Comedy in The Lou

Jen Kirkman On ‘Under Pressure,’ The Art of the Playlist and Putting “I’m Going to Die Alone” To Rest

Somehow we managed to steal a few minutes of Jen Kirkman‘s time to chat about her upcoming show in St. Louis, the difference between the club and alt scene and just how important that pre-show playlist is. She’s making her stop in St. Louis on Sunday, July 12 at The Firebird and even though her tour is named after her latest special, that’s definitely not what you’re going to see…

Jen Kirkman_Robyn Von Swank_sm1Kelsey McClure:
My first question is about your live show specifically; it has the same title as your special. So for the people who are coming out to see you, how much of it is going to be material from “I’m Gonna to Die Alone” and how much are you going to use the new tour to work on new material?

Jen Kirkman: Thank you for asking that because I’m an idiot to name my tour the same thing as the Netflix special. I don’t know why I did it. I was thinking of it as a tour to support my Netflix special but Netflix doesn’t need my support, they have plenty of advertisement help. It’s not the special at all. That special has been put to rest.

Do you find it weird that a comedian has to have videos or a special online but then nobody wants to see a live show that’s a repeat of your special? Whereas with music if you didn’t play the hits everyone would leave disappointed. 

This is why I always argue with my musician friends. I’m like, “You guys have it easier. I know you have more gear to schlep around, but it’s easier.” They’re like, “No, it isn’t.”

I totally wish I could just play ‘Freebird’ and everyone would be happy, but they’re not going to be. I think, too, with this tour, why I chose to do rock clubs and small theaters is because I think the real die-hard comedy fans will be there and they will find new things. A lot of my new stuff has more of a story thing… It’s a lot of going off on tangents. It’s funny, but it may not be a rhythm that comedy-club goers are used to. I thought it would be good to do new stuff in a venue that’s, “Hey. This is more of a story time, but it’s less “ha ha ha”. It’s funny, but it’s not the same rhythm as a comedy club where if you don’t have them every second, they’re going to get up and get a drink or something.

I got really excited when I saw you’d Instagramed a shot of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure.” I thought, “Yeah! That’s my Woman!” How do you decide…

Oh my God!

It’s such a good song, one of my all time favorites.

It’s so good. It’s life affirming. It’s the greatest song ever.

When you’re making your pre-show playlist is it what songs you’re feeling that week or do you have specific songs that get you pumped up?

I have a list of songs that I think the audience will enjoy, that say something about what kind of mood I’m trying to hit. The day of, if I’m feeling something, I’ll add a song or two into it. It’s almost an evolving playlist, but I like to also get people in a mindset. At comedy clubs, they’ll play something that’s for like a monster truck rally and my music taste is more… you might hear some Johnny Cash or a David Bowie-Queen song or a French pop song or something like that.

I just want it to be eclectic and different and have people go, “Oh my God! I haven’t heard this song in so long!” It’s just supposed to set a certain mood.

Most of the time nobody is even noticing, but it’s my greatest joy to make playlists.

Agreed, it’s one of mine too.

When I was backstage listening to my playlists, “Under Pressure” came on… I make the playlists so long that there’s no order. It’s on shuffle. I was so happy that that came on. It got me all excited and I was like, “This is the most beautiful song!” It just gets me. The lyrics are amazing.

Who do you think called who? Do you think David called Freddie or Freddie called David and was like, “I’ve got this idea for a song. What do you think?”

Based on what Morrissey has said about David Bowie, which is that he’s a narcissistic person, I’m guessing Freddie called David. I wonder if it would even dawn on David to collaborate with anyone until Freddie Mercury offered. And then I wonder if it’s even that they were already hanging out and everyone was high and drunk and they made the decision then. I feel like Freddie thought it up. I don’t know why, but that’s what I think. Part of me can see David being the collaborator but I might be wrong. I mean he did do that song with Mic Jagger, Dancing in the Streets but I really can’t say.

You mentioned earlier that comedy clubs play the kind of music that’s like, “Everybody get up and get excited!” Then they say, “Okay. Now sit down and listen. Nobody talk.” How do you channel in and find a medium between keeping the crowd invested and entertained without making it all about them?

It’s hard. I actually, to be honest, with the amount of shows I’ve been doing in different venues sometimes because it’s not built for comedy, the laughs aren’t there so I can’t hear them because of the acoustics. Or people are listening but they’re not dying laughing because they’re not those types of people. Maybe they’re more comedy nerds who are used to it so they’re thinking, “That’s funny,” but they’re not like, “Ha ha ha!”

Sometimes for me, the audience is giving me the energy and the cheers. If they’re laughing really hard, then it’s easy for me. I fly around and it makes me want to try new stuff and it energizes me, but to keep them energetic, it’s almost impossible. It’s either they’re going to be or they’re not. And if they are, I ride their wave and we keep giving back and forth, but if I find the crowd is not that energized, I just do my best and I assume that they’re having fun but they’re just not very vocal.

You just have to knock it in your head. I had this experience the other week where I thought people weren’t really laughing and I was like, “Well, that sucked.” I was too shy to come out after because usually I say “hi” to people and take pictures and there was this huge line of people waiting. “You’re my spirit animal! That was amazing!”

I was like, “I didn’t hear any laughs” but I think sometimes that’s how it goes. People are listening and I’m very hard on myself. I personally have to stay out of my head and not ever get upset from, “Why aren’t you guys laughing?” I know I’m making it sound like nobody is laughing something but that’s not true. I think really, it’s totally out of my control. If the crowd is hot then that heats me up.

I don’t even know of a comedian who can get a crowd all whipped up. It’s not my forte. I can make them laugh really hard, but then they’re quiet again waiting for the next thing. It’s some unspoken energy that happens between a performer and an audience because I don’t have a bag of tricks… I’m not Freddie Mercury when he comes out.

Jen Kirkman LIVE! at The Firebird on Sunday, July 12



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