Over the next year we’re going to see a new comedic face rise to the top of the comedy ranks. I say new but she’s been around 17 years and you may not know her name but you’ve probably seen her on “@ Midnight,” “Drunk History,” or “Chelsea Lately.” Her name is Jen Kirkman and she’s got a brand new stand up special on Netflix called “I’m Gonna Die Alone (and I Feel Fine).” She’s also is the host of one of my favorite podcasts “I Seem Fun (the Diary of Jen Kirkman) Podcast.” I’ve been trying to figure out why I enjoy her work so much and I think it comes down to the fact that everything about her is punk rock and I just love that.
You can listen to the unedited interview in podcast form here:
Bob Zerull (BZ): When choosing an outlet such as Netflix to release your special what goes into a decision like that?
Jen Kirkman (JK): It’s not like I sat around and said I’m going to do a special and everybody was like, ‘I’ll do it with you Jen.’ Netflix would have been my first choice. I have a terrible relationship with Comedy Central’s ‘Specials Department.’ That’s why I never did one with them. Netflix they kind of offered it and I’d never want to go anywhere else. The cool thing about it is that it can just live up there forever. They have that feature where if you like this person try Jen Kirkman. They have such a worldwide reach. Now they’re in Australia and they’re in Scandinavia and the UK, places I would want to tour. To me it was a no brainer and I’ve seen the results, it’s brought new fans to me…I mean I’m a new face to people. But it wasn’t like I was sitting around fielding offers all day.
BZ: It’s been up for a couple weeks now. Have you seen it grow your audience in this short period of time? I suppose at this point the only way to track it would be social media.
JK: Yes it’s been incredible. I’ve been hearing from people all over the world and all over the country saying things like, ‘how haven’t I found out about you until now?’ All sorts of different people: men, women, gay, straight, married, not married, kids, no kids. Every few minutes a bunch of tweets come in. That’s how I’ve tracked it, on Twitter. Most things I’ve done whether it’s write a book or appear on TV shows there is a little spike in activity for a few hours, but this has been constant all day everyday. I don’t know what that will translate to, but in my mind more people know about me. Does that mean they’ll come see me live? I don’t know because people are still a little bit challenged about going to a comedians website and looking up tour dates (www.jenkirkman.com).
BZ: You taped your special in Texas. Your opening bit is about a guy who should be killed because he doesn’t know what a lime is, which leads into a hilarious one liner about Texas. Why did you choose to film your special in Texas?
JK: That was a little bit of a cheat. Whenever I do that bit weirdly people burst out into applause when I say we should kill this person. A lot of times I don’t even know if they were listening to my story (laughs). That part was just a reaction. At one point at one club it organically happened I said, ‘oh my God I feel like I’m starting a rally or something.’ I just kept that in there because it made people laugh too. That wasn’t specific to Texas, but it was extra funny to add that in because Texas is a death penalty, gun toting kind of state…but its not like the people of Austin are like that. The only reason I chose to shoot it in Texas is because I really like The North Door, which was the venue I did it at. I liked the stairs; I knew that would be a cool way to enter the stage. I play that club a lot and I feel it represents me. I knew the Austin comedy fans like to be on the inside of things. I knew being at a live taping would appeal to them.
BZ: You’re going to go on tour this summer to promote the special. You’ve mentioned you’re going to be doing a lot of new material. Is that the stressful part of your job or is that where the fun begins?
JK: It’s stressful because I’ve been on tour all year. I feel stressed because I know a lot of new fans will be there. That Netflix special is a culmination of five years of material that I’ve been touring with. Anything I do right now won’t be as polished. It’ll be funny though. I’m at my best when I’m being neurotic and riffing. It’ll definitely be funny; I won’t just be up there reading off of notes. I have some new bits that are pretty solid. It’s stressful but the good kind.
BZ: I’m a regular listener to your podcast. There are so many comedians that do podcasts that are interview based, but yours is just you talking into your recorder for an hour or so. You manage to keep it interesting and entertaining every episode. How did that podcast come to be and how has it evolved since you started?
JK: My friend bought me this microphone called an iRig because I had been talking about starting a podcast forever, but I didn’t want to go into a studio. He just bought me this microphone as a birthday present. He said, ‘here you can just plug this into your iPod and there’s the app.’ The really scary thing is when you first sit down to talk into the microphone, even though nobody hears it until I decide to release it, I feel stupid because why am I even talking, who cares? Originally I was going to do a quick half hour podcast a week about one tiny story or something crazy that happened that week. As I sat down to talk into the mic it became it’s own thing. Every week it’s a little different. Sometimes it’s serious; sometimes I’m trying to be funny. Once I got listeners they would write in about things they wanted to talk about. There were reoccurring themes. Just like anything else it developed its own personality. At first I had a totally different idea to just keep it brief but I can’t keep anything brief.
BZ: How much preparation goes into an episode because you literally put out an hour at least per episode?
JK: Zero, in the notes section on my iPhone I write buzz words like…here I’m looking at my notes right now. ‘Bruce Jenner,’ ‘speaker stories,’ ‘vegan,’ ‘it can get confusing,’ ‘airplane stories:’ I’ll just write notes like that or things that happen that week and I just talk. It’s not supposed to be polished. I have no fear about talking off the top of my head because that’s what we do in life everyday. It’s supposed to be that way. It doesn’t make me nervous and if anybody has a problem with it I can say it’s free…that’s my go to with everything. It’s free so shut up.
BZ: In all honesty it’s one of my two favorite shows that whenever a new one comes out I move it ahead of all the other podcasts I listen to.
JK: That’s so nice. You know what I think it is, if you’re anything like me, it’s easier for me to hear one voice at a time. I really like the solo podcasts a lot more unless it’s a serious straight interview. I like when somebody is on a roll and they’re talking but I hate when they get interrupted by a joke that the hosts tells, I’m like, ‘ah stop.’ I don’t mind being on podcasts like that I just don’t like listening to them.
BZ: Marc Maron, Chris Hardwick, Kevin Smith identify themselves as podcasters. Obviously you’re a stand up comedian first but are you pretty passionate about the podcasting medium?
JK: Yeah I think I am. I love being thought of as a podcaster. There are people that put it down, ‘oh everyone has a podcast.’ Ok good everyone should. There’s plenty of room for everybody. Everybody has different tastes. People have tons of free time especially if you’re a comedian. Radio sucks, not everyone has Sirius. It’s a great way for people to communicate all over the world. I don’t understand why anyone is negative about it. There’s like 5 billion TV shows on and nobody goes, ‘another TV show?’ The minute something new and cool comes out people shit on it. I think it’s great. I can say whatever I want. I can’t believe that I don’t have to pay iTunes to be on there. It’s amazing. Even when it seems like everyone has one and it’s over saturated I don’t think it is because I still don’t think most people know what a podcast is. It’s a very small group of people. It’s very much like stand up, it’s a very punk rock do it yourself type vibe. There’s no wrong way to do it and that’s what I love about it.
BZ: I also feel like entertainment in general is going to be diluted. Podcasts are gonna take over radio just like the internet is going to take over TV. It’s like late night talk shows. It use to just be Johnny Carson then it was Leno and Letterman and then there were like 10 different hosts the next generation it’ll be 30. It’s going to get more and more diluted as we get better technology to make it easier.
JK: Yeah I think that’s true. Not everyone will get to have millions of listeners but hopefully they’ll be able to have enough to keep them employed.
BZ: But I think the viewers and listeners are going to be more passionate. I have to image your podcast audience is much more passionate about you than the audience that found you on “Chelsea Lately.”
JK: Oh absolutely. There is some crossover. There were a lot of people that knew me from Chelsea and now they listen to the podcast. People who only watched “Chelsea Lately” because they loved the pop culture jokes, they’re not going to like my podcast that much. They’re not comedy nerds as they say, not that my podcast is only for comedy nerds. I’m always excited and surprised by who’s listening and why. There doesn’t seem to be anybody that listens to the podcast that seems to be casual about it and I say that about all podcasts. Usually people that come to my shows that tell me they listen are diehard fans. I hate using the word fans.
Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.