Comedienne Jessica Kirson is a regular at every major comedy venue in New York City, including the Gotham Comedy Club, Laugh Factory, Caroline's, and the Improv.
When did you develop an interest in comedy?
I was a fan of I Love Lucy, Jerry Lewis, the Carol Burnet Show, and Saturday Night Live. I can't say that I was a fan of stand up comedy. I was a major class clown. That was my whole thing, making people laugh. I always wanted to be either a comedian or a DJ, but the time I got really interested was when I took a class in 1998.
Did you do any talent shows or plays?
I did plays in elementary school. I had horrible stage fright, which made the first time I did stand up unbelievable scary for me. I was so freaked out that my mother took me to a therapy friend that worked with me on my anxiety.
Did you go to college?
I went to the University of Maryland. I did family studies and then went to NYU to get a masters in social work. I was going to be a therapist.
Do you find that your understanding of the human psyche is helpful as a stand up?
Very helpful. The minute I walk into the room, I can connect with the audience and what their energy's like. It definitely helps with crowd work, and with comics and the business because a lot of those people are crazy.
What was the comedy class experience like?
I developed material, tried it out every week in a class setting, and at the end I did a performance at Caroline's. It was packed. There were hundreds of people there. I had all of my friends and family. It was an amazing experience. It went very well and encouraged me to keep doing it.
What were the next several years like?
I did a ton of open mics at all types of places. A deli, a Laundromat, a supermarket, bars, Crispy Creams, restaurants, and wherever else I could. I did a lot of shows where I had to bring people to perform. I eventually started doing some roadwork. Everything moves at a certain pace. People ask me a lot now, "How do you get paid on weekends at the major clubs?" It'll happen with time if you commit to what you're doing.
Did you meet any crazies at these open mics?
A ton. Sometimes there were homeless people that would show up to try out material. In the beginning, for me, it was not a big deal because it made it fun. I was just having fun trying out material and meeting people. Then, over time, as I started getting more and more serious, my patience started to wear thin with people like that.
How much time do you dedicate to writing everyday?
There are some comics that sit and write an hour a day, and I've never been like that. I write down ideas and develop them onstage. It's easier for me that way. I don't write a joke, memorize it, and then say it.
How has material has changed with time?
It's gotten a lot tighter. Now I know a lot of the tricks of what works and doesn't work with audiences. I've developed jokes for so long that I know that they'll work at this point. I was definitely more all over the place and now I have a point of view.
How many times do you perform a particular bit before you're confident with it?
It depends on the bit. Sometimes stuff works right away or sometimes you do it a hundred times before you know it's done. I don't do a lot of set up punch type of jokes. I do a lot of character stuff.
What were you doing to support yourself financially when you were starting out?
I was working in sales. Then, when I decided to do comedy, I became a bartender. I did that at Houlihan's at Time Square, which was a nightmare, and a restaurant in the Upper West Side. I'd do that, not make a lot of money, and then perform at night.
How long was it before you moved up to emceeing and middling?
I started emceeing about six months in and then I started getting some roadwork emceeing. I always tell people this and people told me this, "You have to put yourself at the next level." You can't wait for the clubs to ask you to start middling. You have to tell them that you're not going to emcee anymore and that you're ready to middle.
Is emceeing something that you enjoy doing?
I do. I like doing it because it keeps you fresh. It's a really hard thing to do and it helps you be on your toes. Some people never emcee and I feel as though it would help them if they did. Some people, their act just isn't right for emceeing.
What are some changes that you've noticed in comedy since getting involved?
I think that it's gotten more harsh and in your face. There's a specific kind of comedy that's popular now and certain comics that are really funny, but are very much that angry putting down women and gay people comic. That's always been around, but it's gotten more popular now.
Are there any misconceptions about stand up that you'd like to clear up?
Some people think that you're funny all the time if you're a comedian and that's certainly not the case. Some think it's the coolest thing and that you travel all the time, but they don't see that it's lonely and that you're often in a hotel room and it can be depressing. There are others that think it's the most depressing thing, but it's great and I get to do what I love. When they hire you, a lot of people are clueless as to what is right for a stand up show. They'll put you in a cafeteria with people sitting with their backs to you and music on in the background.
What do you think of the term alternative comedy?
I don't really understand the term alternative comedy. I think that when people try to be that different and cerebral that it's often not funny. I love when people are different. That's my type of comedy. I think that a lot of alternative comics are funny, but some try so hard to be different that it's not funny.
People often say that they want to move to New York to pursue a career in stand up. When should someone make such a move?
When they're developed enough to perform in New York and have people notice them. They don't need to be developed, polished comics, but maybe after three years of getting onstage often.
Are you noticing that comedian is a career that young people aspire to have?
Yeah, and I think it's great when people start when they're twenty or so. But there are certain things that come with age that will help you in your career. Sometimes the younger comics get affected by certain things in the business that people with more maturity wouldn't.
What quality do you think someone should posses if they're interested in getting involved in stand up?
Hard working, a good salesperson, humble yet confident, free, and honest. You have to be able to sell yourself, you have to be honest onstage, you have to be humble, which so many comics aren't, or they're too humble and have no confidence.
How do you feel about college shows?
I love them because I get to do a lot of time and college kids are my audience. That's the age group I love performing shows for. You can be free and do whatever you want.
What do you think of Last Comic Standing?
I think it's great publicity, but it's not for me. It's a reality show and it's not the truth. You have no control over the way you're portrayed, which is really scary and frustrating. There's a lot of people in power that make decisions that have nothing to do with the people watching the show.
What are some projects that you're currently involved in?
My set was approved for The Tonight Show, so I'm just waiting for a date. I am working on a book about comics' funny stories about being in therapy. I'm a part of this new website coming out called Dailycomedy.com. It's going to be thirteen to fifteen comics in New York that are going to submit new topical stuff everyday. I have a new website, Jessicakirson.com , and my CD is just coming out.
What are some places that you like to hang out at after a performance?
I like to go to a dinner with friends and just relax. I don't like hanging out at comedy clubs. I need to get away from the whole scene after I perform.
You can visit Jessica online at Jessicakirson.com to find out where she's performing or to purchase her CD, "My Cookie's Gone!"