Jen Kirkman is a touring comedian, records a weekly podcast and appears regularly on shows like “@Midnight” and “Drunk History.”
Each of those outlets provides her plenty of chances for jokes, pithy one-liners and other bite- sized chunks of comedy.
In her new book, “I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself,” however, it’s her storytelling chops that are on full display. Her second collection of essays (her first, “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself,” was a New York Times best-seller) covers everything from rough international stand-up gigs to nosy doctors and societal-based pressures put upon a childless, unmarried woman in her late-30s and early-40s.
With the patience of a raconteur rather than the setup-punchline rhythm perfected over years in nightclubs, Kirkman’s writing gives the reader the space and time needed not only to find deeper laughs, but also to connect emotionally with the material.
amNewYork caught up with Kirkman via email in advance of her appearances in New York.
Some comics hone their material for taped specials or albums in front of audiences for years. Without that immediate feedback, is writing a book more difficult? Or is it easier, since weaker bits don’t get that visceral poor reaction?
Writing is a very personal journey about how to get feelings to make sense in my head and then how to get what’s in my head to make sense on paper. Stand-up is a performance and they are so different — I don’t think about the audience when I’m writing books. Trust me. They wouldn’t want me to. They want me to go deep into my own brain and ironically they’ll relate to me even more than if I sat around wondering what parts people might like.
The intro to the book mentions the personal nature of the contents. Is it harder to perform such material in front of an audience (again, that can give that immediate feedback, but is also somewhat ephemeral) or in a book (just you and a computer or note pad, but lasts forever)?
Actually I think it’s easier in a book because it doesn’t have to be funny. If people read it and feel a twinge of poignant feelings, great. What I can’t seem to find peace around is that writing a book takes years. You can’t always change the entire book halfway through. There’s a giant approval process for every chapter before you even begin writing. My books aren’t memoirs — stories I need to tell now that I’m at the end of my long life. My books are personal essays and by the time the book comes out — I’ve probably changed my opinion on a few things like how I want to go about things in life. And now people will relate and I want them to, but I’m already on to the next phase.
You deal with a lot of sexist jerks online. If you could ban one phrase from ever showing up in your @mentions again, what would it be?
I think my favorite sexist comment — that is so subtle that sexists don’t realize they’re sexist because they aren’t that bright — is when they give the “gotcha” question such as, “Well women hit on men in the street too!” OK, [guy] with the egg avatar picture — thanks for weighing in.