At the start of her debut album, stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman quickly disarms the at-home listeners with this, lest we start to think she’s got some serious comedic skills: “No one knows who I am except this room and that’s even like semi-debatable.”
It’s a typical subtle tool for a comic, to ensure the audience knows the comic herself doesn’t believe she has any right to stand on stage with a microphone and try to make people laugh — no less while being recorded for repeated listening!
But if Self Help (Aspecialthing Records’ inaugural release) is any indication of what this funny Los Angeles-based comic is capable of, Kirkman not only has the right to do such a thing — that is, try to make people laugh — she’s also got the right to be cocky. Of course, that would probably kill her endearing qualities, of which she has many.
The umbrella that hovers above those qualities is that she’s normal — unless she’s criminally insane and simply plays a well-adjusted woman onstage. Sure she talks at length about her insecurities, idiosyncrasies and fears. But you get the sense, whether she’s manipulating the mundane or humanizing the absurd, that it comes from a grounded, quick mind and not from an over-rehearsed zany comedic persona.
She has the amazing ability to take traditional stand-up topics — flying on an airplane, sex, having kids — and twist them so horrendously out of shape that you don’t even realize she’s touching on matters of this world.
On the other hand, she deftly takes absurdities — zombies, the idea that it’s so easy to murder her friends for no good reason, the possibility of a cockroach raping her — and blows them up into extended stories lined with hilarious realisms, which scarily make us wonder: Could these things happen?
Wrapped up in a delivery that’s part chatty friend, part zealous social scientist, Kirkman consistently balances her act between being wholly accessible and not-quite-hipster edgy.
When she contrasts her masturbation fantasies with those of the typical woman, she explains, “I can’t just think about Johnny Depp in some friggin’ vacuum that makes no sense. It’s like, ‘How did I meet Johnny Depp? Why is Johnny Depp interested in me? I thought he was married. Is he still married? Because I don’t want to be an adulterer. Is his wife OK with it? Because I don’t want to be a stepmom.” And on she goes dropping mini punch lines on her way to the joke’s end.
She tackles religion using simple words with hilarious effect: “I should get back into a routine of going to church. But then I go, “Who cares? God’s forgotten about me. I’ve moved around a lot; sometimes I wear a hat. He might not know where I am.”
Regardless of topic or tone, Kirkman’s set at LA’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre is honest and funny from start to finish. Self Help is a refreshing release from contemporary stand-up comedy albums and offers proof that there’s plenty to look forward to — if not from underground stand-up comedy across the nation, than at least from Kirkman herself.