Robyn Von Swank
Being on time is something my military grandpa taught me at a very early age.
Most of the rest of the world doesn’t work this way. Many of my family members, friends and co-workers don’t work this way.
Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman does work this way in a business (show) and a town (Los Angeles) not necessarily known for promptness.
Kirkman, who wrote a New York Times bestseller, is releasing another book next year and has a Netflix special airing later this month, was scheduled to call me at 4:30 p.m. North Carolina time on Tuesday. I’ve waited on these calls from comics before and the overwhelming majority of them come at least a few minutes late, which is OK. I’m not going to blow a gasket over a delay that minor, but I do notice.
How long did Kirkman kept me waiting? Maybe two seconds. Almost immediately after my clock clicked over to 4:30 on Tuesday, Kirkman called and get this: She called to ask if it would be OK for her to call me back five minutes later. An appointment had run a little long and she wanted to get into her car so we could hear each other better.
So in addition to funny, smart and hard-working, put punctual and thoughtful on the list of words to describe Kirkman, who begins a run of shows at Goodnights in Raleigh on Thursday.
After she called back — almost exactly five minutes later — Kirkman and I discussed getting reacclimated to the U.S. after a six-week visit to Australia, what sets her upcoming special apart, autographing body parts, Madonna’s recent attempt at stand-up on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and much more.
Tony Castleberry: Are you adjusted to being back in the States yet? I listened to your podcast on Monday and it sounded like you didn’t want to leave Australia.
Jen Kirkman: I didn’t. Part of me realizes it’s because Australia is so great, but part of me admits that I’m a bit of an escapist. I think that’s part of it so, emotionally, I’m half still there, half in America.
The same with my sleep as well. Some nights I just can’t sleep. I must have jet lag. I didn’t have it on the way there. On the way there, for some reason, I just adapted right away. … I don’t understand jet lag because it’s not like it’s a normal time in Australia when it’s 3 a.m. here. I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense, but I think I’m back on track. I’m back on track enough to now hit the east coast and get my time screwed up again.
TC: You have a Netflix special coming out on May 22. Have you seen a final cut and if so, are you happy with it?
JK: I have. I had to approve it a little while ago and I will say, on behalf of everyone who worked on it, from the director, Lance Bangs, to the lighting and design, I think it looks fantastic. It’s hard for me to watch my stand-up and say, “Oh, I love it!” but I think it’s a pretty good example of what I can do and I don’t hate it. [Kirkman, interviewer laugh]
I also shot some kind of funny, comedic scenes with actors playing parts of things based on real life that have happened to me. I like those a lot and that’s going to be something different that I haven’t seen in other specials. I’m excited about that.
TC: Your “Drunk History” episode might be my favorite. It’s either you or Kyle Kinane. I was wondering…[Kirkman interrupts]
JK: I’ve done five of them. I’m one of the originals so you must mean episodes, plural. (Note: Kirkman did not angrily point this out. She simply corrected the author in a playful manner.)
TC: Exactly. Yes. I stand corrected. I’m wondering if you talk to other comedians about doing that show or is it kind of an unspoken thing like, “Holy hell, so and so was really messed up.”
JK: My friend Paul (F.) Tompkins did one once and he texted me the next day like, “Oh my god, I haven’t had a hangover like this since I was 20,” and my friend Natasha Leggero, I saw her the day after she did a “Drunk History.” When I was working at “Chelsea Lately,” [Leggero] had scheduled herself to be on the show and she came in like, “I almost canceled.” She was white as a ghost.
It would be a really funny follow-up if they had someone with a little camera crew and could set up at the person’s house the next day with their hangover.
TC: [laughs] That’s a great idea!
JK: It would be totally intrusive and they would be really angry about it, but yeah, I think I’ll mention that to Derek (Waters, “Drunk History” creator).
TC: Has a fan ever asked you to autograph a part of their body?
JK: I don’t think so. You know what? No! Now that you ask me, no, and I’m pissed. No one has ever asked me to autograph a boob or anything. Some have asked me to autograph electronics, their iPad, and I feel so wrong about that. I feel like that’s just not right. I don’t think I’ve autographed anyone’s body and now that I think about it, I’m offended.
TC: Well, you’re coming to Raleigh this week so maybe you’ll get the chance to do it at Goodnights.
JK: I’m up for it. As long as it’s not too hairy or sweaty, I’ll autograph any body part, within reason.
TC: What did you think of Madonna doing stand-up?
JK: I loved it! I was talking to a friend about it, a really funny comedian named Ian Karmel. He pointed out that it actually showed how hard stand-up is. We have seen Madonna…even when she fell with her cape and that was a big mishap, it didn’t show how vulnerable she was as much as stand-up did. You saw this side of her that wasn’t totally in control. She was concerned what people thought about her and she was vocalizing it and she was very neurotic! I was like, “Oh my god, Madonna is acting like everyone I know suddenly.”
I think when you’re really good at stand-up or having a good set or something, it will seem easy and I think that’s why people may not have a lot of respect for it or they heckle or they want to be part of it because they think it’s just so easy. That’s part of our job is to make it look effortless. The first time you do it, you’re never going to look comfortable and I think she really helped show…It’s not that she’s unprofessional. It’s that the professionals you know have worked really hard on trying to pretend to be comfortable.
It was very funny. I mean, I saw the joke coming a mile away where she said she asked her son if he had any friends she could date. Her timing could use some help, but I think she’s absolutely got a good sense of humor, it seems, about herself. I actually really enjoyed hearing the story about how she brought a young guy home and he didn’t know who Andy Warhol was. I wanted to hear more. I thought that was adorable. However, I would never do stand-up with no pants and fishnets. [interviewer laughs] But good for her.
TC: Two things about it stood out to me. It showed a vulnerability that I identify with and, you’re a good example of this too. Most comics are. You put your life out there. Also, the outrage from comics, the ones that had a problem with it, were like middling people or people who had just started. That infuriated me. Who are they to tell her she couldn’t try it, you know?
JK: There was a lot of outrage and I’m not sure the average Joe knows this but yeah, there were a lot of comedians upset and it’s exactly what you said. It was mostly people who are newer (to comedy).
Jimmy Fallon’s whole show is billed on celebrities doing things so that it can go viral on the Internet the next day. I don’t see Madonna as someone who wants to play beer pong. I’ve been a Madonna fan from Day 1 and in the past — you can see it in the movie “Truth or Dare” — she always kind of thought she was funny. I think this was a natural, quote, sketch for her to do. … That was all part of her appearance.
She didn’t take food out of anyone’s mouth that night. That segment was earned. That time was not going to be for someone else.
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
Whenever I see a headless mannequin in a power pose, I remember I guess you can have it all
— Aparna Nancherla (@aparnapkin) May 13, 2015