Tattered Rag Magazine

Posts tagged comedy
November 1, 2015

Definitive Guide of How Not To Interview

Written by: Jen Kirkman



Dear World,

I was just thinking – that’s what I do when I travel. And read. One of my favorite things to read is interviews with any kind of public figure. When I read Vanity Fair I immediately turn to the Proust Questionnaire on the back page before I get to the smart-y pants journalism. One thing I can’t stand- I’m sure you’re with me – is when you buy a magazine with your favorite so-and-so on the cover and can’t wait to dig in and you get…fluff. The same old recycled PR. The same old “everything in a positive light.” I fall for it because every once in a while I read a really intimate, thoughtful interview with someone and so I’ll always take my chances.



I do understand that celebrities have an image to protect – that image sells their movie tickets and albums and as stupid as it sounds to you and me – there are people out there that would be REVOLTED to learn that maybe Julia Roberts isn’t the nicest person on earth full of light and love or that [insert name here rhymes with Ba-volta] isn’t straight and isn’t going to strut to their house in bell-bottoms and twirl them on the dance floor – thus those people will stop supporting the celebrity. Also, celebrities have publicists – people who sit with them during interviews and make sure they do not get too personal, misquoted, or start to trust the journalist too much. It’s not always the interviewer’s fault.

Which leads me to what I’m writing about here. I do press – way less high profile – but all the time. At least fifty times a year all over the country and some of the world. And I get asked the same questions OVER and OVER and OVER again. I have a publicist. The kind that gets me press. Not the kind that watches over me like an overlord making sure I say the right thing. I have nothing to protect. As a comedian and a not-celebrity one, not much is at stake if I say an outrageous thing or give a crazy opinion or let someone in too deep. And yet – NO ONE takes advantage of this. I mean, I want people to have boundaries. Obviously let’s be polite and not ask people crazy, personal questions that could harm others but…. you get the idea.

In the interest of this not sounding like an ungrateful complaint – I put it to you this way. You, busy person who has a lot to read, don’t you want to read something interesting when you read a press article? Do you really care how I got started in comedy? If I’m really drunk on Drunk History? When I realized I was funny? Who cares? Don’t you want to know something about me? Or a person?

When I do press – usually the person interviewing me has a few weeks lead-time. And I get the same questions. Why go into a cool profession where you get to talk to performers and people with something to say or maybe just people who say normal things but in a funny way and then—-just throw it away with boring crap?

WHAT NOT TO ASK COMEDIANS (SPECIFICALLY JEN KIRKMAN) ANYMORE AND WHY GUIDE

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN COMEDY?

Unless this is someone’s first interview, the answer is out there. It’s on Wikipedia and I’ve talked about it on my podcast and I’ve answered it in hundreds of interviews all available online. Oh, and I wrote about it in my book that came out in 2013. If you only have ten minutes by phone to talk to someone, why waste two of them with this boring question? The answers are always the same. “I started doing open mics.” There are no other starts. No answer will ever be as interesting as the plot of E.T. But also, it disengages your subject right away. We are on the phone thinking, ‘Did they do no research? This is sort of a waste of time.’ Howard Stern, my favorite interviewer, if you listen to him, will incorporate boring facts IN his question. If you don’t have a research team like Howard, you do have Google and five minutes before you call someone. If you must conduct some background check type interview perhaps you could come armed with that answer and do something like this.

“So, I read that you got your start back in 1997 at the Green Street Grille – a bar in Somerville Massachusetts that Eugene Mirman turned into a comedy night –“

And then ask the question from there.

If you must talk about this maybe it can go something like this, “So, I read that you got your start back in 1997 at the Green Street Grille – a bar in Somerville Massachusetts that Eugene Mirman turned into a comedy night – do you remember anything specific about that night? What outfit did you pick out to wear? Did you have a drink? Did you invite people you knew? What was your expectation going in?”

See how many different nuances and emotions can be evoked doing it that way? We never would have gotten there if you didn’t do your research first and incorporate it in the question.

Some may argue, “No, I KNOW how you got your start but the people reading my newspaper don’t!” Again, incorporate it in your question and also assume the people reading your newspaper don’t give a fuck. It’s not that interesting.



WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING A WOMAN IN COMEDY?

I actually have a request that my publicist sends people when we are setting up interviews – that under no circumstance do they ask me this. Usually they ask anyway and it’s always dudes who want to know. Here’s the answer. What it’s like is we get asked that question a lot. We don’t know what it’s like in one way because we have nothing to compare it too. We haven’t ever been anything else in comedy. Also, there is sexism in the WORLD so really what you are asking is what is it like to be a woman in a sexist society? It sucks. Please help us work towards equality on all levels. There are no stories of people yelling out “women aren’t funny” to me but because there is sexism in the world and I am a woman who is out in the world there ARE realities to being a woman on the road. Pay wage stuff. Cab drivers meant to get me home safe making me feel uncomfortable. Needing extra security. Blah blah.

But why is this question in a ten-minute interview that is supposed to showcase how FUNNY I am in order to sell tickets? It’s a huge topic and very, very nuanced and political – so why…. again WHY do I need to go there when my male peers don’t in their little blurbs? Because whenever I’ve answered the question it’s bit me in the ass. The articles always, ALWAYS become: HEADLINE: JEN KIRKMAN WHO IS AT THE FUN THEATRE THIS WEEK SAYS THERE IS SEXISM IN COMEDY. And then guess what happens to this woman in comedy? I get awful Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, comments from dudes telling me to lighten up, stop being a victim and on and on.

Look. Amongst ourselves women talk about this – and maybe sometimes in a more in-depth interview with another woman if it pertains to her subject. But it’s a fucked question and on it’s face just asking it is a little insensitive of dudes and smells of just not getting it. And I think most interviewers would know not to ask a comic who isn’t white, “So, what’s it like to be a black comic?” You know you wouldn’t do it. Don’t do it to women. We don’t need to constantly be reminded that we are seen as “other.” Just ask me about Donald Trump’s hair or Wolf Blitzer’s beard or something. Let me make a joke. The people reading your paper will laugh. Then they will buy tickets to the show I’m doing as they got a really good idea of my spirit – instead of reading a symposium on sexism.

ARE YOU REALLY DRUNK IN DRUNK HISTORY?

Yes. It’s a reality show. And it’s been around over a decade and on Comedy Central for three seasons. There is so much information out there about this show because hundreds of comedians, celebrities, and it’s creators are out there doing press for the show all of the time. This isn’t a question you need to ask me about. I’ve answered it over a hundred times and I’m always floored to be asked it. That goes for, “How did you get involved?” “Were you good at history?” These questions have been answered.

Maybe another angle could be: Don’t you feel bad for your friends in AA who can’t be on this show? What do you do when you get home from the shoot? What are some behind the scenes things we don’t see on camera that you’ve done? When was the first time you got drunk in real life? Have you ever done something really embarrassing when you were drunk? Have you ever had a drunken hookup? Have you ever regretted anything you’ve said when drunk? Ever been drunk with your parents? Trust me. Those will get you good answers and you can lead into it with, “As a five time narrator for Drunk History – I know you actually get drunk every time on your drink of choice, wine – so tell me about drinking in general….”

Now you’re off and running to an interview where you might get an answer out of me that no one else has!



WHAT IS CHELSEA REALLY LIKE?

Really? What…is my former boss and a bona-fide celebrity really like? You think I’m going to give you some expose and you’ll run an article about ME with a headline about HER? And you want me to what…talk shit? Not gonna happen. Also it’s rude. She’s a person. So the answer stands that she’s really like what people are like. Complex and human. She’s just like you except with more money and fame. And besides my job was about writing for a TV show and getting work done by a certain time for the producers every day. I wasn’t in her face all the time studying her every move, analyzing her private versus public persona. That’s what my mom would do if she had the job. But people who work in these jobs, we’re like nurses. We don’t flinch at blood. We’ve seen it all. Nothing is special or that weird to us and we’re only going to normalize it for you with our boring answers of the reality of writing on a TV show is that you work a lot, have no life and eat lunch at your desk.



WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WERE FUNNY?

This is what I call A Limited Question Based on Only The Asker’s Version Of How It Works. It’s like asking a basketball player, “When did you first know you could probably nail a three-pointer?” Who knows? Maybe that’s not how it happened. Funny is hard to define. Is it instinct? Science? Luck? A question that could illicit a funny answer and gets you into the same area:

Did you ever think you were funny but you just weren’t there yet but had no idea? Do you think you made an ass of yourself?

A comedian would rather tell you about the time that she started taking anti-depressants in the 1990’s and thought she had a riveting take on how the side-effects are more depressing than depression. And bombed. Who wants to sit and talk about themselves saying things like, “Well, I always knew I was funny…” Blech. Gross. Also, sometimes people don’t do comedy because they think they’re funny. I know. It’s hard to explain. That’s why that question doesn’t really make sense – except to someone who doesn’t do comedy and didn’t bother to put any effort into his or her interview.



WHO ARE YOUR INFLUENCES?

Maybe this is a good question for Keith Richards or people who play music influenced by the blues but it doesn’t quite work that way for comedy. Besides, I thought Gallagher was the funniest comedian when I was young. The first comedy I saw on TV was The Muppet Show and The Carol Burnette Show. Both, I’m sure influenced me, yet I’ve never gone on stage with or as a puppet and I didn’t pursue a career in sketch comedy. So…. I suppose we can talk about what my favorite TV shows are growing up? Or maybe another question could be

What qualities do other comedians have that you admire?

That way I can get into how much I admire my friend’s who stay positive, work hard, know how to travel, take risks on stage, have a good writing ethic, somehow manage to always have new material to work on, etc. A comedian’s influences change all of the time depending on where they are in their career – and unlike music, most comedians can’t quite take from other comics and build on it. It would be too obvious and you’ll just be called a rip-off. It’s another one of those questions that someone who doesn’t do comedy asks – but with an authority that assumes EVERYONE HAS INFLUENCES IN THE LITERAL SENSE JUST GIVE ME A LIST OF NAMES. And now your readers are just reading a list of names. What’s interesting about that?



WHAT IS YOUR ACT ABOUT?

Well, it’s hard to say because I do my act for a living. I don’t do descriptions of my act for a living. I’m assuming you’ve seen it? No? Oh, so you did no research before the interview and would like me to provide another unfunny answer wherein I just describe my act.

Maybe you could watch some and form a hypothesis about what you think my act is about and you could ask a question based on that?

So, Jen, I watched your stand-up special and in it you talk about your personal life but you also have this odd little story about running into a guy who didn’t know what a lime was? Would you say you want your act to be more personal or was that lime story a sign of where you are going in the future? Or do you equally love doing both – the personal and the observational and absurd?

This would spark – I don’t know, a thoughtful answer and perhaps discussion. If anyone wants to know what my act is like they can go to Twitter and learn that I’m some people’s Spirit Animal and other people think I suck. And that’s what can be so interesting about talking to a comedian. You’re usually talking to a hyper self-aware person who while they may not sit around analyzing their own work – they definitely analyze the world around them. And we have a big world full of double rainbows, terrorism, plane crashes, iPhone updates that crash our phones, Steve Jobs movies, love, death, work, bad jobs, good jobs, pants that don’t fit, Climate Change, people still getting mad at sharks for biting them, God, atheism, blood moons, and the possibility of aliens. Why not just TALK to someone about subjects we all think about in the back of our minds? And then your subject comes off interesting and people will want to buy whatever they’re selling – and what comedians are selling are themselves. Help them out. Don’t make them come off boring with your questions about how they knew they were funny. If any comedian tells you they knew they were funny – please title your article, “I Talked To a Pompous Jackass.”

I look forward to doing more press – it’s a part of my job that I actually love. But let’s all try to not bore the readers. Like I just did with this blog.

Love,
Jen

Research! Research! Research!
September 1, 2015
jenkirkman : 
 
 Hey everyone! My second book comes out April 2016 BUT it’s available 
for pre-order now! If you pre-order it, it usually doesn’t charge you 
until it ships but you’ll be sending a message to the little elves that 
make books that they better start stapling due to high demand! 
  Available NOW at the following places.  
  Amazon:  http://bit.ly/otherliesamazon  
  B&N:  http://bit.ly/otherliesbn  
  BAM:  http://bit.ly/otherliesbam  
  Indiebound:  http://bit.ly/otherliesindie  
  Kobo:  http://bit.ly/otherlieskobo   
  Kindle:  http://bit.ly/otherlieskindle  
  iBooks:  http://bit.ly/otherliesibks
Source: Jen Kirkman

Hey everyone! My second book comes out April 2016 BUT it’s available for pre-order now! If you pre-order it, it usually doesn’t charge you until it ships but you’ll be sending a message to the little elves that make books that they better start stapling due to high demand!

Available NOW at the following places.
July 31, 2015

Playbook For A Childfree Life

i can barely take care of myself by Jen Kirkman is more than just a hilarious series of stories about a young woman’s life being center stage in the limelight of critique and ridicule about her personal decision of not wanting to bring a child on board her already frenzied train to the free-spirited, strangely cool island of Quirksville. Instead, it’s also kind of like a how-to, didactic playbook manifesto for navigating through a life filled with inconsiderate prejudices from persuasive cavilers.

“Most people who don’t want kids also don’t want to be cornered by strangers at parties who launch an informal investigation into our psyches and backgrounds and decision-making capabilities.” - Jen Kirkman.

“It’s time for the bullying from breeders to stop.” - Jen Kirkman.

Between the pages, Kirkman repeatedly reassures and explains how she does not dislike or, dare I say, hate children or the people that want to have them or even her friends, for that matter, that have or want to have them. She points out that, obviously, ones friendships and interests’ do change a little from how you spend your time and money when you have a child, but it should not change your attitude of respect and common decency towards others!

As you grow up, you begin to realize that the peer pressure in high school wasn’t actually all that bad after all.

“This is the real reason lots of people end up changing their minds and having kids. They don’t want to lose their friends. It’s just like drugs. Peer pressure eventually gets to everyone.” - Jen Kirkman.

However, baby, a child, another human being with a heart should not, under any circumstances, give parents the right to become some kind of rude, elite force; an army of ‘spawnists’ who can’t seem to respect others’ personal choices to not want to multiply their genes. I know how to multiply my jeans just fine, thank you.

“Childfree by choice is the new gay. We’re the new disenfranchised group. People think we’re irresponsible, immoral sluts and that our lifestyle is up for debate.” - Jen Kirkman.

True. Babies and children can be cute little blessings (most of the time). But this doesn’t mean that everyone on earth is cut from the same bib cloth. (no pun intended…well, maybe just a little) Not everyone is cut out or even wants to handle that kind of responsibility of caring for another tiny human being’s every desire and demand. Not everyone follows the same generic recipe for life. Some people find it much more fun to concoct their own original recipe.

“It also takes a lot of strength and dedication to carve out a life that doesn’t seem normal to anyone else.” - Jen Kirkman.

For some of us, it’s hard enough making it on our own; surviving the best we can to make sure we alone get the proper amount of food, sleep, exercise, respect and love to and from others, showering and staying potty-trained. How then should we be expected to be responsible for a little ankle-biter when some of us are already daunted by the task of being responsible for just ourselves?

For more information about Jen Kirkman, go to her website at jenkirkman.com or follow her on twitter: @JenKirkman & instagram @JenKirkman. Everything you need and could ever want to know can be found there. If it’s not there, then you were not meant to know about it…yet.

i can barely take care of myself is available in hardcover, paperback, electronic copy and audiobook (which is read by Jen herself).

Download & listen to her podcast “I Seem Fun: The Diary of Jen Kirkman Podcast” on Itunes, Soundcloud & Libsyn
December 7, 2014

The Night I Met Jen & Kurt

The night before April 25, 2014, I dreamt that I had met two super fun people and we became the best of friends. 

So, there I was sitting at the end of the bar writing and sipping my glass of wine when this guy steps inside, walks over and takes a seat at the bar, only four seats across from me. From the moment he walked in, I couldn’t peel my eyes off of him. I rubbed my eyes and pinched myself…hard. I had seen him before, but only in pictures. Never had I been this close to Kurt Cobain before. I checked my pulse. Yep, still beating. Okay. I just couldn’t believe that this guy was actually sitting in front of me. How was any of this possible? You see, because he’s been dead for twenty years. (I was only seven when he had died. So, the only memories I have are photos and the sound of his voice from recordings. I swear. It was like looking into the face of a ghost. I rubbed my eyes once more. No…maybe once more after that. I had to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. (Which I was, but not in the dream) I wasn’t drunk. I knew that. I had only taken a few sips of my wine. He ordered a beer and barely lifted his head to look at anyone. He looked as if he were deep in thought. As if he were troubled over some majour life decision. He looked as if he were carrying the sins of the whole world on his shoulders. I’m not saying he was Jesus or anything. I’m just saying that’s how he kind of looked.

(By the way, in the dream, Kurt is NOT 47; he’s 27. But this is also not set in some alternate universe where he would’ve died 20 days earlier. Stay with me. It’s a crazy story that shifts between several complex and parallel time-lapsing universes.)

After looking around to see if anyone else had noticed him, I got up, walked over to the stool next to him and sat down. 

“Hi”, I said. 

He briefly looked up and nodded. “Hey”, he acknowledged. 

“Look, this may sound a little crazy, but you are who I think you are, eh? It’s just…you look soooo much like a friend of mine.” I lied…a little. I never actually knew him personally. I was only seven when he died. He just really felt like a close friend. Like if I were born twenty years earlier and went to the same high school, we’d be hanging out behind the bleachers by now…writing stories and poetry. 

He grinned and leaned over almost whispering in my ear, “My name’s Kurt, what’s yours?

I smiled and answered, "Abigail.”

“I’m trying to stay low tonight for my friend, Jen, he continued. It’s her night. You think you could keep this just between us?”

Resting my hand on top of his and staring straight into those perfect blue irises, I whispered, “Absolutely, you can trust me.”

We sat in silence for a bit (more like shock and awe on my part) just sipping our beverages. Then, Kurt broke the beautiful silence and asked, “What were you scribbling earlier?

I didn’t think he noticed me sitting in the corner all alone staring at the wall above the bartender’s head. “Oh, nothing. Just some rough poetry and stories.” 

“Cool. (brief pause) Can I read some of ‘em?”

“Um…yeah…sure.” I slid my sketchbook over. 

As he read the rough lines and sketches, I saw him start to smile. Woah, Kurt Cobain likes my work! I made him smile. Probably not as much as his friend, Jen, can. But I still made him smile! When he was finished reading, he slid my sketchbook back and said, “Daaamn, these are really good. So poetically raw.”

“Thanks.”

“You should get them published.”

“I would love to, but I just haven’t found anyone yet who wants to publish them.”

“I know a guy who works for City Lights Books in San Fran. I’ll talk to him; see if I can get you a meeting with him to talk out logistics.”

“Thanks! That would be fantastic. City Lights is one of my favorites! 

“No problem.”

By now it was about five minutes to showtime. “Um, I don’t want to seem too forward or anything, but you mind if I join you for the show?” I asked. 

“Not at all. I’m just gonna sit over there in the front corner on the floor just off stage right,” he said as we both stood up and made our way over to our seats. 

As we sat down, I asked, “So, how long have you known Jen?”

“Oh…for about four years now. We were playing a show in Boston. She and a couple of her friends had hung around backstage after the show. Earlier, they had slid a cassette of their band across the stage with a note attached to it in hopes we’d find it (which we did). It ended up sliding all the way under Grohl’s drums. We took some snapshots, signed some merch. and discussed the potential of their raucous sound. Then, we ended up hanging out again a couple months later in Los Angeles when they stopped by the studio to record another demo that we were producing for them. We remained really close over the years. We’d make surprise visits to each others’ shows; teasing each other and kidding around.   

(So, in the dream, according to Kurt, they’ve known each other only four years. According to Jen, they’ve been friends for 20 years. Just another weird parallel universe dimension thing.) 

- Two hours of awesomeness later -

“You want to come hang out backstage awhile with Jen and me; drink some wine and chill?”

“Sure. That seems fun.” 

I followed, as we walked across the stage and disappeared behind the curtain. 

“Hey, great show tonight, girl!”, as he walks over to give Jen a hug and kiss. 

“Thanks! Thanks for coming and having a fucking awesome time! (brief pause) Hey buddy, you gonna introduce me to your new friend or what?”

“Sorry. This is Abigail. We actually just met tonight before the show.”

“Hey, fucking loved the show, tonight! You rocked!” I said, as we both gave each other a big hug.

“Thanks, so glad you could come! (pause) Here, sit; chat for a while. Have some wine", Jen insisted. 

“I’d love to, thanks!” I replied.   

“She’s pretty cool, too. And a fuckin’ goddamn great writer. I told her I’m gonna try and see if Kenneth at City Lights can meet with her and discuss publishing details,” Kurt noted.

“Wow! That’s fuckin’ awesome! Can I read some of your stuff?” Jen asked.  

“Sure!” I said, reaching into my bag for my sketchbook. (brief pause, then handing her the sketchbook) “Here ya go, enjoy!”

As Jen perused the pages of rough poetry and stories from my sketchbook, she nodded in approval and then replied, “You’re right, these are fuckin’ fantastic!”

“Told ya,” Kurt chimed in.

“And Kenneth’s really great! He’ll absolutely love these. You shouldn’t have any problem at all getting published. And if he is being an ass, tell him your friend, Jen, says, ‘Hey’ and that if he doesn’t play nice, I’ll come out to his desert house to discuss things further. I don’t give a fuck if he’s still in the middle of remodeling. He will make the time.”

“Thanks!” I said, as the three of us chuckled out loud.

By the end of the night, I knew one thing for sure. I had just met two of the most incredibly fun & like-minded people and immediately we became the best of friends. 

———

(Ps. In the dream, Jen and I became Kurt’s strength to overcome his addiction to heroine and cocaine. We were like his own personal “sponsors”. We kept him accountable. In the dream, he doesn’t kill himself; he doesn’t die.)

Sometimes I still think to myself that maybe…just maybe…if Kurt really did have Jen and I as best friends, maybe things would have been different. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so addicted to heroine and cocaine. Maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself. Just maybe the scenario could’ve been rewritten, if we both went back in time. 

Now, like I said in the beginning, this is all just a dream. An albeit far-fetching, but super fun and fucking wonderful dream!