To Top

Jen Kirkman: On Relationships, Familial Guilt, and Joan Rivers

If you have yet to get a chance to see Jen Kirkman perform live or read her first book, do so immediately. This woman is the intelligent, modern, feminist comedian that we all can learn from or hopefully aspire to become in some way some day. On stage, Kirkman knows how to connect with her audience and bring up everything from predictable Hallmark movies to political issues. Online, she engages with her fans and fights back against haters that tell her to take a Motrin. (Yes, those sexists.) And in her books, Kirkman shares with us her personal struggles about life and sex after divorce, traveling as a single woman, and how her relationships with her friends and family have changed over time. She’s blunt, she’s badass, and she’s brilliant.

Luckily, we got to ask Kirkman about her second book, I Know What I’m Doing– and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction, which becomes available April 12th. If you love her answers here, you’ll love her book so buy it!

Q&A with Jen Kirkman

After you got divorced, you started noticing your friends were treating
you differently. What would you say is the difference between how you’re treated by your single friends and by your married friends?

My divorce happened five years ago and it’s something that I truly don’t ever think about anymore – except it’s a knowing.
“I’m divorced” just like I know “I’m five foot five.”
So, I don’t want anyone to think I’m going on and on about the same old things.
But usually around the five year mark – the person who is divorced who happens to also be a writer and comedian – it’s the year that it feels processed enough to talk about.
In my new book (I Know What I’m Doing–and Other Lies..) I tell never before told details of what it’s like to know you want to leave a marriage.
My married and single friends were both great and I’ve definitely made jokes about the married friends “acting weird” but I was exaggerating for comedy and mostly I was probably feeling judged because I judged myself.
However, I did notice married people ask different questions than single people after their first friend in the group gets divorced.
The single people always ask what’s next for me.
Questions like, “When will you start dating again?” “Where are you going to live?” I noticed that my married friends tended to ask questions about the how and why and it almost felt like an instinct for them to want to encourage me to look at the bright side – the bright side being, “Maybe after the separation you’ll work it out.”
I think what maybe confused my married friends was that there was no sign of trouble in my marriage from the outside.
We liked each other and had fun with everyone.
I think that my decision probably seemed “out of nowhere”.
And playing armchair therapist there is always the wonder that married people ask lots of questions because they are trying to soothe themselves and figure out if it could happen to them.
My answer is that it probably won’t happen to them – if they weren’t having massive doubts on their wedding day.
There’s also the tricky situation of the fact that married couples hang out in groups.
Now what?
Do my married friends invite me to the dinner party or my ex?
I think at times talking about my feelings made them uncomfortable because they didn’t want to feel like they were betraying my ex.
There are a few months where it feels uncomfortable as everything just naturally shakes out.
And who likes being uncomfortable? Not me.
That’s why I chose to make jokes that it was all in their heads – but truly it was all in mine.

As a divorced women, you mentioned that you were often judged for having a “high-risk” lifestyle when that isn’t even close to being true. Why do you think doctors, professionals, and even friends are so quick to judge divorced women?

Yes, so in my book I talk about a gynecologist (ladies!) that I had been seeing for seven years.
She gave me a giant STD test mark-up after my divorce that included testing for things I am not even at risk for – and she didn’t seem to grasp that no longer married didn’t mean I was putting myself in high-risk situations.
I hadn’t lost my mind or my dignity.
I was just single again.
I have no idea why people judge and I don’t mean to imply that they all do.
But when I switched to a new gynecologist (what’s up ladies!), she told me that there’s this whole thing that goes on where older women who are single and divorced women have had unnecessary speeches given to them about “high-risk” from their doctors; they felt insulted and went somewhere else. Also included in that speech? The suggestion to freeze your eggs.
So, I’m now at the gynecologist who doesn’t judge and wants my eggs to stay nice and warm in my…wherever my eggs are.
If I still even have any left.

A lot of our society is based around the idea that family is #1 and that friends are forever, leaving no room for growth or change. You mention that people should let go of that guilt and that it’s not necessary to visit family when it’s going to be stressful for you or to change your relationship with friends if they or their kids are not respectful. How did you manage to let go of that sense of obligation? Have people in your life respected these decisions?

I’m a big believer in making your own rules for when to visit your family.
When you’re married it can be a lot easier to tell your family that you’ll only be seeing them every other Christmas season because you and your person have to see their family.
If you’re not in a couple, it can seem lonely and strange and even rude not to visit family during the standard holiday times. I play it by ear every year.
Since my job involves traveling all of the damn time, and visiting my family involves flying to snowstorm prone areas in winter, I can’t make any promises.
Some years I’ve been too tired from traveling all year that I didn’t want to get on another plane.
But I make sure to see my family a few times a year so that if I miss them on holidays, it’s not strange.
It’s just different.
Family can get so stressed at holidays. Suddenly a bunch of people who have old hurts, resentments, general disinterest in one another gather in rooms and it can make people act weird.
Not necessarily during the gathering but maybe after.
I have a good friend who has a hilarious joke about her mother retreating to cry in the kitchen pantry after holiday gatherings. I decided to visit my family on July 4th one year instead of at Christmas and it was great.
We had a week together where we didn’t have to bother with our dozens of extended family members or buy gifts.
It rained the entire time and weirdly enough the Hallmark Channel was showing Christmas movies in a marathon they called, Christmas in July.
We built a fire, drank wine and tea, and watched stupid movies where the plot is always the same – a busy executive woman asks Santa for a boyfriend.
It was perfection and no one had to eat any gross baked goods.
It’s easy for me to manage that sense of obligation, because as my life changes, my obligations that pay the bills are less negotiable.
My family is still a big obligation, or I should say important to me, and as long as everyone knows that they are loved but I can’t always love them the day the baby Jesus was born, it works out fine.
As for my friends, I just learn to say no a lot if what they want me to do with them involves me driving a long distance to see them and their child. If I’m only in town once every few months, I must use my social free time to have bonding adult time and I am just honest about it; it’s up to friends with kids to make some room as well and I’m only now starting to be able to say, “If you can’t budge, I can’t either.
I am not necessarily not busy because I’m without a kid.” I notice if you don’t blindly keep sticking to other people’s traditions, you naturally make your own with the people in your life you’re closest with.
It ebbs and flows.

There are a lot of preconceptions about women and travel. Traveling in a couple is OK. Traveling with a friend is considered strange. And traveling alone is considered dangerous or sad. Why do you think that is? Which country did you find that you got the most judgement?

I’m really starting to see traveling alone as a revolutionary act.
The world is dangerous at times.
Right now ISIS seems to be attacking people during their way of life activities, cafes, concerts, airports, etc.
But even if I were traveling with a man, he can’t protect me from a terrorist.
Men aren’t body guards.
They’re companions.
I feel traveling alone is a revolutionary act because I have a choice to travel alone. I have my own money.
I have my own schedule.
This is something that wouldn’t have been easy for my grandmother to just pick up and do. My traveling alone is mostly work-related but if I can tag on a few extra days in another country and explore, I will.
I don’t travel alone to be stubborn or because I hate men; I’ve traveled with men plenty too.
I just sort of do what I want when I want and if I end up doing so alone – oh well.
To me there is no difference between going to Sweden alone or running to 7-11 alone. If I have to go and want to go, I’m going! Looking back over trips I’ve taken, I cannot measure if the ones with people or without were more enjoyable or not.
They’re just different.
Sometimes I’ll sit in a cafe, like I am now writing this, and just think, .≤Wow I’m in Melbourne.
I don’t live here but I am here and I feel comfortable and I am happy.
What a gift my life is.”
How anyone could want to interpret moving about freely and meeting new people, seeing other cultures and not being nervous about it as a negative, is truly just their own limitations. And I have no time for that.

There is no country I felt judged in at all. It’s just the odd comment from TSA agents or cab drivers: “Are you alone? I’m sorry.” It’s so bizarre.
But if anyone thinks it is sad for a woman to travel alone (and I really do think based on my male friends who travel alone telling me that no one ever questions it) it’s because we still see women as incomplete without a relationship. Or if we see a woman alone we assume that she IS NOT in a relationship – as if a man should be by her side like an accessory at all times. Some of the trips I have taken alone. I had a boyfriend in my life; he just wasn’t with me. Either he physically didn’t come on the trip or he was back in the hotel or something and people would still ask why I was alone.
If I said I had a boyfriend, they seemed to relax.
It’s a sexist view that they don’t even know they have.
We are told by science that the sky isn’t actually blue, we just see it that way because of some kind of reflection particles things whatever, and I swear it’s as ingrained in people to see women alone as sad and helpless. It’s almost a cult-like de-programming that we have to do.

You mentioned that you started a tradition where you buy a coat for yourself in every new country you visit. How many coats have you collected? Which one is your favorite?

I’m up to six fun coats but they’re all from the same places: London, Melbourne, New Zealand, NYC, and Paris. (I realize NYC is not a “different country” but I don’t live there so technically it’s a travel purchase.) I didn’t buy coats in some of the other countries I visited.
I can’t force a fun coat.
It has to find me.
I just bought a great short denim coat with shearling sleeves from Auckland, New Zealand. I had no intention of buying a fun coat, but it was at a vintage store, on the rack outside, only $20, and it fit perfectly. One year in Melbourne, I was walking down the street and I looked in the windows of a vintage shop and kept walking.
A girl who worked there came running out and said, “There’s a really cool item from NYC in the 1970’s I have that you can’t see from the window!” I went in an she was right.
I bought this rust-colored belted coat.
I think this all started a few years ago when my friend Allison and I went to Paris together and I saw a giant fluffy, white coat.
My favorite. Totally impractical. Too warm for LA weather and not lined enough for cold weather but it is fantastic and reminded me of a groupie from the 1970’s, not Almost Famous but a REAL groupie from the real 1970’s.
I chose to get it in white, not black, and it was the first statement thing I’ve ever purchased.
I realized that it made me feel different and fun and it got lots of compliments and even the naysayers made me feel cool.
They just don’t get it, I thought.
And now a fun coat has become a way of marking travels but mostly clothing is not just a hobby to me; it’s what brings me joy.
It’s so absurd we walk around in these bodies that we mostly have no control over. Why not dress it up?

You wrote a whole chapter on Joan Rivers: her influence on you from early on in your career to befriending her later on in life. When you finally got a chance to meet her, perform in the same lineup, and have a conversation with her, did your preconceptions of her influence your friendship? Was there any advice that she told you that you remember to this day?

Getting to work with Joan Rivers a handful of times from doing her podcast “In Bed with Joan”, to a televised gala in Montreal, and finally we shared a stage on a one-night-show together at Largo in Los Angeles just months before she went and died like a jerk.
I saw her socially a couple of times too. My pre-conceptions of her were mostly positive, except that I was afraid she would have no time for a younger comic who looked up to her.
Truly, I can now say from experience, there is nothing more awkward to be around.
But Joan had a great way of talking to comics that weren’t legends like herself as though they were people.
What a concept!
She loved to talk comedy and, simply because she was decades older than me, if the opportunity to give advice rose she would.
She gave me some great (although too late) advice when I told her that after the Boston marathon bombing I had a show a few days later there and people were reticent to leave the house and get tickets.
I donated all of the proceeds to a fund that takes care of the victim’s families and the show sold well.
When she found out that I didn’t get any press for doing that she called me a “stupid ass” in a loving way.
She told me that I should have arranged a photo shoot in the hospital and visited people and to make it known I was generous, which is hilarious coming from her because she was very secretly generous.
But I knew what she meant.
Don’t be afraid to promote yourself because you’re in control of your message, your livelihood, and – unless you’re taking your clothes off- it’s not always that easy to get coverage as a woman.
No pun intended.
She also told me to get this certain kind of hammer and knife that you keep in your car in case you get in an accident and get pinned; you can break yourself out and cut yourself out. She said every woman on the road needs this. I still haven’t purchased mine yet because I am a stupid ass.

Follow Jen Kirkman!


  • Save

More in Entertainment

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap