The Just For Laughs Festival hits Toronto this September from the 21st-30th. Before the festival arrives, we had the chance to chat with comedian Jen Kirkman who will be performing at this year’s festival!
Jen is a stand up comedian with two Netflix specials under her belt – “I’m Gonna Die Alone and I Feel Fine” named one of the best specials of 2015 by The Atlantic & NY Magazine and “Just Keep Livin’?” which came out in January 2017. She’s a New York Times Best-selling author of two books, “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” and “I Know What I’m Doing & Other Lies I Tell Myself” and has regular appearances onChelsea Lately, @Midnight, Conan, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Hi Jen! We’re so excited to be able to talk to you today. We really love your work – and I actually just spent the weekend re-watching your Netflix specials, they are super laugh-out-loud funny!
Jen: Aw, thank you!
So you’re performing at the J4L festival in Toronto very soon. Aside, from performing, what are you most excited about doing while you’re here?
Jen: I may sound like a jerk, but I will only be performing. I’m just not a tourist while I’m on the road. I will be coming off a 6 day tour on the east coast, and then I’ll be home for a day and fly right out to Toronto – so I totally need some self care. When I’m not performing I’ll be in my room, probably working on other projects. So I don’t really sightsee – I like to save all my energy for the shows.
Speaking of your shows, how is your creative process different from something like performing stand up at a comedy festival, to writing a best selling book, to a Netflix comedy special?
Jen: For me, the Netflix specials are really the same as stand up in terms of writing. The way I get ready for a tour and create new material, is that I do a show in Los Angeles once a month and just babble and see if any of the material is funny – then keep refining it. In other words: first I say the material out loud, then record it, listen back and then see what’s funny. I like to feel things out and can only do stand up about things I really feel like saying or commenting on.
This was basically the process for my latest stand up show (and the one I am performing in Toronto for Just For Laughs) All New Material Girl.
Whereas, for me, writing a book is just like doing your taxes, you just have to do it and pick a time to sit down and go through the creative process of procrastinating at first, then writing some things down and going through what is terrible and what’s great. It’s really just a giant process that involves an editor and deadlines – whereas with stand up no one’s going to come calling if I don’t do it because it’s my own self-imposed life style and my own deadlines. Stand up is absolutely my freedom – it’s just sort of a way of life.
So would you say that stand up is your favourite method of performing?
Jen: I feel like stand up is who I am. Just like I would say I am a female from America…I am stand up. I like to do other things and have a big creative life, but stand up is my first career choice.
Do you ever get scared or nervous performing live or is it just second nature to you now?
Jen: I’ve never had stage fright with stand up. When I was about 5 years old I did dance recitals and stuff, and I remember the terror of that, because people know and can see when you mess up. But with stand up, I’m not nervous because no one knows what I’m supposed to be doing, so no one knows if I’m doing things wrong. The stage was oddly where I’ve always felt at home. I’ve had feelings of concern before performing and wondering if it will go well, but never butterflies or anything.
What’s your favourite joke that you’ve ever performed or written?
Jen: I don’t necessarily have a favourite of mine, but I did love the bit I did in my last Netflix special about street harassment and the reaction that it got from the crowds while performing it. The energy was great and stands out to me.
With material being posted on social media almost instantly and people always having access anywhere, anytime to their phones, do you feel as though you have to come up with more new and original content at a faster rate than ever before?
Jen: I personally don’t take on that pressure because I can’t live and die by every little trend. It seems like stand up, as it is, is not changing – it’s not falling victim to the trends of the moment. Like, when YouTube first came out I was nervous because I was like “oh my god, I have to do stand up on YouTube and no one’s ever going to come to a comedy club“. But that’s not exactly true. Because it’s a totally different thing and doesn’t have anything to do with stand up. I keep waiting for stand up to change, but it seems like it just doesn’t, it’s always what it is. You go to a show, sit down, laugh.
However, because my material is so personal, I can always immediately post stuff on social media – so there’s always the wealth of that.
— JFL42 (@JFL42) August 10, 2017
You’re very active on Twitter and love re-tweeting or responding to people. Why do you think it’s so important to respond or make these comments visible instead of just ignoring them?
Jen: Well, what I do is, I retweet when someone says something sexist and I don’t go back and forth with them. I show people what some guys can be like and what’s going on in terms of misogyny in the world, and then block that person.
In your most recent book, you talk about how from a young age you wanted to be famous. If you never got your break and are doing what you’re doing now – what do you think you would be doing?
Jen: In my mind, working in the fashion industry would be so great. I also used to do sales, educating young people about things like ballet and helping them afford tickets to those types of shows. I really liked that and trying to get new generations interested in theatre, so I think I would still be doing that.
Your latest book is called: “I Know What I’m Doing, and Other Lies I Tell Myself”. What tips/advice can you give our audience about faking it until you make it, and pursuing their dreams, even when feeling like they don’t really know what they’re doing?
Jen: Even people who know what they’re doing don’t always even know what they’re doing! People are always starting over, even within their own expertise. Just act like you know what you’re doing – but not in an arrogant way. Just tell yourself that you deserve to be there and that you are working hard to deserve it. Just go ahead and do it – it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it right or not!
Thank you so much for your time, we’re so excited to see you in Toronto!