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Jessica Kirson on Bill Burr, Robert de Niro, and being the wrong ‘kind’ of comedian

WWhen I spoke to Jessica Kirson in March for an article on how comedians were dealing with the emerging pandemic, she told me, “It’s very hard not to do a stand-up. I’m one of those comics that come out every night, sometimes two, three, four, five, six times a night, so it’s really hard not to play.

Nine months later, the comedy clubs are still closed, but like so many of his stand-up comrades, Kirson has adjusted. When she appears on Zoom to record this week’s episode of The last laugh podcast, looks like she’s on stage. If she hadn’t told me, I would have no idea she’s in her walk-in closet in front of a cheap blue curtain that she bought on Amazon so that she can play from home.

“It’s really bad,” Kirson says of the current state of comedy. “It’s really difficult for me. It’s hard on all my friends. She has tour dates booked for January, but is starting to doubt they’ll actually perform. Explaining that stand-up has traditionally served as a form of “therapy” for her, she says, “It has been a huge loss. I experienced it as a death. It is not a death, because it can come back. But my career is in a coma. And it was hard.

Kirson, who has been a mainstay of the Comedy Cellar in New York City for years, has tried just about anything to keep his stand-up career alive during the pandemic. Podcasts, drive-in parks, public parks, etc. “I’d rather do a Zoom show than do that,” she says of the outdoor shows that have sprung up all over an increasingly frigid New York City. “It’s so depressing for me to stand in the middle of a park and tell jokes, but I understand why people do it.

“I made it work because I was able to make money doing it and I have kids. So I have to do it, ”she says of online shows like the one she shares weekly with her friend Rachel Feinstein.

Crowd work has always been a big part of her act and she recently found out that it could work even better on Zoom. “Because everyone can see the person’s face,” she explains. “So it really makes you laugh when I do crowd work. I’m like, “Dave, could you please pay attention to me?” And then people crack because they see Dave’s face.

Kirson will put these new skills to the test in his biggest online show to date this Thursday, December 10 as part of a new live comedy lineup on RushTix.com.

In her very first hour-long special Talk to me, released last December, Kirson periodically turns his back on the public and gives himself a “private” pep talk. It’s a move she hasn’t been able to get to work on Zoom yet.

“It would be crazy,” she said. “I mean, I could do it, but it’s not going to make people laugh because people will think I need to be in a mental institution.

Highlights of our conversation are below and you can listen to it all right now by subscribing to The last laugh on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On his one-hour stand-up special

“I felt it was too late. I am very realistic. You know some people say, “I should do this, I should have this.” It was the only thing I was in, it’s ridiculous. I mean, I had been doing stand-up for 19 years by the time I got it. It was crazy to me that no one gave me a special. Sometimes I feel like it’s the man-woman thing and sometimes I feel like it’s the kind of the woman. I’ve never been the sexy, skinny, flirtatious actress. So I was just funny. And it took longer, I think, because if anyone had my humor, which I am capable of – and trust me, I’m filled with hate for myself – but I do fine when I get up and people laugh a lot and people like what I’m doing and I have a really good response. So I think if I looked different and I sold myself differently and I had something different in the way I was behaving I would have four or five promotions.

Why she wasn’t offended by Bill Burr’s ‘homophobic’ SNL monologue

“I think that because I know him so well, I’m not offended. Because she is such a caring, loving and tolerant person. I mean, he couldn’t accept my gay marriage anymore and the fact that I had kids. And so, he’s one of those comics that like to piss people off, which so many people on Twitter do. They won’t be doing it live in a stand-up ensemble, but they will be doing it on Twitter all day. I worry about a lot of the comics and the things they say. I have a lot of friends right now where I’m like, ‘Oh my god, did he really say that?’ But it’s so hard, because if you start saying, “Well, he shouldn’t be saying that and she shouldn’t be saying that,” it’s like, where’s the line? For example, I’m Jewish and I make fun of my family, I make fun of traditions, I make fun of mourning and complaining about us and sometimes people will be offended. But this is my experience. It’s my life. I will say that there are comics, not Bill, where I literally couldn’t talk to them anymore. I still think they should be able to say whatever they want to say, even if it makes me sick. “

How she became Robert de Niro’s comedy mentor for ‘The Comedian’

“I taught him how to stand-up. And not only did I teach him how to stand-up every day, but I ended up writing for the film. I ended up doing some scenes because he wanted me to think of ideas. It was hard. He said it was the hardest thing he had ever done. Can you believe this? Because he must have looked like he’s been doing stand-up for 36 years and it’s hard to have that confidence. I made it very clear to him that he has to look confident, even if he panics, literally from the second he stands to the side of the stage. And I talked to him a lot about body language, because it’s very important, I think, on stage. And I also helped him a lot, not just with the stand-up, but his love was Leslie Mann, who I became very friendly with and helped them make their romantic relationship real. Isn’t that crazy?

Look for a bonus episode The last laugh Podcast later this week with stand-up comedian and “Daily Show” correspondent Michael Kosta.

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