I was bumped by Robert De Niro. I’ll take it.
When comedian Jessica Kirson didn’t pick up the phone for our arranged interview, I figured there was a mix-up or she plumb forgot about it. Fifteen minutes later, she called back, in a hushed and apologetic tone, saying she was in a very important meeting and would call me later.
Turns out she was with De Niro, who, she says, is nothing like a raging bull. “It was really cool to get to know him, to meet him and talk to him. He’s very sweet,” she says the next morning from her home on Long Island, New York. “He is mysterious but very down-to-earth and cool and sweet. Very nice man.”
Kirson, a standup by trade, will have a small part in The Comedian with De Niro, which starts filming in March. “I’m going to be in it in a scene or two with him and I’m consulting with them on some comedy stuff,” she says, stressing that the film is not a comedy.
Things are happening for the 17-year vet. In 2013, Louis C.K. gave her a boost on Reddit, while answering a question about his favourite female comedians, saying “Jessica Kirson KILLS.” Now she’s part of the Howard Stern stable, doing prank calls for the shock jock. (“It’s one of my favourite things,” she says. “It’s so much fun. They come up with very, very funny ideas. They’re hysterical.”)
She was on two seasons of Last Comic Standing, albeit briefly, back in 2003 but doesn’t think her career would be any different had she won. It’s nice in the moment, but doesn’t have any long-term effects. “You never hear about these people again, really,” she says of the past winners. “I mean, they have careers but it’s not like they get famous.”
The stepsister of actor Zach Braff, screenwriter Adam J. Braff, fashion designer Shoshanna Braff, and novelist Joshua Braff, Kirson first tried standup at her grandmother’s urging. Her mom’s mom was a fan of comedy from the Borscht Belt and recognized funny when she saw it in the former class clown.
“I didn’t think I could ever do it but then I listened to her and tried it out, took a class, and I loved it,” she says. Kirson says she’s generally a very fearful person but feels “pretty powerful” when on-stage. “I was completely petrified.…I was very, very freaked out. I’m actually shocked that I ever did it.”
It’s even more shocking to think this brash ball of energy was ever timid. When she’s on-stage, she owns it.
“I’m very in-the-moment,” she says, describing her act as “you-don’t-have-to-think-a-lot kinda comedy”. Her life motto is “always be silly,” which you’ll often see in hashtag form if you follow her on Twitter.
“I feel like I entertain people and really give them a show,” she says. “And I keep it going fast, so there’s not a lot of lulls.”
Jessica Kirson and Jon Steinberg perform at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre next Thursday (February 18), as part of the Chutzpah Festival’s opening-night comedy gala.