Book Review: I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction, Jen Kirkman (2016)

April 13th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Comedian Jen Kirkman on Life After Divorce, Turning 40, and Finding Gray Hairs (Down There!)

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

So here’s the thing about memoirs, especially humorous ones written by comedians and actors: if I can, I usually try to “read” the audio versions. Even though I miss out on the funny-embarrassing awkward family photos and cringe-worthy ’80s/’90s pics, the trade-off is more than worth it. Funny people aren’t just funny for what they say, but how they say it: much of a joke’s charm is in its delivery. An audio book at least restores the verbal part of the joke (and makes the visuals a little easier to imagine). This is true pretty much across the board: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kathy Griffin, Mindy Kaling – I always find myself laughing harder when they read their books to me.

I suspect the same is true of Jen Kirman’s second book, I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself: Dispatches from a Life Under Construction. (Her first book, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids, is still in my TBR pile.) Kirman writes about her divorce (amiable, but inevitable); her brief stint as a cougar; her hep C scare (doctors, ugh!); maintaining a decades-long friends with benefits relationship; participating in an undercover blackmail sting; traveling alone; and dealing with overbearing neighbors. While the material is entertaining enough, I often wondered how much more I’d enjoy it if I could hear her perform it aloud. In some cases, I didn’t have to wonder: the chapter on finding gray public hairs was part of her Netflix special, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), which I love-love-loved.

Kirkman is best when deconstructing sexism, especially in the comedy circuit.

I admired Joan for being one of the only stand-up comedians who also happened to be a woman at a time when women weren’t supposed to be doing do men’s jobs, least of all comedy. Women weren’t supposed to be funny. Women weren’t supposed to speak their truth about how hard it is to be pregnant and feel sexy. Women weren’t supposed to talk about abortion, being single, sex with their husbands—not even in private, let alone on television. Also, I say “stand-up who also happened to be a woman” because I don’t believe in saying “female comedian.” A comedian is a comedian is a comedian. “Female” is not a type of comedy. You can say that someone is a one-liner comic, a storyteller, a prop comic, or a shitty comic, but when you write “female” it’s implied that male is what a comic really is and a female comic is a lesser version. It also implies that females only talk about “one thing”—being female, and that men, just regular old comedians, discuss more important, universal things. You know, like their dicks.

(Her memories of the late Joan Rivers left me a little misty-eyed. Just a wee bit.)

Kirkman says that she doesn’t want to teach, she just wants to do comedy – which is totally understandable! – yet she’s so damn good at it. Witty and acerbic and take no prisoners. (It’s a joy to watch her eviscerate Twitter trolls.) I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more of that. But I get it. Who wants to answer the same tired old questions, year after year?

Anyway, if you’re familiar with Kirkman’s stand-up, that’s a pretty good indication of the book’s style and substance. I still prefer a full A/V performance, though!

3 stars for the print book, with a probable 4-star rating for the audio version.

P.S. Vegetarian gravy exists, and it is heavenly!

P.P.S. Fishes are animals too!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: n/a

Animal-friendly elements: Jen Kirkman is a self-described vegetarian, but eats fish (!). Bonus points for the sexual politics of meat reference.


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