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Jen Kirkman (reluctantly) can come home again

Jen Kirkman found success as a panelist on Chelsea Handler’s talk show.
Jen Kirkman found success as a panelist on Chelsea Handler’s talk show.

Coming home for the holidays can be a fraught endeavor for anyone who tries to avoid family politics or touchy subjects. But talking about her personal life is part of comedian Jen Kirkman’s job description, and the Needham native will be sharing some of those details at her four shows this weekend at Laugh Boston. Having friends and family in the audience could add an edge to her holiday gatherings.

Kirkman is best known as a panelist and writer for the pop-culture-oriented “Chelsea Lately,” Chelsea Handler’s talk show on E!, which ended in August, and as a regular on “Drunk History.” In her stand-up act and her 2013 book, “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself,” she discusses much more intimate subjects, like her decision not to have kids and her divorce. She is working on a follow-up book and is taping a new hourlong comedy special in Austin, Texas, in January. We spoke to her by phone from New York.

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Q. You mentioned on your website that it’ll be somewhat of a reunion, and also that some people in your family don’t find you funny. Who in your family doesn’t find you funny?

A. I can’t say that to the newspaper! They’ll see it! My immediate family is really supportive. And then I think my aunts and uncles, they’re also supportive. But I think that they kind of don’t understand what this is, and I think if they don’t understand why people are laughing, I think they worry that this all might be a fluke or something. A lot of times they’ve said to me after shows, “So people liked it?” I’m like, “Yeah, you heard people laughing.”

Q. What is it that they don’t understand?

A. I think to them jokes are jokes, the jokes that you say around the office. They still tell me Monica Lewinsky jokes they’ve heard that they said I should do.

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Q. They still come to the shows, though, even though they don’t quite understand?

A. I think so. I told my family, “Don’t tell me anything. I don’t want to know.” I know friends from high school that I haven’t seen in 20 years have sent me messages saying, “I’m going to come,” and I’m like [sighs], I know I offended a bunch of people a couple of years ago unknowingly.

Q. In your family, you offended some people?

A. No, old friends of mine were offended.

Q. Was the material about them?

A. No, it was about me. [Laughs.] I have material about being divorced and not having kids and I make fun of myself for what a maniac I was during the process of my wedding. I make fun of myself for getting really obsessed about getting presents, I make fun of how everyone thinks their wedding is so much fun and nobody thinks everybody isn’t happy for them. I did that kind of stuff, it’s very mild. And I make fun of the language people use when they’re trying to tell you they’re trying to have children, which I think is gross.

I had a few friends from high school that reported back to my family dentist that they were offended by my material because they thought it was about them and their lifestyle and I was making fun of it. And then I guess some people didn’t like that I swore. [Laughs.] So then my mom goes to the dentist and he’s like, “I’ve been getting a lot of complaints about Jen’s show from some of her old friends.” I was like, I don’t ever want to come back there again. So I don’t know why I suggested two shows during the holiday season. It should be interesting.

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Q. How did your family react to your “Drunk History” spot?

A. My parents are obsessed with “Drunk History.” I said I retired, but I am doing another one. I said no because the hangovers are so bad, and I’m writing another book and it’s due in a few weeks and I really don’t have time to recover from drinking. Derek [Waters], who created “Drunk History,” called me last week and said, “We really need you, can you do one more?” I said OK. My parents were excited, but they’re very concerned now about the amount of alcohol I drink.

Q. Do you miss “Chelsea Lately”?

A. No. But I don’t mean that in a bad way. I loved being on the panel. It brought an entire audience of people to me. But I was there 9 to 6 every day. And because of that schedule it was hard to go on the road, which is really what I want to do. I was unable to pursue other things. It was exactly what it should have been for the time it should have been. It was great to have the steady paycheck, it was great to have the writing job.

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Q. Do you think that show sometimes gave people the wrong impression of who you are as a comic? Did people come to your shows thinking it was going to have a lot more to do with pop culture?

A. I used to worry about that. But it never ended up being a problem. Because on “Chelsea Lately” we were allowed to bring so much of ourselves to what we were saying that if I ever made jokes about Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan I would still do it in my own way, which is [to] still manage to talk about my life and then worm in a Lindsay Lohan joke.


Interview was edited and condensed. Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.