I know Jen Kirkman. A little. She appeared on my podcast twice and was a fantastic guest both times. Kirkman has written a book entitled “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids.” For you longtime fans of my podcast, she did not get the idea for the book after spending three hours in a small room with Carlos, Mike, Sean and me. (Although I am certain Los has inspired many women never to have kids.)
No, this book came about because Kirkman long ago decided she did not want kids, and the whole world pestered her and said things like, “But you should really have kids,” and she was like, “I mean it. I don’t want kids.” And the world was like, “You’ll change your mind someday. You’re being selfish,” And she was like, “How many ways do I have to tell you people? I say it in my stand-up. I say it on Twitter. I say it in person. I don’t want to have any damn kids!?!” So instead of telling everyone to go to hell for the next few years, she wrote a book, which was the better choice because you can’t option telling people “Go to hell!” for movie and TV rights.
I talked to Kirkman about “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” for a published Q-and-A. You can read it here. I received an advanced copy of the book, and it’s so her. Kirkman perfectly captures how absolutely insane it is to ask anyone a question as deeply personal as, “Do you plan to have kids?”
Kirkman bleeds the world’s lack of propriety and manners of all its nonsense and mixes in her own humor, logic and neurosis. Men and women who don’t want to have kids will find comfort in this book and in knowing they have such a prominent and ballsy ally.
A few weeks ago we spoke for an hour on the phone prior to a stand-up show in San Diego. As so often happens, lots of stuff from the interview, for various reasons, did not make it into the final published Q&A. So I pulled the most interesting tidbits left on the cutting room floor and and shared them with you below.
Our discussion starts with her traumatic reaction to The Day After, a movie that scared the hell out of both of us when we were kids.
When you wrote about The Day After, I was nodding my head the entire time. I was like, ‘Yes, that happened to me.’ I could not stop thinking about nuclear war in the 1980s. Terrified me.
You’re the first person I’ve talked to that referenced that part, and that’s my favorite part of the book.
Oh, is it? I think it’s mine too.
That part of the book was actually another book I had wanted to write before this idea about not wanting kids came up, which was essays about my life growing up and how that shaped who I became. I became a different kind of kid because of that experience, but anyway, that’s kind of my favorite part of the book because I just think that’s when my whole world changed. I was like, ‘Everyone’s crazy. What is going on? This is such a crazy world.’
I personally got hit with the triple whammy of The Day After, Red Dawn and some kind of Nostradamus documentary that predicted the end of the world in our lifetime.
Maybe that’s what happened to me. I can’t remember why. My grandmother used to talk about the world ending, but I think that’s where she got it from — Nostradamus. I was always confused why my family always brought me up with all this world ending stuff.
What do you do before a show? How do you kill time between then and now?
Today I slept literally from 11 until just like an hour ago. (It was 4 p.m.)
Good for you.
Tomorrow, I don’t know. I find that I never have time to sit around and do nothing so that’s what I like doing. Tomorrow I’ll probably go to the gym at the hotel and then maybe just lay in bed. I don’t know. If it’s nice out I’ll probably just walk around the town or something. I find it very easy to just waste time and do nothing. People are like, “You should check out the scene.” I’m like, “I just can’t.”
If you walk around and check out the town, you can work some local jokes into your set. You could talk about the San Diego Chargers.
Is that a team here?
Yeah. That’s the main team there.
Is that where the Chargers are from or is there another Chargers?
No. That’s the only Chargers. San Diego.
That’s a football team, right?
I had no idea they were form San Diego. I thought they were from Texas.
So, you wrote the book after you got tired of people relentlessly telling you that you should have kids.
Yes. Exactly. There really wouldn’t be a book to write if the only thing was that I don’t want kids. I could put that on a Post-It note or Instagram. It was just the reactions I got from people that I thought was so odd. I talk about it in my act, but I don’t come at it from “I hate parents” or “I hate kids.” It’s more just like, “Oh my God, I’d be such a stupid mother. I can’t believe that this is what I would be like.” Then when people would come up to me after the show and say stuff to me, that’s when I realized a lot of people think this is weird. It seems people are either in the same camp as I am like, “Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to have kids.” Or they’re like, “What?” Since my family doesn’t seem to care I really was thrown when strangers need to care.
It’s like somehow it’s an indictment on their own choices.
I’m not reading reviews of the book that have come out because I don’t want to get upset or get confident, but I did read Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, which is what bookstores use to decide how many copies they’re going to order. So the guy from Kirkus Reviews sort of didn’t give it that great a review, and he was like, “I don’t understand. If her parents don’t care, then what’s the issue.” I was like, “That’s what the book’s about.” When you’re brought up to believe you can do whatever you want and then you get out into the world and you realize that people don’t really think that way, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s the whole point.
Childfree by choice has never had such a prominent face. Are you ready for your close-up in the culture wars?
I would love that. That would just make me laugh so hard. I think I would definitely have fun with it. I feel like every Salon article or Jezebel or New York Times Sunday Magazine piece is either about working moms or being childfree. I feel like it’s always being talked about.
Has there been any talk of turning the book into a movie or TV show?
Well yeah, I’ve always wanted to do that. I don’t like writing scripts that much, I don’t think it’s fun. It’s hard for me. I always said to my agents and managers, I just have this crazy feeling that if I ever sell a script, I think I’m going to have to write the book first. I would be just fine being and author and writing another book, but yes I would like to pitch a show about some of the themes in the book and based on my life, a character navigating all of her friends growing up, and she’s choosing to do something a little different. I will be working on that and hopefully pitching it to cable within the next year. I would obviously love to see where I could take it, but that whole game is so hard.
Whether on TV, onstage or on Twitter, you’re not afraid to offend people with your honesty.
I think that’s an accident because I never probably would say something if I thought it would offend people. I’ve always kind of been oblivious in that way. I’ll just say what I feel, thinking, ‘I’m human. If I feel this way, I bet someone else does. Maybe all the people in this audience do.’ I’m just sharing my feelings. People can share their feelings. It’s a free county. So, if anyone is offended, they have a problem.
I think sometimes it’s hard for people to comprehend that there are people who hold views different form their own.
I guess I’ve kind of been used to that my whole life. I was a weird kid. I don’t know where I came from. I just hatched out of a shell of weirdness I think because my sisters were so much older than me and my parents were a lot older for parents. They had me when they were 38. So when I was like 10 they were almost 50, and they were just so out of touch with what was going on. I didn’t have anything cool or popular or mainstream. I wasn’t going to school with the latest trends. I looked like I was from the 70s and it was 1985. Their reaction was, “Really?” I was like, “What? This is really my life. What did I do?”
The Internet is filled with haters. It’s hard for me to understand why someone with the greatest technology in world history at their fingertips would use it to tell someone who is giving them comedy for free that they suck,
One of Chelsea Lately’s demographics is younger women like 19 to 21. They’ll contact me on Twitter or come up to me at shows and say thanks for saying stuff about whatever–gay marriage or something like that. Somebody told me this generation of teens are not vocal about their opinions politically. It’s not considered polite. I found that really fascinating.
So, every once in a while, I just want to get my views out there. I don’t mean to sound manipulative, but just to get the younger people that follow me know what I’m about and maybe make them feel good or whatever, I will kind of instigate, “Hey, you’re a stupid idiot if you don’t think gays should marry.” Then I’ll re-tweet if someone disagrees. I’ll get into it as sort of a little thing where everyone is screaming at each other. I’m not really like sitting there heated or trying to change minds. I really just wanted to show anyone following that people still think this stuff.
I follow you on Twitter, and I’ve seen you get your hackles up. What sets you off?
I think for me it’s when I’m not understood. I’m not asking anyone to like me. I understand that probably so many people don’t like me, don’t think I’m funny, don’t whatever—no problem. I just don’t understand why people have to tell me. I think it’s rude, and it frightens me.
You’ve got your stand-up going and you’re on TV, but what else would you still like to do?
I’m not sure how fun I think it is to make a sitcom. I actually would love to do more stand-up, like on the road. I’d love to travel more. I’d love to definitely write another book. Like you said (earlier in the interview), try to have my thing be like maybe speak for the weird people that are making weird choices. I would like to do more books and more stand-up like really just do my own thing. I’ve got the soul for wandering around by myself so, I’d like to do more of it.
To write a book takes a lot of patience and discipline, and it takes a lot of care. I hate to say it, but you’re giving people another reason to think you would make a good parent.
That’s true. One of the chapters is called “You’d Be Such a Good Mom.” That’s what people always say. I know they think they’re complimenting me. If you forced me to take care of a baby and were like, ‘No you just have to or the world would end,’ I guess I could do it. I know most people have babies and it turns them good. I’ve heard a lot of people say their depression lifted or they got a new perspective on life. I feel it would be the opposite for me. I really feel like I would turn into a bad person.