While many offer good will and condolences, not every performing artist passing through Houston will put their money where their mouth is. But Jen Kirkman, stand-up comedian, author and (no joke!) successful necklace designer, has vowed to donate a portion of her ticket sales to help the Harvey recovery effort, a decision she calls very obvious.
“Any time I can combine my job with doing something good, it feels good,” says the former Chelsea Lately star. “In a weird way, I’d probably end up giving less if it was just me writing a check. And, I always like to make my tour, if something is going on in the community that is so glaring, I can’t come through an ignore it – that’s tacky. People are donating money and coming out for a night of comedy, so it’s guilt free and you know you’re doing a good thing. This way they can combine two things.”
With this Kirkman expedition officially being titled the “All New Material, Girl” Tour, one might assume this brave new American landscape has been a goldmine of comedy fodder for the veteran stand-up. Not so fast. “I didn’t make anything for a while, because I was so depressed about how the world had been going,” she explains. “I thought: ‘This is over. This is not a job I should have anymore.' Every comedian is dramatic and sensitive. But this new country we have now, I mean we have Nazis now. I literally have to think, ‘Oh, I’m playing Seattle in December, I wonder if there will be a Nazi rally to interrupt my travels.’ It’s insane.”
Kirkman, who says she's proudly un-followed all her “real friends” on Instagram in favor of curating a feed made entirely of “fashion designer and home decorators,” admits to adding additional significance to last November's surprise by finding the parallels with her real life.
“I was really depressed after the election, and it’s really tied into my personal life," she says. "I had just gotten off the road, I had just taped the Netflix special, my voice was having problems and my doctor recommended no public speaking for like a year – so I just happened to take the year off when he was elected President.”
On the topic of her distinct voice, Kirkman offers this observation. “People will always go: ‘You have that raspy voice, it’s so sexy.’ And I’m like, 'No, that’s vocal-chord damage! It’s not sexy, that’s like telling someone they’re so hot for having one arm. It’s an injury!”
After the release of the aforementioned Netflix special, Just Keep Livin’?, the funny lady took stock of what working meant to her. “You know, work gives you self-esteem, it gives you a purpose, makes you feel good — and so suddenly I have no purpose, and I’m watching this unfold," she says. "Oh my God, there was no funny left in my head!”
Thankfully, Kirkman was slowly able to start using her pipes again – and begin diving into new stories from her day-to-day. “I do a show once a month in L.A. where I work out new material, and I had to just slowly start talking about my life again," she says. "Thankfully, I don’t have to delve into what’s happening. The weird change for me was not doing stuff everyday and feeling OK about it.
"Most comedians have a hard time taking time off, thinking they’ll get rusty, you need to be practicing, you need to be challenging yourself," Kirkman continues, "but I think it’s fine to shut up for a few months, take [stock] of what’s happening, and be politically active not onstage. Then, slowly, come back to life.”
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Despite fears of President Trump’s hard-line agendas becoming normalized, the comic has indeed found the value of her craft. “What I’m hearing is people still need to laugh, which I know is cliché. It really makes sense now how much people rely on comedy. Because I don’t! As a comedian, I don’t rely on comedy to get me through anything, I just stare at walls and murmur ‘Oh, my God.’”
As Kirkman has matured, the Massachusetts native estimates that her comedy has remained mostly the same. “Everything in my comedy is pretty business as usual, but I think we’ve all gotten a little older from this. I’m now just quotes [the Fleetwood Mac song] ‘Landslide,’ but when there’s literally Nazis in the street, you stop caring if people think you’re a flaming liberal or a big mouth, I don’t want Nazis. You all are insane. We’re all getting a little bolder, so it’s me...but I’m a little looser and having more fun,” Kirkman says, adding with a laugh.
“But I doubt anyone but me and my mom would notice the subtle differences!”
Jen Kirkman will perform 8 p.m. Friday, October 20 at the Heights Theater, 339 West 19th. For information, call 214-272-8346 or visit theheightstheater.com. $20.