When Jen Kirkman began her journey as a stand-up comic in Boston more than two decades ago, the world of comedy was a much different place.
“I started in the pre-internet age, so there really wasn’t a way that I could Google comedy shows or whatever,” Kirkman tells Metro. “I think it was the Boston Phoenix, I’d look at the back of that every week looking for open mics, just trying to find anywhere I could get up on stage.”
The Needham native, who returns to The Wilbur on Friday night, wasn’t initially interested in making people laugh, but eventually found she had a knack for it while studying acting at Emerson College. Kirkman stayed in Massachusetts after graduating, living at home with her parents and working in ticket sales at the Boston Ballet, with the hopes of saving up enough money to move to New York one day. During this stint, she got her first taste of comedy with the ImprovBoston troupe, however, she didn’t catch the stand-up bug until a chance encounter with Bob’s Burgers star and fellow Bay State native Eugene Mirman.
Kirkman recalls sneaking out of work at lunch one day in order to take part in a “weird audition for some game show” that was taking place at the old Comedy Connection at Faneuil Hall. It was there where she ran into Mirman, who was also just an up-and-coming comic at the time.
“Eugene was sitting there and, in my memory, was like an Andy Warhol figure,” says Kirman. “Just sitting there all confident and weird and cool.”
Mirman asked Kirkman if she did stand-up and wanted to perform at his open mic night at the Green Street Grill. She fibbed in order to get the gig, but the white lie about her comedy bona fides quickly turned into a rush of anxiety.
“I was freaking out,” Kirkman says. “I called him really late one night and was like, ‘I met you at this thing and I lied and I’m not a stand-up.’ I just remember him going, ‘That’s OK, it’s an open mic.’”
Her fears assuaged, Kirkman drove her dad’s ’80s Oldsmobile out to the open mic and killed it on stage. The rest, as they say, is history.
Kirkman has come a long way since that first stand-up performance, as she now has two hit Netflix comedy specials under her belt, is the host of a hit comedy podcast, is a New York Times best-selling author and has written for amazing shows like the Emmy-winning Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (not to mention her hilarious work on “Drunk History” and “Chelsea Lately”). As for how she’s evolved as a comedian over the years, Kirkman believes that she’s become more comfortable with her true self, which makes all the difference.
“When I first started out, I wanted to be kind of angry and changing the world,” says Kirkman. “I just wanted people to be like, ‘Wow, she’s really edgy.’ And I’m not, at the end of the day. I got comfortable with who I am and I think that helps a lot. I think it’s all about being comfortable.
“Back then, I just decided to be angry, but really I was scared,” she adds. “ I didn’t know that you could be funny and vulnerable and really tell your truth. It’s really a lot of maturing.”