Jen Kirkman, a smart, sarcastic comic best known for her appearances on Chelsea Lately, attributes much of her success to working on the late night TV show. She applied to work on the show back in 2008 when she wrote a couple of monologues and then got hired.
“I was in Cleveland when I found out,” she says in an email interview. “I was featuring for Maria Bamford at Hilarities when I got the call. I canceled my spot on the Sunday night show and hit the desk on Monday. It was a great experience working there that gave me everything I have now including my great health insurance.”
The youngest of three sisters, Kirkman, who performs at the Grog Shop on Monday, says she wasn’t necessarily the funniest person in the room when she was a child.
“I wanted to be taken seriously as an adult – even as a kid,” she says. “The last thing I was trying to act like was a clown. I was trying to act intuitive and smart—two qualities that I think make a comedian. So, sure in some way I bet all of that lead to me pursuing a craft that is ALL about reading a room and making grownups listen. But in no way did I know that at the time. I mostly just knew that I wanted some kind of job that looked like what I saw on The Lawrence Welk Show.”
The first comedian she saw live on stage was Anthony Clark in the 1990s, but she didn’t look to imitate other comedians.
“Every year of my life as a comic the people right in front of me influence me,” she says. “I watch my peers take chances on stage, or work obsessively, or really hone their every word. Even people who don’t do comedy the way I do can inspire me. I think inspire is more where it’s at than influence.”
Her first standup experience was a positive one.
“It was great actually, which is why I probably kept going back for more,” she says. “I had just met the hilarious Eugene Mirman at an audition in Boston and he told me he ran a booked open mic at a place called the Green Street Grill in Cambridge, Mass. I went on stage and told an improvised story about virginity. I was sitting on a stool and smoking a cigarette at the same time. I was an asshole, but a loveable one. People laughed and more importantly said they related to it. I went back every week after that. I’d found my place.”
Over the course of her career, she’s also written books and released two comedy albums, 2006’s Self Help and 2011’s Hail to the Freaks. She even hosts a regular podcast, I Seem Fun: The Diary Of Jen Kirkman. Along the way, she befriended Derek Waters, the guy behind the wild and wacky TV show Drunk History.
“Derek is a friend of mine in real life,” she says. “We have gotten drunk together and he asked me to do his little web show. I did it and he’s credited me with helping it shape the direction for future narrators—meaning being really passionate about the story you tell and acting it out wildly. I enjoy being part of something that’s so crazy unique and actually ends up doing some good. I do NOT enjoy the hangovers. They are brutal and way different at 40 than they were at 33. I’ve been involved with every incarnation of this show for almost ten years. [I was] black out drunk (off of two bottles of wine) every single time (5 times). But I only puked once.”
Now 41, Kirkman says she’s happy to be single, though that’s been misconstrued to mean that she doesn’t date.
“People infer a lot that I’m perpetually single and loving it,” she says. “I always have been lucky in love and flings. But I am legally single, meaning not married, and that’s what I try to call attention to. If I say I’m 'married' people get what that means and they smile and assume I’m having a happy life, which wasn’t true when I was married. If I say I am 'single' people pity me—but single can me ANYTHING. It can me you’re a slut, it can mean you’re celibate for religious reasons, it can mean you have two boyfriends, it can mean you live with someone, or it can mean you don’t want romance and are focusing by choice on other things. It just means not legally married. I’m in a relationship now and have been for six months and one thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t make you who you are. It doesn’t make you loveable and/or worthy. You already are all of those things. People who pity those not in relationships are revealing more about themselves than about you.”
For the upcoming show at the Grog Shop, she promises “plenty of new material, including all new tales of "interactions with a stranger in a truck, love, death." In other words, the usual.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.