Stand-up, actress and writer Jen Kirkman occasionally hits the road with her cohorts from Chelsea Lately and companion show After Lately as the Comedians of Chelsea Lately. She, along with Chris Franjola, Brad Wollack and Fortune Feimster will be at the Suncoast March 9-10. In April, the 38-year-old will debut her first book, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids (Simon & Schuster, $22), which explores a major theme in her comedy. Vegas Seven caught up with her to talk about her misadventures in sitcom writing, living a child-free life and just what it is about Hugh Hefner’s Twitter that captivates her.
What prompted you to write the book?
I always wanted to write a book, hands down. About anything. In my act I talk about how I don’t want kids. I really thought like half the population felt like I did. So when I would get feedback from people after shows: “Do you really not want kids? That’s kind of selfish, isn’t it? Well you’ll change your mind, you’re young.” It seems like everyone said the same 10 things. It was always strangers. I didn’t understand why they seemed so invested in what I did. They literally were never going to see me again when they walked away from the cocktail party. I decided to write the book because I had at that point years of stuff to get off my chest. I wrote it hoping this would be a great answer to the subject, and, for other people who might relate would want to read about it and get comforted or get re-angry at all the things I write about that they’ve probably heard. I was getting mad writing it.
The one thing I noticed is if you are a parent, it’s totally socially acceptable to say you don’t like children, you just like your own. Why can’t I say that? I’m getting more bold. I used to be like, “Oh, I don’t know, kids are great, I just don’t want them.” But I’m not actually interested in them at all. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be grown up. And I wasn’t wrong; it’s awesome.
When did you come to the realization?
I realized it when I was in college and I was about 21. I was in love for the first time, love of my life, and this guy dumped me. Then we started to kind of get back together and he was like, “I made a mistake, and you know what, let’s stay together and someday we’ll have kids.” And my stomach just dropped out. It was a gut reaction like, oh God, I don’t want to do that. It was just this weird feeling. Before that if you had asked me I would have said something dramatic like a teenager, like why bring children into the world. But that was the first time [I realized] I’m very uncomfortable fantasizing about that. I kind of knew when I had the chance to get back to the love of my life at that time and I just kind of let it fizzle out because I didn’t want them. I’ve really always known.
Did you find yourself in constant arguments with friends and relatives?
Thank God my family understands. I’m the youngest of three children. My sisters are a lot older than I am. I have one sister who has kids, and her kids are in their 20s. My other sister doesn’t have kids, but she’s a little more socially acceptable than I am because she has horses that she raises and she’s with them like 12 hours a day. People look at her like “At least she’s raising something. She’s still picking up poop.”
My family luckily, I think they get it because I’m the only one who left Massachusetts. I pursued a career in stand-up comedy, moved to Los Angeles. I think not having kids to them fits in in the different lifestyle I’ve chosen. What’s always surprised me is strangers, or friends, once they have a kid it’s like talking to someone on ecstasy. They change. “Oh you would love it. You’re going to meet someone you’re going to love them so much you’re going to change your mind.” It’s usually strangers. There have been many cocktail parties I’ve ended up crying in the bathroom at because I feel like “Stop bothering me about it.” You’d think people would go “Hey, do you have kids?” “No.” “Do you want them?” “No.” And you’d think the conversation would end .But it never does. I recently have even been accused of making this up. “Oh, people don’t really bother you about that.” Oh. My God.
It’s one of those experiences I’ll have to take everyone’s word for it that it’s the best experience ever. I’m not going to regret something I have no idea how it feels. I look at pictures of Fiji and if I don’t get there, I’m going to regret it, because I can tell that it’s awesome. But I have nothing in me that stirs when I look at my friends with their children. I have nothing. I will not regret this. I don’t understand the pushing it on other people and saying it’s easy, because it’s not.
How was the process of writing the book?
It’s the worst thing ever. It’s like something you can only complain about to other writers, because they get it. It was wonderful and very exciting, but once someone gives you some money to write something, I think everyone goes through this: First stage of excitement, you tell everyone. Then you sit down to write and you’re like, “Oh my God, this isn’t good. I suck. Who do I think I am? I grew up reading Ernest Hemingway and really great writers. I’m going to have a book in a bookstore? I’m awful. I’m a phony.” Then I did a lot of procrastinating. I was working a few other jobs at the time. I had to write at hours I didn’t feel very creative at. I write on a TV show, then I’d come home at night and try to write and I was like, I’m tapped. Once I started and realized I’m not supposed to be changing American literature, I’m just supposed to be writing something in my voice about this one thing, It’s not a big deal. Once I just decided to have a little more fun with it, it was easier to do. If I wrote another book, now I know you have to put a lot of time management and planning in. You have to give yourself mini-deadlines.
Would you do it again?
I would love to be someone who writes a new book however often I have things to say. As I sold the book I was getting a divorce. I feel like that book needs to be written, a woman talking about how she loves getting a divorce and you don’t need to keep going up to her saying I’m sorry. I would love to write a similar book that helps people feel less like misfits who are choosing different ways to live.
What did you love about getting a divorce?
Not that my ex-husband isn’t a lovely person, but I married someone who, I can’t put my finger on it, but we weren’t in love. It was more like friendship love. So I was very unhappy, simply because it seems like this is different from what everyone else is feeling in their relationships. Once I realized it’s OK to get a divorce, to say time out, we screwed up. We both felt the same way and so we decided to split. It was like getting a new lease on life. It really was one of the best feelings in the world. We both realized we got married because when you’re together a long time, it’s what people think you should do. I think that’s what was so great about it for me, was finally, way too late in life, saying OK, I’m just going to do what I think is right for me, even if it makes people feel weird. It just felt so good to finally be doing something I really wanted to do. I actually felt more excited than on my wedding day.
How was your experience with the sitcom, and what made you want to go back to Chelsea?
I always wanted to write on a sitcom since I was a kid or be around it in any way, because I grew up watching Taxi and Roseanne and great, great shows. I went to a great show called Perfect Couples. It was very funny. It was a single-camera show, but it wasn’t this free-for-all I thought it would be. Sitcom writing is a lot of sitting and thinking. It’s a lot of the more grown-up people in show business tend to write for sitcoms. Every show is different, but because this show was different, I worked with a lot of married people who had kids. I went from working in an environment at Chelsea where I worked with only stand-up comedians who are all mental in a great way to sitting in a more normal environment having conversations about people’s dining room tables and their kids’ breakfast. So that specific experience was a little meh.
But I think creatively working on a sitcom is fun because you get to pitch out jokes and you get to sit there and watch someone on NBC at 8 o’clock say your words. That’s kind of exciting. I think what ultimately made me go back to Chelsea was I really liked writing for something in the morning and then it tapes that afternoon, and you see it that night and you get to do that four nights a week. It almost feels like theater, with that hustle and bustle. And I get to be on TV on Chelsea, and it helps people find out who I am, which helps me on the road as a stand-up. It’s kind of the right choice for a performer/writer, I think, rather than a sitcom where you’re just locked behind doors. Which is why I think all guys who write for sitcoms wind up wearing the same uniform, which is baseball hat and hooded sweatshirt.
How is it touring with the same people you work with in the trenches?
It’s nice. For me the worst thing when I go on the road, is if I meet other comedians. Will I like them? Are people crazy? It’s actually nice because we’re all friends in real life. It’s really fun to hang out together and not have to be working. We’ll go to dinner, we’ll go out after. It’s nice.
What’s your fascination with Hugh Hefner on Twitter?
I don’t know! I think his tweets make me laugh out loud. I know he’s being totally earnest, but it sounds like someone is writing them ironically. He just wrote something the other day that was like “I have butterflies carved into the headboard in my bedroom. Crystal loves it. That’s cool.” Or just “I met Crystal’s parents today. I think we’re going to last this time. She’s a great girl.” It’s just so earnest and funny, but he’s hip and cool. A lot of older celebrities aren’t on Twitter, and I think I’ve read it really is him. I’m just fascinated with how it looks like a parody account, but it’s real. I’m also fascinated by his life of leisure. I love reading about “Tonight we’re watching a movie, then I played some backgammon, now I’m scrapbooking.” I know he’s 85 and I hope when I’m 85 I might get to relax a little. I’m just so envious. I’m very intrigued by him. I guess in real life, not just on Twitter, but I think Twitter really upped the ante. I hate to retweet him because I don’t want people to think I’m being ironic. Sometimes people will write back to him and me like “What an old perv.” I’m like “No, no, no, I like him!”
Comedians of Chelsea Lately, Suncoast Showroom, March 9-10, 7:30 p.m., $17.50-$44, LiveNation.com.