“I was a buoy in the water, not an anchor, I would say. Now it's changed. I'm at my level no matter what's going on around me. So a lot of things that bother me in the brain, they don't get into my soul. “ Stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman was introduced to meditation at a young age, but it didn’t stick at first. Over the years has tried many forms of meditation, from those of her own devising to mantras, body scans, and mindfulness classes. Dan and Jen discuss how meditation helped her deal with a panic disorder, depression, anxiety and the chaos of a hectic schedule in the entertainment industry, as well. Kirkman, who even includes a whole bit about her practice as part of her stand-up routine, offers a very interesting take on meditation, not only as it pertains to everyday life but also as it pertains to someone trying to be creative and funny.
Episode Summary/Key Takeaways:
- If you’ve meditated before and it didn’t stick, it might be worth trying again. Jen first meditated 20 years ago but has only had a regular practice in the last few years.
- Do you experience intense anxiety or panic attacks? Jen has mitigated her feelings successfully through meditation, getting enough sleep, and avoiding over-caffeination. Her shrink, a panic expert, says the most important thing to do is “take care of yourself.”
- Are meditation teachers different on the east coast versus in Los Angeles? Jen thinks so!
- Trying out different types of meditation may lead you to the practice that is perfect for you, or you might find multiple you enjoy for different situations. Jen’s current go to is Kundalini meditation.
- Practicing meditation regularly, even when your anxiety or issues might be dormant, may help give you strength to deal with the anxieties when they return. “The accumulation that builds up, building your bank of doing it all the time, I think, randomly helps you when you least expect it,” says Jen.
“Happiness, as I understand it ... It's more in the realm of contentment, peace of mind, just enjoying being alive. Not jumping for joy, just the actual simple fact, the raw fact of existence.” -Dan Harris
“My favorite Ram Dass quote is, ‘We’re all just walking each other home.’ I’ll just start crying if I think of that.” -Jen Kirkman
Other Content Mentioned:
Jen on Netflix
How to learn more about Jen:
Introduction from Dan:
Dan Harris: Jen Kirkman caught my attention because I saw some article about her doing a standup routine in which she talked about meditation. I had no idea from the article whether she actually did meditation, but she does. And actually, she's pretty serious about it, although she underplays how serious she is, as you will hear. She is if you don't know anything about her, a very successful standup comedian. She's got two specials on Netflix, she's written a bunch of books, and has a really interesting take on meditation, not only as it pertains to just an average human life, but as it pertains to somebody who is trying to be creative and funny. I give you Jen Kirkman.
Conversation with Jen & Dan:
Jen Kirkman: I'm so nervous because I'm like going, "What if I'm not enough of a meditator?"
Dan Harris: We've had people on who don't meditate at all. It's a whole range.
Jen Kirkman: I do it every day but I feel ... it's all over the place.
Dan Harris: When did you start?
Jen Kirkman: Sort of 20 years ago, but then I went in and out. But the past, like, three years I've been doing it every day.
Dan Harris: 20 years ago?
Jen Kirkman: Mm-hmm.
Dan Harris: So you're way ahead of this trend.
Jen Kirkman: Well, when I was in college, I had a dance teacher who taught us all kinds of things like that. Then I went to a therapist who taught me about being mindful, and then she said it was a kind of meditation, and so I started doing it, and then I took a Fear of Flying course, and they talked about it there. So yeah, that's where I learned it. But it didn't work for me, at first.
Dan Harris: What do you mean it didn't work for you?
Jen Kirkman: Well, because I used to have panic disorder. That's why I went to the therapist, originally.
Dan Harris: Yeah. Used to? You actually got over it?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, I used to have it pretty bad, every day. Then I had it only when flying, and now, sort of, when it appears, when a panic attack starts, I'm like, "Ugh. Here we go." You know? I just sort of talk to it that way. It might still happen, but it's very quick.
Dan Harris: What would bring it on?
Jen Kirkman: Out of the blue.
Dan Harris: Really?
Jen Kirkman: What I notice now is if a thought pops in that I don't really know is there that sort of scares me, the deeper level is always like, "You're alone in the universe in this moment. No one can get you. You're not safe." It's always in that vein.
Dan Harris: Yeah, interesting.
Jen Kirkman: But if I'm over-tired, over-caffeinated, something, that will, if the thought comes up and I'm not in the right physical place, that brings it on. One time, recently, I had one recently, and I haven't had one ... as I call, in real life, in years. Sometimes I get them on long flights, I mean like to Australia, I'll get a little panicky. But I was on the subway and I was reading and I missed my stop and it went above ground on the bridges, which normally I'm fine with, but because I didn't mean to be going that far, I just got panicky. Like, what if it gets stuck? Then I thought, "Oh my god I'm having a panic attack."
So I'll carry a dissolvable Klonopin, and I have to decide, is it bad enough for that? And if it's not I gotta talk myself out of it.
Dan Harris: Just knowing you have it can put a stop on the thing.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, that's kind of it.
Dan Harris: It's so interesting you say if you're over-caffeinated or over-tired, because my shrink, who's an expert in panic, the most important thing he said, in order to protect yourself against panic attacks, is taking care of yourself. Get enough sleep, exercise, all of that stuff. He uses an animal analogy, and then years later I brought it back up to him, I was like, "Remember that time you told me I've got to treat myself like a stallion?" He was like, "No, no, dude. I said, 'Thoroughbred.'"
Jen Kirkman: What's the difference?
Dan Harris: But I heard Stallion because ...
Jen Kirkman: I don't know-
Dan Harris: A Thoroughbred is a horse that you have to take care of. A Stallion is like a big, strapping male.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, got it, right.
Dan Harris: I, of course, heard stallion. Anyway, I think it's super important because if you have the tendency to freak out, if you're in a weakened state, emotionally or physically, you're much more prone to freak out.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah.
Dan Harris: Anyway, I digress. I want to go back to-
Jen Kirkman: Oh yeah, why it didn't work.
Dan Harris: Well, that and also what specifically you were doing? What did your dance teacher teach you to do? What did your shrink teach you to do? What were they saying to do in your mind during those meditation practices?
Jen Kirkman: Dance teacher I remember a little less. We would do yoga and things like that. She's still here on earth with us, but she was in the original production of Hair, she knew Bob (inaudible), she was in the sixties in New York, and so she would just, in the middle of class say, "Kids, let's go to the park and do yoga." So sometimes we would do things like that, and she would tell us we need to significant quietly sometimes. So she was more, "Just sit quietly sometimes."
Then the shrink I saw said, "You know, you need to be mindful. You don't know what thoughts you're thinking that are causing these panic attacks. You're used to probably talking to yourself negatively and scaring yourself all day long, and you don't even know it. Like, a news crawl that's always going." So, she said, "I want you to do this exercise. Take a shower and only think about what you're doing. This is the soap. Now I'm lathering it. So I had to do exercises like that.
I wasn't sitting meditation, they were mindful exercises. So yeah-
Dan Harris: It's meditation nonetheless.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. I came to realize that later, that you don't have to necessarily be sitting there. But yeah. And so then she started teaching me about mindful breathing, and then I took this fear of flying course that was about the same thing. We were assigned to meditate for a half an hour every night. More of the visual meditation.
But I have a weird thing where my panic always came from ... My biggest fear is losing my breath and not being able to breath and being stuck like that. I don't like to focus on my breathing because it scares me. And also because I took dance for so long, I think I haven't been conditioned to ... I breathe the opposite of what you're supposed to. I kind of breathe in and suck in. I don't have that, like, "Breathe out and expand." I don't know now to do is. So I get caught up with, "I'm doing it wrong," and then I feel like, "I can't breathe!" So, for me, thinking about the breath is the last thing I want to do.
So, usually, when they say think about the breath, I just try to notice what it's doing. But whenever I take any kind of a class where they tell us when to breathe in and out, my breathing is always so different that I start getting upset.
Dan Harris: Yeah. You know, it's not uncommon, what you're describing?
Jen Kirkman: Oh, reallY?
Dan Harris: No, it's not uncommon. Your circumstances are a little unique, but generally speaking, there are a lot of people who don't like to be told to focus on the breath, because it makes them anxious. So there are lots of other options, like doing a body scan, just feeling the sensations at the top of your head, your forehead, and moving down. You can doloving-kindness meditation where you're deliberately sending good vibes to people, which is a little sappy, but it actually works very well.
Jen Kirkman: I like to do those to people that I don't like.
Dan Harris: That's the ultimate judo move. Can you do it to people you don't like?
Jen Kirkman: I do.
Dan Harris: Because that's training, that's building your compassion muscle in the most extreme way possible.
Jen Kirkman: I do it often, but I don't ... I always thought that the secret to it was you're really just sending it to yourself if that makes sense?
Dan Harris: And then sometimes sending it to yourself is sending it to the person you really don't like.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, I see what you're saying. Yeah, because I'm one less terrible energy in this world?
Dan Harris: No, but a lot of us don't like ourselves.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, I see what you're saying. Yeah, I think I finally got to the place where I like myself. But yeah, I can do that. Body scan is amazing!
Dan Harris: Totally.
Jen Kirkman: I always think of body scan as something I should do if I'm having trouble sleeping. But body scan, one time I used it when I was really sad, and it brought me into my body. It was actually the perfect thing to do.
Dan Harris: Yeah.
Jen Kirkman: Instead of thinking of doing one of those send kindness to someone that's hurt me or that kind of thing. Yeah, body scan is a great one.
Dan Harris: It's about having a limited, not too many options, because I think too much mixing and matching can be confusing. But if you've got a pretty good set of moves to make, and you need some meditation, or you feel like you want to do it as part of your daily upkeep, but having one or two, three, four things to choose from can make a huge difference.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, that's kind of what I do.
Dan Harris: Yeah well that sounds great.
Jen Kirkman: I'm like a meditation cheater, I guess.
Dan Harris: That's not cheating. You're a meditator, full stop, period.
Jen Kirkman: I always feel like I need to pick one kind and be into it, but I can't, it's just always what I've been like with everything.
Dan Harris: I would say when you say ... I want to know more about what are the range of options you're choosing from?
Jen Kirkman: Okay. There's one I just made up.
Dan Harris: Great.
Jen Kirkman: So I do that in the morning and I put on really loud Tibetan singing bowls. You can just find any of it on YouTube. And I just turn that up super loud, and I sit. Sometimes I sit cross-legged. Sometimes I don't even get out of bed yet because I won't do it. So I sit up and I sit cross-legged on the bed, but it's the first thing I do when I wake up. And I'm more upon to it if I do it at that moment. And I know I said I don't like to focus on breathing, but I don't make myself breathe a certain way. I breathe in and I think something, and I breathe out and I think something.
Dan Harris: What do you think?
Jen Kirkman: So, I might think anything from, "I am Loved," to breathing into, "I am Soothed." If it's something where I need to get myself compassion ...Or I might breathe in, "I trust the process." You know, something ... Usually, it's sort of a subtle mantra about, just, I'm not in control of anything. And I'll breathe that out.
I use "god" loosely, as sort of like, "Breathe in, whatever, the concept that you don't control the ocean." I heard someone say once that they do, "Breathe In God, Breathe out (and then your name) ... Breathe out Jen." So it's like a way of saying, "I am not running this show today."
So I'll do any of those kinds of things or body scan. But usually, it's that kind of thing. Then I never sit and do mindful. I'm not great at that alone. I have to be in a class.
Dan Harris: But you will do that? You will go to classes occasionally?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah.
Dan Harris: Where do you go to class?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, so if I don't meditate first thing in the morning, about three times a week I go to class, and they're about a half hour, 45 minutes. In New York, I go to MNDFL.
Dan Harris: Yes, Lodro Rinzler, who owns it, is a friend.
Jen Kirkman: Oh really? I've always wondered how that came about and I'm so glad it's here because we didn't have anything like that when I used to live here.
Dan Harris: Now there are three! Lodro has three of them. And there's another place, a competitor, it opened up in the Flat Iron District called Inscape. So this a real trend.
Jen Kirkman: You're not a very good friend by announcing the competitor.
Dan Harris: I encourage many flowers to bloom.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, so they didn't have that when I lived here years ago. It was not a thing.
Then in Los Angeles, there's a place called The Den.
Dan Harris: Yes, yeah. Pretty new.
Jen Kirkman: Pretty new, and what's interesting is that the woman who runs it was an executive at NBC. Was just done with that life, and so opened up this meditation spot. So they have all different kinds of classes.
So that's the meditation I'll do at home. Sometimes at night, I'll do body scan before bed, just to go to sleep. There's that app too, "Stop Breathe Think," have you heard of it?
Dan Harris: Yeah, yeah, it's not as good as the 10% Happier app, but it's ...
Jen Kirkman: Oh, that's right, I have to get that. I actually don't use the Stop Breathe Think app that much because I don't like people talking.
Dan Harris: I actually think it is a good app. There are actually tons of good ... Headspace is also really good. Just in the spirit of many flowers blooming, I mean, I'm partial to the one that I helped build, but there are lots of really good ones.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah.
Dan Harris: Lots of really good ones. You don't like guided meditations? Is that what you're ...
Jen Kirkman: Sometimes I don't. It just depends. But I'll throw one on if I'm just sort of in a neutral place where I don't have any particular thing I'm trying to achieve that day, so I might do the morning one. That's just being appreciative of the morning or welcoming the day. But usually, I don't. A lot of times it just has to do with the sound of the voices.
Dan Harris: Right, because they're annoying, yeah, it depends on who it is. Yeah, absolutely. That's why it's important to find the teacher you like, and then download all of his or her stuff.
Jen Kirkman: Well I've noticed I like the meditation teachers in New York better because I'm an East Coast person. So there's this ... I love hippy dippy, like, "Hi everybody!" I love that. But there's just something about the New York teachers seem to ... I don't know what it is. They just seem to walk the walk a little more, and there's a little more of a "Gee, I bet you're in your car screaming in five minutes" from the teachers in L.A. Where they're just like, "And, you know, just see where it goes ..." And I'm like, "Oh, you are an angry person." There's something about the New York ones where you can sort of see the complete person that happens to have a great understanding of this and a great practice, but they're not acting like they, 24 hours a day, behave this way.
Dan Harris: I get very suspicious of people who will tell you that they act that way 24 hours a day. I don't think it's possible.
Jen Kirkman: No! And I would think ... I mean, I'm not a Buddhist, but aren't you one? You're Buddhist, aren't you?
Dan Harris: Yeah. Although that means less than you might think.
Jen Kirkman: But it's not the teachings of the Buddha to be a perfect, if that's perfection, to be that way.
Dan Harris: Well the Buddha ... it's complicated.
Jen Kirkman: Or to achieve it. He doesn't expect that we are going to achieve it.
Dan Harris: Exactly. Well, I mean, he wants everybody to become enlightened, but-
Jen Kirkman: Right. Well, he didn't know how bad it was going to get.
Dan Harris: Yes. I think you have to hold that pretty lightly. I don't know anybody who is fully enlightened. My teacher, a guy named Joseph Goldstein is the closest human being that I've personally met, who I know well, in a 360 degree way. He is the closest person I've ever met to ... I've never really see him just like lose his junk.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, and Jack Kornfield.
Dan Harris: And he's not annoying about it.
Jen Kirkman: I find Jack Kornfield to be that same way. I don't know him, but I listen to his podcast. And have you heard of Noah Levine?
Dan Harris: Sure, yeah, Dharma Punks.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. I've gone to meditation at that place as well. That's really more of the real deal than a lot of the places in Los Angeles I've been to. But I got into Kundalini meditation.
Dan Harris: I don't know anything about that.
Jen Kirkman: I don't either. I mean, I'll tell you about the classes I went to. There's always someone there with ... I don't know what the outfit is, but usually a white robe with something wrapped around their head, but it's just a woman that lives in L.A. I don't think she dresses like that all the time.
But she will, you know, you calm your breath down and then you repeat a mantra, and they tell you what it is. Actually, for me, repeating something out loud really helps no thoughts come to my head. And I know that's not the goal, but for people who are obsessed with thinking, meditation is about not thinking, it's really hard to keep repeating something, especially in another language, and let your thoughts stay with you.
Dan Harris: It's a mantra and you're just saying it out loud instead of saying it internally.
Jen Kirkman: Oh no, we're saying it out loud.
Dan Harris: Yeah, that's what I'm saying.
Jen Kirkman: Oh yeah, oh, okay, yeah.
Dan Harris: Yeah, you're saying it out loud instead of saying it internally. This thing of clearing your mind or not thinking is such a tricky issue. What you're trying to do is focus your mind, and when you're saying a mantra, you're focused on the mantra, and a lot fewer thoughts can invade. So it's basically a way of saying using that mantra gets you more concentrated.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, exactly.
Dan Harris: Can I disabuse you of something though?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah.
Dan Harris: You're not a meditation cheater. What you described to me sounds like a really healthy, awesome practice.
Jen Kirkman: I guess so. I just, you know, it's the way I go about everything. I have different ways that I dress, I have different schedules every day. I've always wanted to be the person who has a schedule, it's always the same, you know, those people that, it's usually fashion designers that are like this. "I wear a black t-shirt and black pants every day, and I do the same thing every day, and this is how I do it, and this is the time ..." I've been obsessed with being that my whole life because I am not like that.
So of course when it come to meditation I felt the same way as I do about everything else.
Dan Harris: So you feel indisciplined?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. And yet I am very disciplined. It's just that every day looks different. I cannot usually, I don't have the kind of life where I can 100% plan my day 24 hours in advance.
Dan Harris: Yeah, I wish I could just release you from that kind of self-flagellation, because I don't think you need ... You're doing much more than most meditators do.
Jen Kirkman: I think so.
Dan Harris: It sounds to me like you're getting a lot out of it.
Jen Kirkman: I'm getting a ton out of it. It's actually that thing where we were talking about where people aren't nice 24 hours a day. I'm still ... I have a thing where I say to people, "Oh, I'm not feeling this in my heart. This is intellectual funny anger. So I'm up here." I'm pointing to me head right now. I'll go, "I'm up here with it." So if I'm complaining about something, the president, or why is my family still into him, or whatever, or this happened ... I go, "Oh, I'm not really connected to that."
But there was a time when I would take ... I think of when I used to live in New York, which was '98 to 2002. I would take on the entire city's everything. If it was a spring day, happy. If the subway was late ... I was a buoy in the water, not an anchor, I would say. Now it's changed. I'm at my level no matter what's going on around me. So a lot of things that bother me in the brain, they don't get into my soul. But I am not acting peace and love. But I really do feel pretty even-keeled inside, most of the time. To the point where I actually feel dumb sometimes. I think that they say that. I know meditation isn't spirituality, but ...
Dan Harris: No, well, it depends how you define spirituality.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, well I guess some people if I say that, would think, "Oh, it's a religion or whatever." But I ... you know, there's a juice place three doors down from where I'm staying, and I've been staying here for five weeks for a job.
Dan Harris: Here in New York City.
Jen Kirkman: Here in New York City. And I've been staying in Williamsburg for a job, and somebody said, "Oh, you live near Blah-Blah Juice." And I went. It's some juice place. I go in every day, I just never looked at the name of it.
It's things like that where I'm just not ... You would think, I don't know, I guess it's the opposite of mindful, because I'm not noticing, but I just sort of ... I don't know, I'm just sort of in a cloud if that makes sense. No, that's not ... I can't explain it. But I feel more simple. That's what I'm saying.
Dan Harris: I like that.
Jen Kirkman: And dumber. But I mean that in a good way.
Dan Harris: Right, so not so caught up in and riled up by details or emotions that aren't particularly useful.
Jen Kirkman: I think so. But it's also just I feel sort of ... I'm just in my head but in a totally different way.
Dan Harris: Do you think this is because of meditation, or maturation, or multi-factorial?
Jen Kirkman: I think it might be the meditation.
Dan Harris: Huh.
Jen Kirkman: Because I remember my grandmother, she's dead now but ... She always seemed we'd always kind of make fun of her, like, "Oh she's dumb." And she was really religious. Really Catholic. But she was the only Catholic that walked the walk of Catholicism. Like, feed the poor, like that. I don't think she would be outside of an abortion clinic, that kind of thing. And she always seemed out of it. Then when she died, there was something that my sister and I were talking about where like, I think she was just really spiritual. I don't think she was dumb, I just don't think she was caught up in a lot.
Dan Harris: Yeah.
Jen Kirkman: So I think that that's kind of what I mean, is I'm not caught up in a lot. Although it would seem, to people who know me, like I am. Because I sort of always know, maybe, what's going on politically, or I'm noticing things. But in terms of ... there'll be people who say things like, "Oh, I don't like to do that. That's so cliquey." Or, "That person hates me," or this ... And I'm like, "What?" I never think about what people are thinking of me. That's what I mean. I never think about what people are thinking of me. I don't care if someone hates me. I don't assume someone hates me. I walk into everything just neutral. I'm neutral.
Dan Harris: Where do you think the mental real estate has shifted to? This, for lack of a better term, stupidity that you're talking about. Do you think that maybe you're spending more time, this is going to sound a little cheesy but I'm going to go for it anyway because I don't have any other cooler way to say it, just kind of enjoying being alive?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, I guess so. I mean I'm not, like, dancing for joy. But yeah ...
Dan Harris: No, no, no, I mean, but that's different.
Jen Kirkman: I'm just appreciative.
Dan Harris: There's a difference between happiness and excitement, right?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah.
Dan Harris: So we, human beings, spend a lot of times because we evolved for survival and to spread our genes, looking for hits of pleasure and excitement. So we're really trained to look for a piece of candy and lattes and movies and stuff like that. Happiness, as I understand it, is a little bit different. It's more sort of in the realm of contentment, peace of mind, just enjoying being alive. Not jumping for joy, just the actual simple fact, the raw fact of existence.
I wonder if, am I talking about ... What I'm talking about now, does that come close to describing where you find yourself?
Jen Kirkman: Yep. I think that makes sense, because what you were saying, the hits of joy, I think whether, even if someone isn't a drug addict or alcoholic, everyone is an addict. Everyone's mind, like you said, is seeking hits of pleasure.
Dan Harris: Yes, yes.
Jen Kirkman: People with their phones, people "Oh let's go out tonight and have a few drinks after work," and you feel good, and then the next day you feel the same way you felt before you went out for the drinks. So I, yes, I don't get hits of pleasure anymore. Nothing works, if that makes sense. That's a good thing for me because I don't use food or coffee or a drink or an anything to change my state. It just adds to it. I don't know, whatever, so yeah, so it's like I'm just sort of, like you said, content. It feels a lot better because I don't ...
In other words, if I had a bad day at work and a bunch of people said, "Let's blow off steam and get drinks," I can do that, and that's totally fine. But I'm not going to necessarily feel better because I'm doing that, and that's great, because there's a lot less expectation about anything that's supposed to make me feel better, and I'm not chasing, like you said, feeling better, I'm just chasing, I guess, not feeling worse. And I'm chasing ... Well, I'm not chasing, I'm just trying to not worry and be calm. That's really what it is. It's just I would like to not worry about things.
Dan Harris: I would like that too.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. So I think that's what it is, is that a lot of my time is spent worrying, and then you chase the pleasure because you feel like you deserve it because you've been worrying so much. I don't have that, "I deserve, let's go do X." Or, "I need relief, let's go do X." Or I might have that instinct, but it kind of just goes away. It dissipates.
Dan Harris: You said three years ago you really started getting more serious about meditation. What provoked you to do that?
Jen Kirkman: I think I was getting ... Depression and anxiety, I think, will always be a thing for me. But depression comes and goes, and sometimes it looks like anger. So I think ... God, it was probably more than three years ago. It was probably like five years ago. My anger was just getting like I said before, I can be ranting and raving about the government, but it's coming from my head. My heart's not there. And everything that was in my body, in my DNA, was just angry. I was really overwhelmed. I was very busy, I was touring as a comedian, I was writing on a television show, I was acting on a television show, I was writing my own show. I was working 24/7. I just had no time to process feelings.
Sometimes me ... I wouldn't choose to live that way, I'm not a workaholic, it was just everything happened at once. Everything was tied together and you couldn't say no. So I thought, "Well, if my life is going to look like this, where it's either nothing's going on or everything's going on, I have to be stable." I thought, "Well maybe that meditation stuff I used to do, let me do that again." I started doing it, just as a way to feel like I had any ... not control, but you know, it's almost the same as getting up ten minutes earlier and checking your email so that you don't feel the first thing you did that day was get on a subway, get in a car, go see your boss. You feel like your own person. So it was giving me that kind of feeling.
Dan Harris: You work in such a crazy industry where it is boom or bust all the time. Your livelihood and your self-esteem often depends on what some executive thinks of you, and it's really tough.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, so I had to get to that place where nothing can affect me in that way.
Dan Harris: Can you walk me through ... what are the various things on your plate, from a career perspective now?
Jen Kirkman: Right now, I've written a couple of books, but that's done, for right now.
Dan Harris: Give us the names.
Jen Kirkman: "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself," and the other one's called, "I Know What I'm Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself."
Dan Harris: And when did they come out?
Jen Kirkman: I Can Barely came out 2013, and the other one came out last year. And the paperback just came out.
Dan Harris: This is a promotion-friendly zone. I'm going to make you promote everything you do.
Jen Kirkman: Okay, good. And I did two Netflix specials, and I just finished those.
Dan Harris: Yes! In fact, I want to talk about one of them, yes.
Jen Kirkman: Okay.
Dan Harris: Yes.
Jen Kirkman: I'm in this sort of like, okay, well I don't have enough material for a new special, I don't have enough material for a new book, so I'm in that wonderful blue sky zone. So that's why I took ... I'm writing on a TV show now. I don't think I can say what it is, because I don't know if it's announced that it's picked up. But I'm writing on a show. Then I'm going on tour in the fall.
Dan Harris: You have enough material to go on tour? Or you're going to tour on the stuff you said during the Netflix?
Jen Kirkman: It's called, "New Material Tour," so I will have enough to tour with, but it's not enough perfected to put it on Netflix. So, touring is a little more forgiving than putting it on TV, if that makes sense. Because I do a lot of improvising anyway on stage.
I'm really into fashion and I have a necklace line that's coming out at the end of the summer. So I'm just sort of doing a bunch of different things. Then it's always going to be standup is my main thing that I do. But I can do a lot of different things. So if an acting job comes up, I'll do it. If a writing job comes up, I'll do it. So it's that same thing I'm talking about. I can't really commit to one thing because I love all of it. And all of it seems to come at the perfect time. So I just sort of, you know, just say, "Yeah, sure, okay, going over here."
Dan Harris: But you never know.
Jen Kirkman: I never know. But I'm getting to that point where I never know what job it's going to be, but I always know, like, I think the last eight years it finally happened where I always know it's going to be a job in entertainment. And I do have the option of saying no to things, and I get offered cool stuff. So I've kind of hit that plateau? But that can go away at any time. At any time.
Dan Harris: So this is where meditation, I would imagine, would be really useful. Because it does put you ... I mean the goal of it, as I understand it, or one of the goals of it is to put you in touch with impermanence, and how we are not in control. You work in an industry where that is in your face all of the time.
Jen Kirkman: It's funny, maybe I’m in denial, or it’s my way of coping with that I’m in that industry, but that doesn’t bother me as much as dying.
Dan Harris: Hmm. It’s the same … That’s just a bigger version of the same problem.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, so why would I worry about the small version, when the big version is really the one.
Dan Harris: Fair point.
Jen Kirkman: I do it to control my fear of dying. Then it probably ends up helping the impermanence of the industry, but there’s something about it where I don’t mind the impermanence of the industry because I’ve been at the bottom before. I can handle it if it happened again.
Dan Harris: When were you at the bottom?
Jen Kirkman: When I started.
Dan Harris: Right.
Jen Kirkman: And in the middle. There were times when I was like, “I know I’m good at this, but I just can’t get anyone to see what I’m doing.”
Dan Harris: So you had a few gigs, and then everything bottomed out.
Jen Kirkman: Yep, and that happened for about 10 years.
Dan Harris: Whoa! Ten years!
Jen Kirkman: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Dan Harris: How did you keep it together?
Jen Kirkman: I didn’t. A lot of chasing pleasure, a lot of anger, a lot of weight gain, weight loss, just everything was up and down. Oh, I’ll get married, maybe that will help, oh I got divorced, maybe that will help. It was just a lot of searching and a lot of … meditation here and there, and then, “Oh, that doesn’t work,” because I used to be someone that thought, “Oh, you do meditation … for the end goal of.” There was that, “Well, I meditated today, so why didn’t everything go well? Oh, well I meditated and I’m in touch with myself and I’m still having …” You know? I didn’t look at it quite the right way.
Dan Harris: Right, you looked at is as more like magic.
Jen Kirkman: As magic, right. The way that someone who doesn’t understand prayer would do. “Oh, well, I asked for this and I didn’t get it,” instead of thinking, well like you said, getting in touch with … It actually helps me creatively. It gets in touch with because so much is thrown at me, sometimes I forget what I want. So getting quiet every day keeps me in touch with what I want, and what I want always changes. Sometimes I’ll start a project, and it takes a while, you’ll tell your manager, “I want to pitch a television show about.” “Okay, great.” Then you work on it, then you finally get the meetings, then you pitch it, and it’s eight months later. By the time I’m in the room pitching I don’t want to do it anymore.
So I’m always sort of changing, and if I listen to myself the ideas will come.
Dan Harris: What do you do then at that point? Pull the pitch?
Jen Kirkman: No, I just go through it. I just go through it, and if it ends up happening I go, “Oh, it was meant to be.” If it doesn’t I’m like, “Thank God!”
Dan Harris: Has it ever happened that you got a green light onto something that you actually decided at some point that you didn’t want to do?
Jen Kirkman: No. It always worked out how it was supposed to.
Dan Harris: You mentioned before-
Jen Kirkman: Which is another way of saying no one’s greenlit anything.
Dan Harris: Well you’ve gotten some Netflix specials green lit. That’s a big deal.
Jen Kirkman: That’s true, oh yeah, those are the only ones that I wanted to happen and they did.
Dan Harris: You’ve at times thought that you might want to create and write your own TV show?
Jen Kirkman: You, so I’ve sold a few scripts and then I’ve been like, “I don’t want to tell that story anymore,” and then they don’t get picked up and I’m like, “Oh, thank God.”
Dan Harris: What’s your dream job? Would it be that? Acting?
Jen Kirkman: No, just being a standup.
Dan Harris: Just being a standup? I don’t mean just being a standup because that’s a huge deal.
Jen Kirkman: Being a standup that, like Joan Rivers used to say, be an industry. I want to be that. I want to be thought of when you think of people that are good at standup. And I want giant audiences. I tour a lot, but I would like to tour less and have more people.
Dan Harris: Got you.
Jen Kirkman: So, instead of 500, 700 people in the crowd, I want, um, 5,000.
Dan Harris: When you say be an industry, first of all, I hope that happens, that sounds amazing. You say be an industry, it would also mean, and you’re doing this already, that people go see you for standup but then they also buy your books and check out your specials and your podcast, and it’s kind of you’re a one-woman industry.
Jen Kirkman: I would kind of want just more of that. I’d want to write more books, I’d want to … I’m really into things and fashion and clothing. I would love to, I seriously want to be in my ‘50s with my own line of things on QVC. But it’s not from a shallow place. I’m very into my audience. I’m very into get dressed up for yourself, because I started to notice, when you’re a writer you just wear crappy clothes to work. Then I was on the road every weekend, so I never had a night out. Then I started dressing up on stage, not really in a fancy outfit, but just dressing the way I would if I went out, like a fun outfit, because that’s my night out. Then it started to happen with women in the audience, they would come and they would dress for me. Then on my Instagram it’s like, “Where did you get that?” So there’s this sense of taking care yourself through the way you look. And I mean that in a positive way. Not that you have to be attractive or look a certain way, but be you and express it through clothing. So that’s really important to me.
There’s little tiny messages in my work that if I could blow those out into something, that would be really cool to me. If someone … I think I’d rather … I’ve acted and I find it very boring. There’s a lot more waiting. So if I was a good enough actor I would love to do a play. But I’m not really quite that good.
Dan Harris: I haven’t seen you act. What have you been in?
Jen Kirkman: I can be me is what I can do. I was on a TV show playing myself. It was sort of like a Larry S-
Dan Harris: What was it called?
Jen Kirkman: It was called, “After Lately,” it was about the staff on Chelsea Lately, the show I used to write on. So it was a few seasons and it was like a sitcom, but it was scripted, but I was playing myself.
There’s a movie coming out in the fall called Home Again, with Reese Witherspoon. I played a friend of hers. I mean, just a few quick scenes. I have a feeling they’ll cut me out of it. There’s something about when I’m not being me that I think it reads weird.
Dan Harris: It’s good to know that though.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Harris: You want to know what you’re good at and just keep hammering away at that.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. If someone wanted to, this doesn’t happen so that’s why I’m saying it, if someone wanted to hand me a show to act on, I think that would fun. The truth about it is there’s so much sitting around waiting and it’s really boring. I like live stuff.
Every year I pitch a show, like, “Oh, hey, what about this idea?” There’s some that I would just say, “Bye, someone else run it, I’ll collect the check.” I’m always going to do that because I think if you don’t do that your agents drop you. There’s always that, like, you’re playing the lottery while you’re doing what you really love, and I call all that stuff the lottery. So yeah, what I really want to be is just be a live performer and travel the world doing it. Which I do, but I want just more audience, more money. I just basically just want to be rich.
Dan Harris: No judgment here.
Jen Kirkman: Exactly.
Dan Harris: So you mentioned the Netflix specials. One of them you open up with a whole bit about meditation.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah.
Dan Harris: Now, I don’t want to make you redo the bit, but could just kind of give us the basic conceit of it?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, it’s funny too because … Well, I don’t mean it’s funny, but I start by saying, “I meditate, which means I do not meditate.” I say that to …
Dan Harris: By the way, I expected then when you came in here, having seen that, that you wouldn’t be a meditator, but you are a meditator. So you’re not being totally honest in the bit.
Jen Kirkman: No, and you can’t be, because there’s nothing funny about, “Hey guys, can everyone be quiet for a minute? I meditate. I know! It’s so funny. I just center myself. So I picked a moment, as a meditator, of what it’s like on the days that you skip it, and yes you still see yourself as one. Or when you first start doing it, you think you need all of the stuff. So I’ve got the candle and the chair. And the truth is I never sit in that chair and do it. I do it anywhere else.
But I didn’t want to then just say, “Oh, but I really do meditate,” because then they’re out of the bit, they’re not relating. So I do this whole bit about this one day where I meditated and it felt great, and my joke is I could handle anything if I didn’t have to leave the house. Like you just feel so good. But once you get out there in the world, that’s what I mean, the accumulation that builds up, building your bank of doing it all the time, I think, randomly helps you when you least expect it.
Dan Harris: Absolutely.
Jen Kirkman: Long line at the post office, you’re the only one who doesn’t care. That kind of thing.
Dan Harris: It’s like physical exercise.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah!
Dan Harris: For the same reason, you know never know when you’re going to have to pick something up. Or get chased by a robber.
Jen Kirkman: Exactly. But when you meditate it doesn’t mean that day a half hour later you won’t get agitated and react.
Dan Harris: Or course, absolutely.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. So I go into a whole thing about I was feeling good, this guy was beeping at me, I accidentally stopped as a light was going green to yellow I didn’t go through the light and he got really mad. Then we kept running into each other in Studio City, California. People know, it’s a very suburban part of L.A. It’s just stoplight after stoplight. And we just kept parking next to each other at the light. And he called me a dumbass. And the bit is that I stand up in my car-
Dan Harris: And that part is true?
Jen Kirkman: Sort of. I stood up in my car and through the sunroof and just went off on him. Swearing, and he drove off and said, “You’re crazy.” I scream, “I’m not scary, I meditated today, mother f-er!” Then the joke is, “Oh my god, I meditated today. What if I hadn’t? How much more angry would I have been?”
It’s sort of a combination of two stories. I did yell at him through the window, but the standing up and going through the sunroof, I did that once when I was having road rage and I couldn’t see what was going on ahead of me, and I hate when giant Escalades, when people just drive cars that big for no reason, I stood up to see what was going on, because I was so angry, but I wasn’t yelling at anyone. So I just combined those two things.
Dan Harris: Artistic license.
Jen Kirkman: Again, a liar. But yeah, but I was so enraged I was shaking. Just shaking-
Dan Harris: When you stood up.
Jen Kirkman: Well when I yelled at this guy.
Dan Harris: Oh really? And this was on a day when you had meditated? (laugh)
Jen Kirkman: I had meditated a half hour before. And I yelled and I lied to him. I try not to be a liar either, that’s important to me.
Dan Harris: Yeah, you told him-
Jen Kirkman: I told him my mother had died and that’s why I wasn’t paying attention. She did not die, she’s still alive. But then I have to go to a meeting, and I drive in and I’m totally normal, like, “Hey, how you doing?” Not because of meditation but because that’s what we do, and the joke goes into another place which just about does it ever scare you when you act one way and you don’t let people see that, and you act another way in front of people? Which is why I’m suspicious of anyone who acts like they’re a guru all the time when they’re just a 30-year-old blonde woman from L.A. I’m like, there’s no way you’re not screaming when you chip a nail. There is no way.
Yeah, so that bit goes over well with people. I get a lot of comments from people that they’ve done the same thing. Then I always, on social media, write them, “I actually do meditate all the time, you’ll love it!” And I try to give them advice.
Dan Harris: It’s useful, I think, because … I mean, this comes from … I obviously have a very specific perspective having written a book called, “10% Happier.” I mean, I don’t think meditation should be marketed as a silver bullet or a panacea. It is absolutely true that you’re going to lose your temper sometimes.
I have a friend named Sam Harris who, we’re not related-
Jen Kirkman: Not related, okay.
Dan Harris: He’s a good friend of mine and he’s a meditator, and he talks about the half-life of anger, and that when you meditate the half life comes way down.
Jen Kirkman: Yes!
Dan Harris: And there’s an enormous, incalculable difference between the amount of damage you can do in an hour of anger and two minutes of anger. Two minutes of anger you might say something stupid to the dude next to you at the stoplight in Studio City, but you might not carry it into 15 other meetings through the course of the day. It might dissipate because you’re not feeding it through a compulsive, neurotic thinking.
Jen Kirkman: I just saw that happen on the subway.
Dan Harris: On your part or somebody else’s part?
Jen Kirkman: Somebody else’s. And I totally related to him. We got and the trains were all messed up and it decided to go express, and he wanted to get off at 23rd, he had to go to work, and it was getting off at 34th, and he was just like, “What am I going to do! My job is on 23rd!” And he was like, “(grunt!)”. He seemed like otherwise a normal person. I don’t think he was having an episode of mental illness or anything, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It was just like, let him go. He was just … We all probably understood. And he was really angry.
And I thought, well, god he can just walk the nine blocks, I mean, it’s going to be that far. But he was just … I always think of people as a little kid, like, “Noooo it’s not working out!”
Dan Harris: Yeah, yes, yes.
Jen Kirkman: So he still was mad. Once it stopped at 34th I thought he would be okay, but he was mad the doors weren’t opening fast enough. I saw him just walk off still angry.
Dan Harris: He’s probably late.
Jen Kirkman: He was late, for sure. But there’s nothing worse when you’re late than to be angry on top of it. Because when you come into work that way, you look unstable.
Dan Harris: Yeah.
Jen Kirkman: And no one believes that you were late for any good reason. Yeah, so it’s like if that happened, that was sort of like my story, I don’t know how long he was mad after that, but my anger ended rather quickly in that car situation. But yeah, I get judgmental, I get scared that it happened at all. “Well, I thought this was supposed to be different.”
Dan Harris: No, no, no.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah.
Dan Harris: You shouldn’t. This is another thing hopefully I can disabuse you of. You’re not going to be perfect. I mean, that’s the beauty of the bit. From my standpoint, as a meditation evangelist, it’s great to tell people you can’t uproot millennia of evolution in a couple of years of daily meditation. Maybe it’s possible if you live in a cave, or maybe it’s possible through fifty years of dogged retreat oriented meditation to really unwind a lot of this conditioning, but on our level, as civilians and people who are active in the world, it’s just not going to happen that way.
Jen Kirkman: And I think as a comedian it’s good. I mean, perfection is not what my audience wants.
Dan Harris: No, it’s not funny!
Jen Kirkman: They would like to go … Yeah, they would like to go relate to someone.
Dan Harris: Absolutely.
Jen Kirkman: It’s funny. I know this is sort of off to the side-
Dan Harris: No.
Jen Kirkman: (laugh) you’re like, “No.” I grew up Catholic but not Catholic school, people weren’t shoving it down my throat. Just church once a week and take what you want and no one really bothers me about it. But I started to, and I’m not Catholic now, but I was having serious doubts about the more magical, I’m coming back from the dead, I’m this and that. And I went and talked to a priest and I said, “Am I still … Yeah, I like the teachings of Jesus, I’m into the feed the poor, but I don’t think he rose from the dead. I don’t think any of this.” And I go, “So I guess I’m not a good Catholic.”
He said, “You’re a perfect Catholic. You’re supposed to have doubts. You’re practicing believe, and every …” He goes, “I have doubts, but I do this and that and I get what I can out of it.
It blew my mind. So not talking about Catholicism, I carry that into my life. Of course, I’m supposed to have doubts. That just means, “Keep going.” I guess it’s different because I don’t do Catholicism anymore, but in that sense that it’s okay to have doubt, but no one’s asking you to literally believe X, Y, and Z. It’s okay to doubt yourself and then do it anyway.
Dan Harris: I think it’s great. What you’re saying is it’s a practice. Just like anything you practice, exercise or learning comedy, or learning a musical instrument, it’s going to be failures and setbacks, huge wins, interesting moments of insight, moments of doubt, and it’s just you’ve decided, this is a bit hacky, to walk a path.
Jen Kirkman: I think people don’t want to do it right and be perfect.
Dan Harris: I know, and that’s a bit pro- .. I have that problem too. I thought, when I first learned to meditate, I thought I was going to win at it. I missed huge chunks of the basic instructions, all of the stuff about when you get lost and distracted, give yourself a break, that’s the key moment. I ignored all of that, because I was just like, “I’m not going to get lost and distracted. I’m going to grit my way through this.” Of course, that didn’t work out so well for me. And I actually have to hear that over and over again, because I’m so Type A and achievement oriented that this is a counter-intuitive move for me.
Jen Kirkman: It’s funny. I get very judgmental too. I did a sound bath. Have you ever done those?
Dan Harris: It’s one of those things that even though I’ve never really done I just make fun of reflexively, so I don’t …
Jen Kirkman: Well you’ll love this. I went to one, and it’s supposed to be .. You know, they play those singing bowls, for anyone listening.
Dan Harris: Yes, yes.
Jen Kirkman: It’s a beautiful sound that you’re listening to. It’s supposed to vibrate internally and really help you physically.
Dan Harris: Yeah. I see no evidence that that’s true, but there may be evidence and I haven’t looked at it because I’m lazy.
Jen Kirkman: No, it’s … Dan …
Dan Harris: I’m going to hear on Twitter from a million sound bath practitioners now.
Jen Kirkman: I know. I don’t know how scientific it is, whatever. But there’s … You can find evidence, you know, okay. So, I went for, just to relax. She said, “If you think you’re going to fall asleep …” You know, it was a laydown thing. “If you think you’re going to fall asleep and you want to experience this, you can do it sitting up.” Everyone laid down, and six guys fell asleep, and they were snoring so loud they were snoring louder than the sound bath. And I could not … She said, “If you hear any sounds in the room, someone coughs, you know how it is and you meditate, might hear an ambulance go by, you can’t be like, ‘What the hell!’ You have to let it be part of it.”
But I could not, I could not let … I was so angry and judgmental. Like, “She said if you … Like you don’t know snore?! You selfish …” I mean, I was going nuts.
Dan Harris: Not unjustified.
Jen Kirkman: But I’m being selfish because it has to go the way I wanted it. So I was just … So I sat up to give a message to the teacher. This is all going on in my head. “I’m giving her a message that I cannot sound bath properly because these guys are snoring. And I would open my eyes, look at her, look at them, and I would sigh, I’d go, “(sigh)!” Just, she didn’t do anything. She let them snore. And then when I left they said, “How did you like it?” I said, “Couldn’t hear it, there was too much snoring.”
So that was a recent example of how I kind of lost my mind. But that wasn’t quite meditation, she just said, “Lay there.”
Dan Harris: Yes, but you are a meditator, and you still lost your mind. And so what happens all the time!
Jen Kirkman: But that’s the other thing. Perfectionism of me, I expect, and then perfectionism of my environment. If everything doesn’t go well …
Dan Harris: Well, yeah, you should let go of that.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. I don’t have it a ton, but geez, that was a great example of when it came up.
Dan Harris: But that’s annoying. I mean, I just gotta take your side for a minute, that’s annoying.
Jen Kirkman: It’s annoying, it is annoying. I got very … It went to all kinds of places. I’m thinking of manspreading on the subway, feminisms coming up, I’m like, “When are men going to notice what they’re doing?” I was going crazy. But I think it was definitely something that was like, “Okay, now I know for next time.”
Dan Harris: Don’t go to sound bath.
Jen Kirkman: No, I’m not. If I ever went I would go to a solo one. That’s how they get you.
Dan Harris: Oh, really?
Jen Kirkman: No, I’m just kidding. They make it really annoying so that you have to sign up for the expensive solo one.
Dan Harris: I didn’t know that you could do a solo sound bath.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, sure. I mean, it’ll cost you, but …
Dan Harris: So you brought up Catholicism in your family. So you grew up in the town next to me.
Jen Kirkman: Yes! Isn’t that crazy?
Dan Harris: You’re a few years behind me in high school. I was a ne’er do well, no account, just terrible, terrible student. You were a good, well-behaved student, so we never met.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, we never met. I took ballet and piano, my mom kept me busy after school.
Dan Harris: Yeah, my parents did not and I had all sorts of shenanigans I got to.
Jen Kirkman: I wasn’t a good student, but I was a busy person.
Dan Harris: So what does your family think about the meditation thing and the fact that you’re not really doing Catholicism anymore? Although I’m not sure those two are in any way linked, but what do they think of your habit?
Jen Kirkman: They don’t even care. My mom, she has high blood pressure, and she took some yoga, but she’s like, “The teacher was judging me!” I’m like, “She wasn’t.” She’s 79 now, so not like she needs to go to yoga, but I’m always telling her, “You should meditate.” “I don’t want to get into that.” I think she thinks it’s a religion. But she wouldn’t mind doing it, but I think there’s still something in her brain that’s like, “I’m going to get in trouble with God.” So I always say, “You can Catholic meditate.”
Dan Harris: You can, center in prayer.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah! And she’s like, “No.”
Dan Harris: What do you think the rosary is?
Jen Kirkman: Yeah! That’s what I told her. And she’s like, “No, I don’t know, it’s a medical thing.” I go, “No, I know high blood pressure is real. Take your pills. Also, meditate. Why not throw everything at it?” So I’m trying to get her to do it. She doesn’t care that I do it.
They did care when I, again, I thought I had to become a Buddhist and be religious. So, you know, my first couple of years in L.A. I’m going to the Buddhist centers, I’m announced to everyone before I even went in the door, “I am a Buddhist now.” My mom was like, “God? You’ve been baptized. God knows that you’re a Catholic and he’s not happy, he sees what you’re doing.” She’s not quite like that anymore, she’s dropped a lot of that kind of superstition.
Then I realized I don’t want to be a Buddhist either. I don’t want any particular thing, at all.
Dan Harris: Yeah.
Jen Kirkman: And so I didn’t do that either.
Dan Harris: Where I’ve come to on the whole Buddhist thing is, and people who listen to this podcast are probably tired of hearing me say this. It can certainly be practiced as a religion, but I don’t do it that way. And I don’t believe in anything I can’t prove. And the Buddha specifically said, “I’m going to talk about some metaphysical stuff like enlightenment or rebirth or karma, but you can take it or leave it.” I think it is something to do. It’s just a set of mental exercises.
So, in many ways, you actually are a Buddhist, because you’re doing a lot of Buddhist meditation. That’s the sense in which I consider myself a Buddhist.
Jen Kirkman: And I think it’s cognitive, yeah, it’s very similar to cognitive behavior therapy in a way. You’re changing the way you do things, or see things.
Dan Harris: Yeah, in fact, there is this thing called MBCT, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, so they actually combine the two.
Jen Kirkman: I think it goes very well. And I pray, and I don’t believe in anything, but I don’t not believe in anything. I don’t pray because I think something’s watching me and going to make something happen. It is a way for me to get out of myself, and I like to say things out loud. “This is what I want, it’s the only idea I have.” I’m sure, you know, anything I’ve ever wanted in life has come as a complete surprise and life has told me, “This is what would be good for you right now.” It’s never what I think. So if I’m stuck and I’m like, “No, if I don’t have this I won’t be happy,” I pray about it. I get on my knees and I say, “This is my great idea. I’m giving it to you.” Whoever, Universe, whatever. “Work with that, and come back to me with what I should be doing. I’ll do what you tell me to do. Make me want what’s right for me.” And that really helps me too. And then I meditate, because I feel like maybe I’ll get … not answers, like someone’s talking to me, but it just helps me clear out … You know, for me, I wake up, my mind’s already going. I wake up with desires and disappointment and obsessions. So that just helps clear it for the day. That kind of thing.
Or, like, before I perform, if I think of it as, “I’m a vessel for the talent that was given to me,” and that’s subjective. I’m not like, “Hey, I’m so talented,” because I’m always thinking of Twitter when I’m talking.
Dan Harris: That somebody’s going to hop on you, yeah.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. But it is … It’s still me, I wrote these things, but it takes the pressure off of … And I think meditation does this too. It’s like, I’m not in control, but in the most lovely of ways. I still get to be a body and a mind on earth, but I don’t have to make anything happen. I don’t have to make the wind blow, I don’t have to make myself breathe. That’s the most magical thing. You breathe all day and you’re not making yourself do it. So, whatever that is, that will inform what I do next. And I get to have an opinion of what I like and I don’t. That’s not what I mean.
Anyways, so all of that stuff, I’ve just stopped trying to decide what I think anything is, because it doesn’t even matter what I think. It’s not my business if there is a god. Who cares? I couldn’t care less.
Dan Harris: I like all of this. I’m going to ask you one last question just on the … I keep writing myself notes once in awhile because you say something and I want to follow up on it. On the comedy tip. I don’t think he’ll mind if I quote him. I quoted him but not by name in my book, but I’m going to quote him by name now because you may know him. He’s a comedy writer out in L.A., Gene Stupnitsky. He used to write for The Office.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, I’ve never met him, no.
Dan Harris: He and I were on some group vacation years ago, and he saw me reading a book about Buddhism, and he said, “I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t meditate and get into Buddhism because I need to be judgmental in order to be a comedian. I need to be able to pick out people's’ flaws, and things like that.” Do you find that in any way being a meditator, being happier, calmer, has neutered your art?
Jen Kirkman: No, it made it better. When I’m sad, I can’t perform. If something hard is going on in my life, I’m not one of those people who channels it through comedy. I used to, and you used to see someone who is unhappy on stage.
Dan Harris: So if we watched your old performances, you’d be working out some demons there.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah, I have two albums. Luckily you can’t see me, but you can hear me, and it’s not funny. It might be funny-
Dan Harris: Is it not funny?
Jen Kirkman: I don’t think it’s funny. I sound pretty angry, and I’m not joking. That’s maybe why it’s not funny to me, because I know it’s not real. Now I can get worked up and I’m acting in my comedy. So I feel like you have to process what you’ve been through and then report on it later, and recall how it felt, but act it. But I feel like, no, because you can still be judgmental and be a meditator, because I’m never going to stop being judgmental, and then you let it pass.
Dan Harris: Right, that was my argument which was … There’s a great quote from this teacher, who you may have heard of, Ram Dass.
Jen Kirkman: Yes, sure.
Dan Harris: He’s like, “You don’t uproot your neuroses, but you become a connoisseur of them.” So in some ways you’re closer to all of your craziness, but you’re not owned by it as much. That allows you to actually get in there and write about it, tell jokes about it, and not be so wrapped up in it that your audience is going to get the sense, “Wow, this is funny, but this person maybe is screwed up.”
Jen Kirkman: Elizabeth Gilbert said something in her book, she had a book, “Big Magic,” about creativity. I’m going to quote it wrong, but she was like, “If you think getting on medication or going to a therapist is going to not make you funny,” she’s like, “your demons …” I can’t quote it. But she was like, “Your demons weren’t doing a good job of running your …” Well, look it up everybody.
Dan Harris: She’s very wise on this.
Jen Kirkman: My favorite Ram Dass quote is, “We’re all just walking each other home.” I’ll just start crying if I think of that.
Dan Harris: Wow.
Jen Kirkman: Isn’t that a good one?
Dan Harris: I had never heard that before. I like it.
Jen Kirkman: Yeah. There’s a little vintage clothing store next to where I live, and they have that written on a chalkboard outside, for some reason, and that’s my favorite little quote.
Dan Harris: That’s a really cool quote.
Jen Kirkman: It’s a good way to just, when you look at your fellow person and you judge them and you go, “Oh, we’re all going to die. We’re all just trying to help each other get through it.” Whether you know it or not, just being a presence on the subway while someone else is there let’s them look at you and go, “Oh, there’s another a human.” I don’t know, there’s just something about being alive that you’re always helping others, even just by walking around, as long as you’re not hurting them.
Dan Harris: But it’s so easy to forget it.
Jen Kirkman: Well, I’m perfect, I think about it all the time.
Dan Harris: (laugh)
Jen Kirkman: Oh, do you have Jerry Seinfeld on here?
Dan Harris: I want to!
Jen Kirkman: He’s the biggest meditator of all, and he’s the funniest person, so your friend is wrong.
Dan Harris: Definitely, if you know him …
Jen Kirkman: I don’t, I mean, I really don’t. I know he doesn’t like to do interviews, so it’s probably not going to happen.
Dan Harris: Well, right. Even when he’s got something to promote. We’re working on him. Louis C.K., also a meditator. I would love to have him on.
Jen Kirkman: He meditates? I know him, I could ask him for you.
Dan Harris: Yeah, please do. Who have we had on from the comedian … John Mulaney.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, he’s great. I didn’t know he meditated!
Dan Harris: Yes, yes, yes.
Jen Kirkman: He’s a great example, then, because he’s an angry dude. I don’t mean in real life, but I’ve heard him on Marc Maron’s podcast, and he said he was.
Dan Harris: Yeah.
Jen Kirkman: And he holds it in very well.
Dan Harris: Yeah. Well I think he had a moment of real anger after a show didn’t go so well.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, of course.
Dan Harris: And he sort of exercised a lot of those demons right here in that chair that you’re sitting … He happens to be a friend, but comedians are great interviewees, as you have been!
Jen Kirkman: Oh, thank you! I’m so glad. I know, someone tweeted at us, and I’m like, “Oh God, they’re going to make him feel like he has to do this.”
Dan Harris: No, no, no, as soon as I saw it I was delighted.
Jen Kirkman: Oh, good. Okay.
Dan Harris: So one more time, on the promotions front, people want to learn more about you, where can they go, what can they do?
Jen Kirkman: Well they can just go to my website, JenKirkman.com. One N in Jen, everybody. And I have a new book called, “I know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself,” just came out in paperback, so they can get that at all of their Amazon, indiebound.org, wherever they want to go. And yeah, I’m on Netflix.
Dan Harris: Right. That’s the last thing I was going to say.
Jen Kirkman: My special is called, oh, “Just Keep Living.”
Dan Harris: I’ve learned, actually, that if you just type in, “Jen Kirkman” on Netflix that you will get both specials.
Jen Kirkman: Oh really? Oh, good, okay. I’ve never tried it because I don’t want to watch it.
Dan Harris: You don’t?
Jen Kirkman: No, once I’m done I’m done, can’t watch it.
Dan Harris: Really?
Jen Kirkman: I had to watch it to edit it, so enough already, I saw it five times.
Dan Harris: Yes. So you don’t want to dial it up just in your spare time.
Jen Kirkman: And by the way, when I say edit, I mean we taped two different performances and I had to watch it to pick which performance I liked. We didn’t manipulate anything, we didn’t add a laugh track. That’s what I mean by editing.
Dan Harris: Okay. I didn’t go there, but you’re thinking about Twitter.
Jen Kirkman: Again, I’m responding to Twitter.
Dan Harris: Yeah, got you. You’re a delight, thank you very much, I really appreciate it. This was really cool.
Jen Kirkman: Thanks!