With her New York Times best-selling book I Can Barely Take Care Of Myself: Tales From A Happy Life Without Kids, her self-flagellating Netflix special I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), and her Drunk History cameos that are equally unforgettable and unflattering, comedian Jen Kirkman has fashioned a veritable cottage industry from uproariously funny acknowledgements of her own alleged shortcomings. Now 41 years old and a semi-recent divorcée, the 18-year stand-up veteran’s career is on the rise of late, largely due to material about her life’s ever-growing state of disarray. Wednesday night, Kirkman enchanted Turner Hall with 70 (primarily new) minutes’ worth of manic magnificence during her Milwaukee debut, and one of the final stops of her I’m Gonna Die Alone tour.
Following 15 minutes of Australian opener David Quirk’s hit-and-miss stories about bush fires and using knee pads during sex, the woman of the hour came out and wasted little time jumping to the crux of her act: her age. After comparing her forties to being in a haunted house, she echoed the outlook of her last special by explaining that she didn’t want to venture in any deeper. “I have no choice—unless I kill myself—to stay alive until I die,” she said, quickly calibrating the well-attended ballroom’s willingness to follow her to dark places. Tone established, she veered into material questioning the desire to ever have kids, audibly pondering, “Why do you want to watch someone’s youth slipping away?”
While some segments of her set revisited common comedic themes, she evaded cliché and tunneled new routes to punchlines by putting an accelerated, energetic, and unabashedly bleak twist on material about eating frozen yogurt alone in her car during her “single year,” accidentally becoming a man’s intellectual mistress, being accused of being a cat lady by her doctor, and enduring post-show overtures from male fans. “Oh, thanks,” Kirkman said. “For a moment I forgot that all guys would fuck anything.”
Armed with pointed and brutally honest bits about getting gray pubic hair, being urged into a loveless marriage, her inability to meditate, and lying about her mother dying during a road rage dispute, Kirkman absolutely won over the audience, despite her frequent assertions that she’s “not a bad person, but pretty not great.” Even after spilling water on the stage, mistaking Scott Walker as a senator, and striking down the increasing (and sometimes misplaced) support of male feminists, she could do no wrong. It was a paradox, really. By using a menagerie of jokes about her various struggles, embarrassing fears, and altogether harsh outlook, Kirkman confidently and expertly harvested laughs from scathing, sexual, and, at times, downright sad places to send the mid-week crowd—and her first of hopefully many Milwaukee audiences—home happy.