Jen Kirkman – “I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)”

Grade: A-

On her last special, 2011’s “Hail to the Freaks,” Jen Kirkman was blessed with a wealth of material for stand-up – she had just gotten married. Now it’s four years later, and Kirkman has found herself with an even bigger plate of material – divorce. And turning 40. “Freaks” had a weird mismatch, of Kirkman’s largely cynical comedy battling with her joy of being married. All of that is swept under the rug on her new Netflix special, in favor of well over an hour of jokes and stories about self-love and self-confidence in defiance of age and gender standards.

Much of “I’m Gonna Die Alone” is devoted to how Kirkman at first uncomfortably, and now comfortably stands against the ideals of what a 40 year old is “supposed” to be. Kirkman is free, literally, to criticize those with kids, or to date anyone (including a 20 year old drummer, two days after her and her husband separated). On “Freaks,” a 36 year old Kirkman sounded surprisingly happy to be settling into a married life, one she never thought she’d fit into. Looking back now, present-day Kirkman realizes she was probably right all along.

Outside of marriage and divorce, Kirkman’s special still deals heavily with age. She struggles to find breakfast for her 17 years younger drummer boyfriend because she’s forgotten what it’s like to have to eat immediately. She attributes losing 40 pounds to standing while watching TV and having an occasional cigarette. And when she finds gray pubic hairs, she’s worried it’s going to look like barbed wire.

Kirkman’s confidence has risen considerably in the years since “Freaks.” She’s cynical, but she’s not bitter. Her cynicism is instead placed in her proud and utter rejection of societal standards. She doesn’t let anything weigh her down. She could easily (and maybe expectedly) taken the self-deprecating route that so many comedians have gone down in the wake of Louis CK, but she doesn’t. One of the special’s strongest suits is how easily Kirkman is able to dig out her niche in the world and observe it from the outside. Even in one of the special’s opening bits, about Dave, a man who doesn’t know the difference between lemons and limes, Kirkman observes the stupidity of humankind as an outsider. By ignoring the social norms she once embraced, she’s crafted a unique voice, and it has sharpened her comedy and delivery. With heightened TV appearances and a best-selling book under her belt, Kirkman is still on the rise. “I’m Gonna Die Alone (and I Feel Fine)” feels like a caged animal trying to get out. And watch out, because it’s soon going to be free.

If you like this, try: Kyle Kinane’s recent album, ““I Liked His Old Stuff Better,”” is one that departs from the expected self-deprecation route just like this one (and has already become one of my favorite stand-up albums).

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