You might think Jen Kirkman would rather be a rock goddess than a hyper-neurotic comedian. She imports vintage Janis Joplin-style coats (which she proudly shows off on her Instagram page), sings along with pop tunes at the start of every episode of her podcast I Seem Fun, and sometimes performs in music venues—such as Local 506, where she appears on Friday—as well as comedy clubs.
"Of course, when I was a teenager, I went through a very brief period of wanting to be a rock star, and I had a terrible band with some friends," Kirkman confesses by phone from Los Angeles. "I wouldn't trade [the comedy life] for anything—although who knows? Maybe I would if I had any actual talent in the music department."
The 39-year-old, Massachusetts-born comedian might not tear up the stage musically, but she does exhibit the raw, blunt honesty that characterizes rock 'n' roll. The way she plows through her material with a motor-mouthed, stream-of-consciousness zeal makes it seem like she's making it up as she goes along. However, being the 16-year comedy veteran that she is, Kirkman comes prepared.
"In one way, it's a big compliment when people think I'm just making it up, because it means it looks natural," she says. "But my act is planned. There is a specific order to the jokes."
Citing Richard Lewis as an influence, Kirkman gives off a manic energy that accentuates her material. "I have a bit about how, one time, I went on a date with a 20-year-old when I was 37 and it was stressing me out," she says. "I do not think it's sexy to date younger people. I don't understand how men do it. So I just kind of call up the stress I remember from that incident and use it to enhance my punch lines, make it believable."
It might not come as a shock that Kirkman—being divorced, amusingly cynical and pushing 40—is beloved by Chelsea Handler. Kirkman is not only a writer and regular on Chelsea Lately, she has also opened for Handler on the road. She's one of the show's many writers who, like their boss, have published a best-selling book—her 2013 debut I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids just came out in paperback.
But don't ask her if Handler will be moving to CBS or any other network after her contract with E! expires at the end of the year, a topic of much speculation. (Handler recently shot down the rumors on The Ellen DeGeneres Show). And don't tell Kirkman what she should do with her life when Handler moves on.
"Anytime people write me to give me unsolicited advice, especially about my career, it's like, oh my God, I already have uncles doing that!" she says. As a successful comedian and author who can also rock the hell out of a frilly Parisian coat, it's safe to say that Kirkman will be just fine.CORRECTION: While Jen Kirkman performs in both comedy and rock clubs, she does not prefer one to the other.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Nervous Laughter."