As a cis male comedian, I use the most effective contraception known to man: my personality. So I don’t have to worry about the stress of balancing a career and standup while raising a kid.
Comedian Laurie Kilmartin, on the other hand, is doing more than just telling jokes and working. In the morning, she gets her 11-year-old son to school, then heads to write for some of the funniest late night talk shows. Then there is more family time, and eventually Kilmartin finishes most days off with a set.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Here’s our conversation about her daily and her comedy routines …
You joined the writing staff for Conan just as the show came to TBS in 2010. Was there an uncomfortableness among the returning staff after the NBC debacle?
I kind of joined a moving train, but I think everyone was pretty excited. I think once the TBS deal was announced, everyone was happy to be working again. I wasn’t there at the Tonight Show, but when you go from network to cable there is a little bit more sense of freedom. People were pretty psyched.
I remember thinking at the time, I love Conan, TBS is a channel I watch a lot, but I don’t know about other people.
Yeah. I mean he was definitely the first guy to jump that way. But as far as I know, with our show and a lot of late night shows, hardly anyone watches them live. They should be called the Next Morning at Work Shows, you know? So it’s on TBS, but for most people it’s on YouTube.
Does that change the way you write the show?
No. I mean I’m not a sketch writer, but I don’t get the sense that they’re changing their senses of humor to work with YouTube. I’m a monologue joke writer. We write for the live audience that’s watching in the studio at the taping and watching Conan himself.
I remember watching your most recent performance on Conan a year ago. When you’re a writer on the show, is the process of getting on the show different compared to other comedians?
It’s a little easier for me because I know that booker, but I’ve only done the show twice. I mean, I know a lot of comics that don’t work for the show that have done it way more than me. The booker is out watching shows every night and he had seen me do spots, and said, “Hey, let’s put a set together and get you on the show.”
Do you consider yourself more a writer or a performer?
I guess I have more of a strength as a writer. If I had to, I would say 51-49 that way. Tracy Morgan was just on Conan, and that guy, he’s just funny. Tracy always looks like as soon as he says something he looks like he’s bored with it, and he’s gone onto his next thought. So you’re constantly tracking his eyes whenever he’s speaking, and that’s just a different personality type than somebody who’s like typing on a keyboard and has to sort of figure out how to perform a joke.
What’s the difference when writing on multiple talk shows?
It’s all your host’s sensibility. I didn’t write for Craig Ferguson for long. His monologue was starting to turn out to be much more of a storyteller monologue, which really fit his style much more. And Conan’s is super traditional; it’s very Carson-esque. It’s very short, two-sentence jokes, and in between the jokes is when he messes around with Andy and the crowd and stuff like that. They’re almost like little vehicles to give him something to talk about while he hangs out with the audience.
You were a competitive swimmer when you were younger, which is a very solo activity. Do you think that prepared you for going into standup?
That’s a good point. It’s probably a similar personality types, although I don’t know. No one else from my swim team started doing standup, but you definitely get used to motivating yourself and sort of just being alone in your own head, which I’m pretty good at now. I just heard Michelle Wolf on Fresh Air with Terry Gross say she was a runner, which is also kind of the very similar, you know, sort of just in your own head kind of sport.
At 11 years old, does your son understand what mommy does as a writer for TV and as a comedian?
A little bit. He doesn’t really watch my act. He overhears it if I bring him to a club or something, but he doesn’t really pay attention to that. The hardest I made him laugh was recently—he’s on crutches right now because he landed on his knee weird in some dumb basketball game, and I always accused him of limping extra hard around me, and then when he’s with everybody else and I started tap dancing. That’s the biggest laugh I’ve ever got from him.
So you bring your son to the clubs with you when you’re performing?
Sometimes I do. I mean, he just sits on his iPad and no one notices him. I’m bringing him to Boston with me because I want to show him Boston and I want to take him to some historical sites. He’s old enough to sit in a corner and not bother anybody. I don’t bring him out on school nights, but he’s out for summer vacation, so I just wanted him to see Boston.
Are you concerned about your son’s ethnic identity growing up, whether he understands about his Mexican heritage or not?
I feel like that’s up to his dad. I’m more concerned as any parent is, if their child isn’t lily white, how he’s going to be perceived by authorities. I want him to be treated as every citizen should be treated. That’s all. He asked me, “Mom am I white or am I Mexican?” And I didn’t know how to answer that question. So I said, “I don’t know honey. Let’s ask a cop.”
As a comedian on tour and single mother, do you find dating to be difficult?
I do road work on my hiatus, so it’s not really a tour. I always think it’s weird because, unless you’re Kevin Hart, you’re not actually doing a tour. For the rest of us, we’re just doing another week of work. We’re just paying our mortgage for another week, but I’m excited to work at Laugh Boston.
I haven’t dated in awhile. I don’t have a lot of free time when I’m not doing standup, so I want to hang out with my son. I don’t want to go on a date with a guy I just met on Tinder. Right now my son is 11, and he’ll be 14 or 15 soon, and then he won’t want to have anything to do with me and then I can definitely go on dates.
You wake up early now because you have a kid and a day job. Does that change how you go out to do sets?
I try to get up early on 8pm shows. My kid goes to bed around 9:30, so if I can get home by 9:15 then I can put him to bed and read to him and stuff. I don’t always get to do that, but I mostly try to get home in time. Sometimes I’ll put him to bed, and then run out and do a very late set because my mother is here too. But then if I’m doing an 11:00 spot, and then I have to get up at six the next morning, it’s brutal because I don’t get home until midnight and I’m up to 1am because my brain is buzzing.
What is your new book about?
The book came out in February and it’s called Dead People Suck. It’s about my dad. It’s a comedic memoir about my dad dying of cancer. It covers hospice care, things you want an old person to do before they die, how you want to prepare yourself for your parental death, and ultimately your status as a middle age orphan.
As member myself, I’d like to welcome you to the Dead Dad’s Club.
There’s a chapter called “People Who Say, Welcome To The Dead Dad Club.”
Is it a good chapter?
No. It’s under the subheading “People Are Awful.” What I hated about it is people said it to me the day after my dad died. I kind of felt like, Hey, you know what? This is my thing to joke about. Your dad died five years ago, so you’re in a different place, don’t assume I’m there yet. And I don’t want to be there, I don’t like this, and I don’t want to be in your fucking club.
But I don’t care now. It’s been four years. There’s another chapter called “When the Wrong Parent Dies.” So you can imagine what my relationship with my mother is like.
Laurie Kilmartin’s newest book, Dead People Suck, is out now. You can get a signed copy and see Laurie from May 31 through June 2 at Laugh Boston. Check out the full, unedited conversation by downloading the podcast at deadairdennis.com/podcast.