Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Jen Kirkman (Variety Playhouse 11/3): vocal issues not just an Adele problem

Posted by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog on Friday, October 27, 2017

Stand-up comic Jen Kirkman ("Drunk History," "Chelsea Lately") was surprised to find out last year that her vocal cords were in terrible shape. And a comedian's voice is as important to their livelihood as it is for that of a singer.

"I took a year off from touring so I didn't see anybody," she said. Though she doesn't croon "Hello" like Adele, she speaks aggressively on stage every night, does meet and greets while music is blaring and speaks to press all day. "I never stop talking and my voice got hurt," she said. "I had to change my whole lifestyle."

"You think a raspy voice is cool?" she added. "It's damage. My voice is damaged forever."

She's now well enough to go back on tour and stops by the Variety Playhouse on Thursday, November 3. (Buy tickets here.)

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Her acid reflux was damaging her cords. She said she had to take steroids and stopped speaking for months. She changed her diet and stop eating after 6 p.m. She now avoid sacidic foods like tomato sauce and has stopped consuming alcohol.

For a time, she also avoided parties with loud music. But what was worse was explaining it to friends, who would then try to suggest remedies. "I already have five doctors," she said. "By the time I explain to my friend, I don't want to have dinner with that friend."

Kirkman said she has had to stop singing karaoke - "much to the world's disappointment. I don't sing in the car. I don't yell into my phone. On the day of a show, I don't talk if I can help it."

Her stand-up is conversational and sharply cynical but not mean. Her last Netflix special's title "Just Keep Livin'?" is based on a tattoo she got that comes from a Matthew McConaughey saying. "I'm not suicidal," she explained on the special, "but I am a soul trapped in a body. I didn't ask to be born and I'm afraid to die and that's the s*** I live in every day."

She could never get love from Comedy Central but ultimately, Netflix embraced her.

"It''s a happy Hollywood story," she said. "Sometimes, good people who happen to be women are heads of businesses." Kirkman over the years would pitch her ideas to a female executtive but the woman was never in a position of authority to greenlight it because the male boss would reject it. But once she reached a high enough level of authority, Kirkman was able to get not just one, but two Netflix specials. And Netflix let her do her thing with no creative interference.

While Netflix has helped propel many comics into the larger theaters, Kirkman said her Netflix bump has been more modest. "Some people are selling out 5,000-seat theaters," she said. "I'm not quite there. My bump has been small. I'd like a bigger one."

If anything, Netflix has broadened her appeal overseas. "I have a bigger fan base in London and Australia. It seems to work well outside of America."

From a fame perspective, Kirkman places herself on a 3 out of 10. "I just made that up," she said. "I'm well known and good at what I do. I'm not famous in an Adele sort of way."

And she said she's not famous enough for Harvey Weinstein to pay attention to her. "That's a level removed from me," she said. "It's like some other world completely. I've never met him."

She said women in general "are not socially taught how to defend themselves and speak up. You think you're screwed unless people come out as a pack... I wish people would listen more to the reasons why people don't speak out right away."

Kirkman said she remembers when she was 18 and auditioning to get into the acting school at Emerson College. He didn't like what she was doing and held her solar plexus to help her breathing and began invading her boob area. He told her to pretend she was being sexually assaulted. "I started to cry uncomfortably," she said. "He then clapped. 'Yes. That's the character!' I pretended I had cried in character. He knew I wasn't crying in character. In that moment, I felt bad. I found out years later, he did that to everyone. With some, he'd ask them to take their shirts off. Later, when he went for tenure, we all wrote letters and he didn't get in."

In summary: "It's a thing that happens that makes you want to be quiet. It's almost designed that way. It's brilliant to the predator." On the bright side, "maybe the culture is changing a little bit. Maybe."


Jen Kirkman "The All New Material, Girl" tour

9 p.m. Thursday, November 3, 2017


Variety Playhouse

1099 Euclid Ave. NE Atlanta

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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