The most efficient way of describing the comedian Jen Kirkman is somewhere between Joan Rivers and a young Steven Tyler. She’s all swagger and hips, leather trousers and slate-colored vests. She cackles when I tell her this, and confesses that she references Rivers when she comes on stage. “I hang my coat on the mic stand, which is what Joan used to do with her feather boa. It’s just my way of bringing myself into the staging, and have a little shout out to her.”
If you’ve caught her special on Netflix, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), you’ll notice that she needs no visual aids in filling up a stage – she owns every inch of it. With pirate swagger, she rattles through jokes, dwelling mainly on sex, divorce, aging, turning 40 and living with the idea that you probably don’t want kids.
“Divorce is a legal term for ‘No one’s farted in my bed for three years’,” she says with a cocked eyebrow. It’s exhilarating, watching her perform. In a culture where we’re still so completely unused to women talking openly, confidently, happy about the prospect of dying alone, Kirkman is a breath of fresh air.
“When I made I’m Gonna Die Alone, people presumed that I’m some sort of advocate for being alone for the rest of your life. Really, I want people to stop striving for one idea of happiness. Someone who’s married can be miserable. Look, even if you end up dying on the same day as someone you love, you’re still dying. It’s not that great.”
DO YOU EVER GET THE “POOR YOU” TREATMENT FROM FANS?
“Sometimes, people act as though they’re really worried about me. These people have no lives. Look, if my mom isn’t worried about me, then you shouldn’t be either.”
I DISCOVERED YOUR SPECIAL BECAUSE MY NETFLIX ACCOUNT SEEMED TO REALISE THAT I’M INTERESTED IN FEMALE COMEDY, AND THEN RECOMMENDED ME YOUR SPECIAL. I CAN IMAGINE LOTS OF PEOPLE COME TO YOUR WORK THIS WAY. HAS NETFLIX CHANGED THE WAY YOUR COMEDY IS VIEWED?
There’s been this assumption that there are only, like, two female comics and no one else in the world is interested, or they’re too scared. Trust me: There. Are. Plenty. Of. Us. It’s about visibility. Netflix is making that easier by pushing your face into people’s living rooms. People don’t want to come to an unknown comic’s show, in case it’s awkward or weird. For the first time, I have people coming to my shows who are shouting out the parts they know. It’s a very different experience.
THE TREND OF THE COMIC-TURNED-TV-STAR IS EVERYWHERE RIGHT NOW. DO YOU HAVE ANY TV IDEAS IN THE WORKS?
I was going to do a TV show about myself, but I got kind of bored of the idea, so I’m writing a show with someone else about four women in their forties, and how it feels when you’re in a world that’s starting to ignore you, and where you feel invisible. But it’s hard to get those kinds of stories on TV.
I never expect to have as many male fans, but I do. The thing is, most of what I talk about is about fucking up, or wondering whether you’re doing your life right, and these themes don’t have to apply just to women. They’re for everyone. And yet, the people who run TV don’t seem to understand that a woman can represent these feelings just as well. We’re 52 percent of the population, in the US. And we buy stuff! Advertisers want to sell us things!
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE WOMEN REPRESENTED BETTER IN CULTURE?
I guess through their friendships. You have all kinds of friendships. You have deep friendships and shallow ones. There are friends that you could know for 10 years before you actually have a real conversation with them. There’s this old joke that women are obsessed with their best friends, and they tell each other everything, but there’s very little acknowledgment of how awesome that actually is.
Jen Kirkman is playing the Soho Theatre 16-21 November and you can buy tickets here. Her stand-up special, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), is streaming on Netflix now.