some job and then felt a certain way. For me, as I get older, I realize no one ever knows what they’re doing. That’s an obsession that younger people have, and when you get older you stop having it. So I think I stopped doubting myself when I realized I can actually embrace when I doubt myself and not try to rid myself of that self doubt. I just don’t have to feed it. Instead I can look for inspiration. I have worked for really successful people who don’t suddenly just stop doubting themselves because they had a past success. With every new project, you’re new again, and I think that’s ultimately what might attract us to this work: that it doesn’t get stale. So, we can’t turn on that and get all neurotic and self-doubt-y.  

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Is Hollywood actually a good place/thing or is it just a vehicle which people use for good or for evil? 

JK: Hollywood isn’t a reality. It’s just a city in Los Angeles that has a terrible wax museum. Show business is like anything else: what you make it. I love Los Angeles. I have a great community here. I’m sick of the nice weather and the driving so I would love to leave but it’s not because of show business.  

Do you have anything to say about comedy as a boy's club which actively silences complaints about misogyny? 

JK: I think this question is maybe a bit too general and leading. I’m not saying it’s not. It is, but it also isn’t, and it also is and sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it’s both at once. The world is sexist. So obviously every single job industry on earth has sexism. I don’t actually, because I didn’t have that experience starting out—with my group of comics. I became a comic with the support of amazing dude comics who bothered to put together the shows that I performed on. When I was coming up, it was the older, road-hardened guys who had a sexism about them. But I call it “Mad Men” sexism. Easy to spot and almost so quaint it’s laughable. You could say, “Hey Marty you old hack. Shut the fuck up. You’re sexist.” What I’m hearing from younger women now is that millennial dudes don’t believe that they are sexist or that sexism is still a thing. That’s more insidious to me.

What I hate is that the women coming up already seem bitter—and you should be angry, but bitter rots us from the inside and then we’re no good to anyone. Don’t forget. The guy comics—if there are more of them in a scene—have each other to laugh at each other. They are not actually getting the experience of being a comedian who tries and fails and takes risks. The guys right now coming up who are like that won’t last. The women will because being a woman on stage is still an oddity in some places. That means you have to work twice as hard to be funny in the moment and act like you don’t know what’s going on. Comedy is about the silent conversation going on between a comic and an audience during the talking and the laughing. And if people can nail that skill of how to hammer a room into submission so that they forget they think you’re different—that’s going to set someone up to be a great comic. Treating open mics like beer night with the dudes will do nothing for the dudes. Women in any scene with guys like that will always have the last laugh. I’ve seen it happen. 

Do you think there are any limitations on what comics can/should say in terms of white supremacy/rape/homophobia/other forms of hate speech?  

JK: I think if someone is going for shock value and they don’t have a connection to what they’re talking about, they shouldn't say it. But comedy to me is about learning how to limit ourselves—and we don’t need our speech managed. If you say something wrong, people can articulate why your bit might need rethinking. Then the comic can rethink it or not. It shouldn’t be such a fucking drama. 

All photos by Robyn Van Swank

More information and tickets at www.jenkirkman.com

Doors at 8pm, show starts at 9pm. Fully seated show. $20 advance, $25 day of show.

Thursday, November 2nd.

The Orange Peel: 101 Biltmore Ave. Asheville NC 28801

Go to theorangepeel.net/events/jen-kirkman/ for tickets.