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).

Kyle Kinane – “”I Liked His Old Stuff Better””

Grade: A-

Key Bits: “This Track is Not Called 8 Ball” “This Track is Not Called Dopeman”

Comedy is tough on people that aren’t young. Kinane, at age 38, isn’t old, but you wouldn’t guess it. In his new special, he relates himself to the elderly via buying shelled nuts and fighting a battle against them. Kinane struggles with approaching middle age in a few segments, lamenting being “closer to the end than the beginning” and “tailgating your own funeral” at one point. One of the album’s best jokes lies in how Kinane finds himself reading signs out loud when he’s driving alone, imagining his brain is running diagnostics (“weird, bored Dad shit”). Jokes about burning his laundry and throwing change in the trash make Kinane uncomfortable with how his mind is seemingly rapidly degrading.

Age works in the other direction, too. Two of the album’s best bits are semi-repressed memories from his early 20’s – one, of a house party ruined by a confusing, out of place cop, and the other about the accidentally felonious blowjob he got behind a grocery store. Rarely do stand-up specials have themes that can run through the whole special, but Kinane manages to relate nearly every joke and story to the aging process. And the few bits that don’t, including saying “God bless you” to a cat and recounting his parents searching to find his interview in an issue of “Hustler,” land just as well.

What makes Kinane unique is his voice, both in the physical and metaphorical sense. Kinane has the gruff voice of a lumberjack who just slammed down a glass of whiskey (and he very well could be). Comedy Central hired Kinane to record their promos, he’s the voice you hear in their commercials (i.e. “Next Wednesday on an all new Broad City”). And his ‘voice’ is one that’s weirdly optimistic. Although much of this special is self-deprecating, Kinane always has the choice in his humor to do mean jokes, but almost never opts to. There’s an upbeat rhythm in his voice, that grabs the listener. Even if he’s talking about coroners hitting on women at a party or dropping a brick on a frog, he has an aura to him that makes it feel like things are going to be okay. I can’t say there are many comedians like that.

“”I Liked His Old Stuff Better”” is Kinane’s third special, and it follows in the trend of pointless track titles. His first two specials had bits that were named after songs by Cheap Trick and KISS, respectively. This special is all of the songs from “Straight Outta Compton,” preceded by “This Track is Not Called [track title].” It makes remembering bits for later a little difficult, but it doesn’t give away bits like other comedians would (my favorite comedy album, John Mulaney’s “New in Town,” has a bit titled “Asian American Woman” that gives away the big punchline).

“”I Liked His Old Stuff Better”” is an excellent comedy album, that proves Kinane is one of the funniest and most interesting people in comedy today. I’ve already listened to it a second time.

If you like this, try: Marc Maron. But since anyone familiar with Kinane obviously knows Maron, I’ll say Eugene Mirman’s “God is a Twelve Year Boy With Asperger’s.” I might say that because that’s the album I jumped to after listening to this last night, but the two comedians do share a voice that’s more welcoming than most other people in stand-up.

-By Andrew McNally