Comedian Jen Kirkman might be the first person in the world to actually define our anxiety
"I just knew too much too young," Jen Kirkman tells me matter-of-factly over the phone.
The stand-up comic and writer, who's dished out laughs for 20 years tackling topics like dating, not having kids and hypochondria, and has two biting, hilarious Netflix specials to her name, isn't referring to a premature knowledge of sex or drugs or any of the usual illicit fodder we try to shield from the ears of children. Rather, she's describing the early (and acute) awareness of her own mortality that came with being a kid of the 1980s.
"My parents told me when I was really young that were definitely going to have a nuclear war," Kirkman remembers. "And then my grandmother told me some story about Armageddon happening…"
"I have all these crazy stories about what it was it was like for me, living in New York on 9/11, where I was the only calm person," she laughs, "cause I was like, 'Yes, I've been imagining this my whole life.'"
Kirkman's childhood anxiety created a well of musings perfectly fit for her style of comedy, which artfully mixes deeply personal fare with shrewd observations and self-aware anecdotes that reveal her justice-minded nature. In particular, it's paved the way for Irrational Thoughts, the stand-up show she's bringing to the Mainline Theatre in Montreal from July 24-29, as part of this year's Just For Laughs Festival, which delves into all of those former neuroses, along with the out-of-place agonies kicking around in her brain these days.
Off stage, Kirkman more-or-less has her anxiety under control now, thanks to a miraculous combo of therapy, meditation, getting older and gaining success.
"I had this psychiatrist… and he said to me once, 'You know, just relax. You've had a good life, if anything happens.' And I thought 'what kind of crazy, non-medical… I paid someone to say that to me? That doesn't sound like someone who understands psychiatry very much.'"
"And now that I'm in my early 40s, I'm like 'oh yeah, he's right,'" Kirkman admits. "I really think anxiety has something to do with 'don't take me out of the game of life before I've had any happiness in what I want to do.'"
Of course, being less consumed by day-to-day mental health maintenance hasn't made the topic any less poignant or relevant.
"It's about the human condition," Kirkman adds. "I don't think that ever goes out of style."
Learn more about Jen Kirkman's Irrational Thoughts and other upcoming shows here, and check out our rapid fire with the comedian below.
Life with Jen Kirkman
What drives you? Love of what I do.
What time of day are you most productive? Very early in the morning. And very late at night.
If you could come back as the child of anyone alive right now, who would it be? Anna Wintour.
Favourite thing to wear on stage? I love wearing like a onesie, jumpsuit kind of thing. Pantsuits.
Secret to staying sane while touring? I don't [have one] cause I love it so much. I would just say… sometimes I think to myself, 'Wow, people are coming to see me tonight!'
What posters did you have in your childhood or teenage bedroom? Childhood, Michael Jackson, the cover of Thriller. And then as a teenager, I was into Robert Smith of The Cure and James Dean.
One artist or comedian everyone should know about right now? I always think people should know about my friend Eddie Pepitone.
Best thing you ate in recent memory? This vegan Peanut Butter and Chocolate ice cream from a local Brooklyn place, [Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream].
What are you most proud of? That I'm a woman who's actually a stand up comic for a living… it's one of the weirdest jobs to achieve.