Jen Kirkman Talks To FAULT Magazine about new show at the Soho Theatre

unnamed

The title of comedian Jen Kirkman’s book tells us a lot about her. I can barely take care of myself, is a situation lots of us, in what our parent’s generation call arrested development, can relate to. Not only has the book been empowering lots of women to be proud of their choice not to have children, but it speaks to those of us that feel like we aren’t living up to the expectations our parents have for us. Her recent Netflix special, I am going to die alone (and I feel fine), is not a call to arms, it is not a message and it is not a movement Jen is creating, but it feels like it.

Performing at the Soho Theatre in London this month, we began speaking about what can and can’t be said on stage.

Political correctness is a huge issue in comedy. Do you ever have to edit yourself in case things get taken out of context or blown up into something bigger than they are?

Some people may think I swear too much or don’t like when I talk about grey pubic hair but those aren’t things that usually offend the so-called politically correct. I’ve never been censored nor felt en masse that audiences have made some huge sea change and can’t handle comedy.  I think what people can’t handle is ignorance and I’m glad that people who are lazy joke writers are now being challenged past using words like gay or retarded as a punch line.  Political correctness is a complaint of the boring status quo. Every comedian will be FINE and to the comedians who whine about political correctness, I say, in the words of Joan Rivers, “Oh, grow up.”

Speaking of what people think of you, Twitter lets you receive instant feedback on everything you do. What does that do to your psych?

Nothing. I don’t read many @ comments that much anymore.  It used to tear me apart.  It’s not so much that I don’t like it when people don’t like what I do but I don’t understand the culture of having TO TELL THE PERSON DIRECTLY that they suck.  I never wrote a letter to Mickey Dolenz to tell him that he’s my least favourite member of The Monkees.

Your last book seemed to have anger or frustration at people that asked you why you wouldn’t have kids, and the expectations put on you and women to have kids. Was this consciously the start of a movement?

I do appreciate that it feels like a movement but it was already there, and that’s why it was the perfect time to write a book.  I’d been frustrated for years with people butting into the lives of women who don’t want kids – and I knew LOTS of women who felt the same way. I’m not equipped emotionally with what it takes to have kids.  There’s nothing wrong with people being confused as to why women don’t have kids, after all I have the plumbing and the hormones, but it’s just that it’s not THEIR BUSINESS to say it to my face. I wouldn’t even say this is just a woman’s issue either. Men get the same stupid pressure to reproduce that women do. People think that your marriage isn’t a marriage unless there’s a child or that your life isn’t fulfilling if you only have a job as your major commitment. It’s always something.

unnamed-1

I was always told that to be a normal adult one must go to high school, then college, then get a girl/boyfriend, have a career, own a house, move in with that boy/girlfriend, get married and then have kids. If that’s not what adulthood is, then what is it?

My next book, I Know What I’m Doing And Other Lies I Tell Myself, is sort of the next step in all of this.  It’s about how everyone’s life looks so different and why anyone would tell anyone else what’s best for them based on what they have done – makes no sense to me.  I write about how I prefer to rent a place over own, being divorced, being forty-one and just finding the courage to explore the world on my own, having romantic relationships but not knowing how to do them well, having family obligations that frighten me etc. There is no normal. Thank God. We should all just talk about it more.  I think there’s still this perception that if you’re not a parent, married, with a house and a garage that you’re some kind of vagabond who hasn’t gotten their life together yet. It’s not just either or anymore. There are so many kinds of toilet paper – why can’t there be so many kinds of adulthoods?

What is your fault? 

What is my fault? EVERY THING is my fault.  And my fault is everything you can imagine.

Words: Chris Purnell

Jen is at the Soho Theatre in London 16 – 21 November. More information can be found at www.JenKirkman.com

FAULT reviews: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe ’13

Edinburgh-Festival-Fringe-Image-4

 

The approach of August brings the Edinburgh Festival to the capital, with not only inflated prices, over-whelmed looking tourists, and pubs that open at 6am and close at 4am the next day, but also the Fringe, the largest arm of the festival. 2013 featured over 2,542 different shows, in over 258 venues, by over 21,192 performers. For four weeks of the year the city hums with activity. ‘I fucking hate the festival,’ the taxi driver told me. ‘I spend all of fucking August in traffic.’ He honked his horn. ‘There’s too many fucking people!’ I wanted to agree with him, as this was something I had said many times when racing across town to conduct an interview or see a show, but I was unsure if his rant was going to take a turn for the racist, so I stayed silent. But his mad-frothing highlighted that the Fringe is more divisive than the tram project running through the city centre – people either love it or hate it.

Maria-Bamford

Maria Bamford shot by Natalie Brasington

‘I thought it was madness,’ standup comedian Maria Bamford told me about her last four week run at the Fringe in 2006. ‘I had a few friends, myself included, who exhibited some uncommon behaviour by the fourth week.’ Charmingly anxious; she is like the diminutive character Woody Allen portrays in his films. ‘Changing sexualities, drug use…’ she continued, ‘light to heavy manic episodes.’ Maria, currently starring as Tobias’s girlfriend in the new season of Arrested Development, spoke with a genuine smile while recounting her month in August; but with the smile came the same hundred-yard stare other Fringe performers and Vietnam vets had when sharing their experiences with me.

Rhea, Caroline

Carolien Rhea

‘It’s intense.’ Said Caroline Reah, a standup comedian with her roots in the comedy Mecca of New York in the late 80s; but perhaps best known as Aunt Hilda from the long running kids TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch; a persona which I could not shake when she spoke, as she did so with the same high-energy and bubbly enthusiasm she had on the show. She also had the same characteristics one wishes every fun and crazy aunty had, with bright-pink dress, and matching bright pink Ugg boots to go with them. ‘It’s like having schizophrenia.’ Caroline, now performing in her second year at the Fringe spoke while checking her phone; being caught up in an unfinished game of Candy Crush. ‘This is me in Scotland,’ [she’s American] ‘I’m like, oh my God I’m never leaving, then the next day it’s like, when is the next flight back to New York?’

Maria, admittingly put off by her experience at the Fringe, but eager to stress that, ‘it wasn’t a fit for me, but that’s not to say it isn’t for others,’ taking the mother-hen role I believe she constantly finds herself in, Maria had many thoughts on how to make the Fringe a friendlier more welcoming place for performers. ‘I think it’d be great for performers to go [somewhere] for respite, in terms of mental health, sobriety support or just to get a hug. It’s a long run; people are running up credit card debt and far from home – maybe some hot towels would do.’

CAREY MARX 1 - Please credit Steve Ullathorn

Carey Marx shot by Steve Ullathorn

Cary Marx, a British standup comedian, up from London for his ninth year at the Fringe, had a different take, not too dissimilar to the others, but he had more of a road-hardened outlook on the month. ‘I don’t think it’s an endurance test, but I think you need endurance for it,’ he began while gulping latte and ordering another – his eyes blood shot and his coffee stained tshirt were glimpses of how a standup performer at the Fringe is not normally a morning person. ‘On the street at the festival there is a soap opera going on around you. It’s a city full of all the biggest egos in the world for a month. What’s not to enjoy?’ I told him what my taxi driver had said and what Maria and Caroline had said. I asked him, other than the length of run, why was it so hard on performers?

He paused to think and his smile faded. ‘I think a lot of acts get up here and suddenly realise their show is crap,’ he said. His bluntness was refreshing. ‘People don’t know before they come here, as a Fringe audience is a very discerning one. No one in normal life ever sees as many shows as they will in one week, so naturally they all have a certain level of jaded going on.’ I had seen six shows that day already, so I could relate to what he was saying. ‘The hardest part is knowing that they have already seen ten shows that day, and now they’re going to see you.’ He inhaled dramatically. ‘You better be good to make it worth their while.’ He paused, lost in thought for a moment. ‘That’s why it’s intense.’

broadsquad

‘We get a lot of guys coming in to see our show,’ Hanna Stanbridge, 27 years old and one half of London-based sketch comedy group Broad Squad told me. ‘They’re not guys,’ retorted Courtney Johansson 26, the other half, ‘they’re lads.’ She elongated the vowel and lowered her voice to make ‘lads’ sound both sinister and common. These lads, not fans of sketch comedy, but instead fans of free shows featuring two attractive young women. Broad Squad is making its Fringe debut this year and will be up every night as part of the Edinburgh Free Fringe, which has become a serious contender for people’s attention at the Festival since its inception in 1996. ‘We both have partners who have previously performed at the Fringe, so we knew about the financial side of it,’ said Courtney, smiling, but visibly exhausted from their show the night before. Maria’s idea of a performer’s respite area seemed like a good one to her. ‘We knew how many tickets we’d have to sell to break even,’ she continued, ‘and it would be silly as a newbie to attempt that.’ Started to alleviate the financial burden on the performer, most lesser-known acts losing around £5000 for a four week run, and to alleviate the financial burden on the audience member, with most shows beginning at £15, the Edinburgh Free Fringe is free to all; with promoters relying on bar bills to reimburse them for venue hire.

While tapping their cans of diet coke, each looking like an Abercrombie & Fitch model, Hanna and Courtney recounted the endless hours of preparation, travel, stage managing, and all the things one has to do when taking an act to the Fringe without a staff. They weren’t bitter like one might expect. Instead they spoke like new mothers recounting how their babies were keeping them up at night; a pain in the ass, sure, but an overwhelming joy one can’t truly understand as an outsider looking in. ‘It’s like a drug,’ Hanna said. But being a sober person, that didn’t mean the same thing to me as she hoped it would. ‘The excitement, the passion, the ups, the downs, the adrenaline, meeting people, the community, it’s everything,’ said Courtney.

 Edinburgh-Festival-Fringe-Image-2

I told the taxi driver, ‘The festival is like a drug.’ He looked in his rearview mirror at me amused and bemused. ‘The excitement, the passion, the ups, the downs, the adrenaline, meeting people, the community, it’s everything,’ I continued. He remained silent, suddenly weary of our time together. As he sped the taxi up to get me to my destination quicker; like him, I thought I would never really understand. The festival is many things to many people: the chance to see ten shows in a day, to get interviewed at 9am having only had 2 hours of sleep the previous night, the chance to have a nervous breakdown, maybe, or get into debt… or even to spend time in traffic with people who don’t share your world-view. Still, whether you love it or hate it, the Fringe only comes but once a year.

Words by Chris Purnell

Mike Birbiglia

Currently in London with his off-Broadway hit, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, comedian and best-selling author Mike Birbiglia, prompted by a near-death car accident, thinks about his future while telling us the painfully true story of his love life, from high school girls with braces to Jenny, the woman he told he would never ever get married. Mike’s fairly mild humour and his Billy Connolly-esque storytelling abilities continue to delight his growing army of fans [or ‘Birbiglians’] and newcomers in the UK too.

Having released three hit CDs, Two Drink Mike, My Secret Public Journal Live, which was named one of the “Best Comedy Albums of the Decade” by The Onion AV Club, and a live recording of his last Off-Broadway hit show Sleepwalk With Me, which Birbiglia has now adapted as a feature film due out later this year. The film follows a promising stand-up comedian struggling with a failing relationship and a sleep disorder he is trying to ignore.

FAULT: Why should everyone see your movie?
MIKE: Because it’s different. You know I have these writing slogans on my wall whenever I’m writing and want to be inspired. One that drove everything in the final stages was an Ezra Pound quote; it was just three words, ‘make it new.’ That’s what I tried to do, and I feel that’s what a lot of people are getting from it.

Do you ever worry about what the people in your life will think of the stories you’re telling on stage, or in your film?
I always think about that. I tell true stories on stage but I always say whenever people ask how much of it is true, ‘the parts that you wouldn’t think are true, are true, and the parts that you wouldn’t even think about are probably fudged in some small way,’ like the chronology of the event. I spent a long time talking through this current show with my wife Jenny. She was instrumental in helping me put together many of the stories because I didn’t want to end our relationship.

You learn in the film, and I assume in life, that the truth can be funnier than fiction. Do you ever get approached in the street and think ‘how do these people know so much about my life?’
I do get that. Sometimes people take photos with me after shows, and they’ll say ‘oh you should do the dance club story you did on your first CD,’ and I’ll say, ‘I don’t even remember the words to that story.’ It’s like Elton John songs that people know by heart. That can be a little jarring.

Are obsessive fans worrying?
Not so far. I could see how theoretically it could be, the way that Robert De Niro’s character is terrifying in King of Comedy, but so far it hasn’t been. I like the level of notoriety I have right now, which is to say that people come to see my shows on purpose. I’m not someone that happens to be on stage when people show up. People have to know who I am to show up. I find whenever I do meet people after shows, I actually really like them. I think they’re interesting people, who tend to be kind of nerdy, bookish, comedy fans.

Speaking about your fans, I am planning to write in my intro to this interview about your growing army of fans. I heard recently that the twilight fans and called Twi-hards. Is there a name for your fans?
I’ve heard a couple. I’ve heard Forbigheads.
Oh right, okay.
I’ve heard Forbig fans.
Neither are really grabbing me.
No, no.
What do you think?
They don’t do much for me. If you have any ideas I’m completely open.
Birbiglians?
Birbiglians, I like that yeah.
Your tone makes me think you don’t like that.
No, no, I like that, no Birbiglians, I think that’s good, it’s very strange.

On your CD a few years ago, you mentioned that you have a habit of making awkward situations even more awkward, and I was wondering has that happened to you recently.
Yeah I had this thing where I was flying to California and I was ravenous. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. So I got on the flight around 11am and I had a chicken salad sandwich on walnut bread. I took a couple of bites and, you know that feeling you have where you need to eat the rest of something immediately because you’re in the motion of eating? Then the flight attendant came over, and she said ‘I’m sorry but you can’t eat that sandwich because the woman next to you,’ she points, ‘she has a nut allergy’ I said to the woman, ‘you don’t have to eat it, does it bother you if it’s over here?’ I was two seats away. She said, ‘yeah it makes me go into shock, even if nuts are in the air,’ The air!? ‘In the air around me,’ and so I went and ate the rest of the sandwich in the airplane’s bathroom. That’s when I discovered that I have a fecal airspace allergy. That’s awkward.

Mike is playing the Soho Theatre in London from the 15th to the 26th of May. Sleepwalk With Me, the movie, will be on release in the autumn. Visit Birbigs.com and SohoTheatre.com for more information.

Interview by Chris Purnell