Photos courtesy of Jessica Kirson
Jessica Kirson's brand of edgy comedy continues to wow her audiences
“People say to me, oh, you seem so down sometimes. I’m like, that’s what makes me funny. That’s where it comes from. If I was just happy all the time, I wouldn’t be funny at all. Someone actually said to me recently, ‘why do you always wear black?’ And I said, ‘oh, because I feel great about my body and I’m filled with hope.’”
Standup comedian Jessica Kirson doesn’t dance around the issues. After decades of refining her craft and touring relentlessly, she has built a dedicated following who swear by her sharp, self-deprecating, and delightfully raunchy sense of humor. “Jessica is somebody who should have got a special at least like two presidents ago,” says comedian Bill Burr, who produced “Talking to Myself,” Kirson’s Comedy Central special. “I just don’t understand how much harder somebody has to kill to get recognized.”
In addition to her Nightlife Award for “Best Stand-up Comedian” and prestigious Best Female Comic by the MAC Association, Kirson has several podcasts and produced FX’s “Hysterical” – a film that explores the changing landscape of women in stand-up comedy. She consulted with Robert De Niro on “The Comedian,” his 2016 film about an aging standup comic.
If you haven’t seen Jessica Kirson perform her distinct brand of comedy, you’ll be happy to know she is coming home. A native of South Orange, Kirson will be working the crowd in Newark at NJPAC on May 12 and will return on June 9 for a performance at SOPAC as part of SOPAC’s LGBTQ+ Pride Weekend, which is in partnership with North Jersey Pride.
“There’s nowhere I’d rather perform than South Orange and Maplewood. I love New Jersey. I love the area and there’s nowhere else I would have rather grown up than in South Orange and Maplewood,” says Kirson, who attended South Mountain Elementary School, South Orange Middle School, and Columbia High School.
After Kirson’s mother divorced, she married the father of Zach Braff. On an episode of her podcast “Relatively Sane,” Kirson and Braff likened their blended family to “The Brady Bunch.” The two recall their early years as stepsiblings and swap unforgettable nuggets about finding their way as kids growing up in South Orange. They tell one particularly hysterical story about returning from a family vacation and discovering their house had been robbed. Their rapport on the show (Episode 32 of the “Relatively Sane” podcast is highly recommended) gives you great insight into their upbringing – both the joys and pains.
“I wasn’t thinking that I would be a performer or an artist in any way,” says Kirson, when asked if she had aspirations of being a comedian growing up. Her autobiographical details serve as an organizing principle for her work. Kirson has four daughters and lives with her wife in Long Island. You’ll hear her talking about being a proud Jewish lesbian, and she’ll bring her alcoholism and struggles with weight into her show. “What led me into comedy was a lot of pain,” she says in her podcast.
But perhaps most vital to her performances is her extremely sophisticated crowd work. She has garnered roughly 450,000 followers on social media outlets that show examples of her stunningly agile impromptu back and forths with audience members.
“It’s very hard to get into crowd work because it’s very scary to kind of go off script. I started hosting early on because it was a great way to get into the clubs in New York,” says Kirson. “I just love talking to people and finding out about them and I realized – oh my God – when you talk to people, they’re really funny. They give you funny answers, and you can get a lot of material just from talking to them.” She is currently working on a comedy special focused solely on crowd work.
“It’s like [strengthening] a muscle – like going to the gym. I got better and better and I’m very comfortable with it.”
Kirson has another reason she is passionate about performing these shows in New Jersey. Performing at SOPAC during a full weekend highlighting LGBTQ+ artists is deeply important to her.
“I am a very proud, lesbian gay person. I have four daughters, and it’s very important to me now more than ever,” says Kirson. “We’ve always had to fight for our rights, but right now there’s a war on our community and it is incredibly upsetting to me what’s happening […] I mean, the drag community, the trans community… I could list 100,000 things that are going on right now that are just so devastating and upsetting.”
Kirson is not new to working with the LGBTQ+ community in New Jersey. “We love Jessy K! North Jersey Pride has had a relationship with Jessica since the beginning – she helped us when we were getting started by joining as our first festival emcee in 2013,” says C.J. Prince, Executive Director of North Jersey Pride. “[Kirson] has always been an out and proud advocate for the LGBTQ+ community as well as a courageous voice for equality, and she is such a talented comic. I’ve never seen her show (and I’ve been to many) and not left with my sides hurting from laughing!”
“The fact that I have a huge following and that I can have some kind of power that I can speak for our community – it’s the reason why I’m doing this. It’s really not so that I can get applause and people can tell me I’m great,” says Kirson.
Kirson isn’t shy about taking her show to parts of the country that are less than welcoming to the Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities. “There’s an art to what I do when I go to all those places. I teach them and I talk to them in a way that is condescending, but in a loving way. I don’t attack them but I try to help them understand how ridiculous it is what some of them think,” she says. “I have to try to find humor in it, so that I can go on stage and not make it like an angry thing. Maybe they’ll think, here’s a lesbian onstage. Oh, she’s funny. I like her a lot and maybe I am thinking in a ridiculous way.”
And she is hysterically funny when she does jokes about it. “There’s people in the religious right that will say that gay people want their kids to be gay…that we try to make them gay,” she says. “And I’m like, of course that’s true. …All we want is for them to be huge dykes because it’ll be easier for them in this incredible accepting country. You know, we’re taking them to a lot of softball games and shaving their heads. We blast the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge in their ears every night. It’s hard to make this stuff funny because it’s so upsetting. But I have to try to find humor in it.”
Jessica Kirson performs at NJPAC in Newark on May 12 at 7:30pm and 9:45pm. Visit njpac.org/event/jessica-kirson for more information.
She returns on June 9 for a performance at SOPAC in South Orange. Visit sopacnow.org/events/jessica-kirson for more information.
Visit jessicakirson.com for all other information and social media.
Donny Levit is a writer and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. You can hear him DJ his indie rock show “Under the Influence” and his jazz show “Kind of Pool” on Bone Pool Radio. Follow him on Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio and @kindofpoolradio and @newishradio.