Jen Kirkman On How To Just Keep Livin' In The Age Of Trump
(Robyn Van Swank)
Jen Kirkman has never considered herself a "political" stand-up comedian, and indeed, her Netflix special Just Keep Livin', which premiered in January, doesn't touch at all on the insanity that was brewing when it was shot pre-election. But just because Kirkman doesn't joke about Trump doesn't mean she's not living in apocalyptic hell with the rest of us. We caught up with the comedian to discuss navigating comedy in Trump's America, Twitter, Matthew McConaughey, and whether it's okay to watch The Bachelor in the Age of Impending Doom.
I apologize in advance, this is going to be a little politically heavy. I don’t think anyone is able to think about anything other than politics at this moment.
That’s totally cool with me.
How are you holding up?
I don’t know, it’s weird. I was disturbed on different levels when the election happened, and now it's just sort of a numbness. I’m not someone who has to stay away from news, I read everything and it doesn’t continue to scare me, like my anxiety levels aren’t increasing. There’s just sort of a despondency that’s keeping me calm. Emotionally, I’m okay.
I’m thankful right now that I’m not on the road, I’m thankful that I’ve got a little free time. I don't have to do anything right now where I have to fake it through the day, like I can’t imagine if I was in a writer’s room and we had to be making jokes about being a parent or something like that. I’d probably have a little more frustration, like, “What am I doing?” Even though I’m not spending all day saving the world, at the very least I'm not spending it doing things I don't necessarily—I have a lot of free time, so I’m doing self-care and just staying abreast of what's going on.
I knew it would get this crazy, I’m not surprised by anything. But I am just like, “What is anyone doing?” I just read a thing about all these phone calls he’s having with other countries, the call with Russia, they turned off the recording. That would be huge if it was any other president. People would try and do something about it, I just don’t understand, so I'm like this all the time, “iiiiaauuhhhgooo." There’s no one that can stop this? We can march all we want but there’s no, like, trial lawyer in the White House, someone who can start the articles of impeachment, can the military just start a coup? Like, what the fuck?
What kind of self-care are you practicing? Are you still meditating?
Yes, but I’m going to classes now. It’s actually a relaxing environment. There’s a place I've been hanging out at that teaches all kinds of classes. I’ve been going twice a day. I go to therapy and I’m not drinking and I'm taking nice hikes and going to yoga and all that stuff. But, again, I have the freedom of time right now that I don't normally have. I’m taking advantage of it.
So you're not a political comedian; you deal mostly with personal stuff. My anxieties before the election were like, “This boy doesn't like me," or "My eggs will dry up before I get married," or "I have a pimple.” And now they're like, “Oh god, we’re all going to die and the Earth will burn.” Has it been difficult thinking up new material? Does everything feel kind of selfish at this point?
Well, in a weird way, no. Two things: When I was a kid, my parents sat me down and were like, “We’re gonna have a nuclear war with Russia.” It was all based on that made-for-TV movie The Day After, about if Russia bombed us. My parents hid nothing from me as a kid, they didn't hide their fears.
They were great parents, but there was a lot of "Hey, we're all fucked." I've always thought that. I was really into reading about the environment when I was 13, and it was like, "In 20 years, there are going to be catastrophic consequences if we don't curb the meat industry!" I've always been someone who is simultaneously worrying about a boy problem and also that we're all going to die. My last special was about divorce and not wanting kids—I thought I could make jokes about these things and not have it be, like, "She's speaking out against marriage." But all these weird labels got put on me. So I said, okay, I'm not going to do comedy thats personal anymore because it's too annoying when people want to talk about it and think you're trying to start some anti-marriage movement. Oddly, I’m trying not to talk about myself that much anyway in my comedy, unless it's about something that happened to me that can be something in the world, or just something really absurd.
I'm always the basis of my comedy, so in a way, yes, I'll always be "selfish." But in another way, the little things that I go through in real life—boys, pimples, problems—I don't talk about anymore on stage. But yes, I am having trouble coming up with material or the motivation to do it, because I don't feel like doing anything right now. And again, I can't separate how I feel and why. I just taped a special and I just got off a two year long tour, so I think that’s also why I can't figure out if I'm depressed about Trump or if I'm taking a break. But, yeah, I don't have a lot of new stuff. And some of the new stuff I want to do I’m afraid to do, like I want to talk about how I feel about extended family members who voted for Trump. I think there’s something funny about how many of us this year were like, “I’m not going home for the holidays because my family voted for Trump” and it’s like, you didn't want to go anyway. You didn't like those people.
I think there's something funny about that. But that’s as far as I’ve gone. I don't want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I mean, you’re right, I was like, after the election, I can't do distraction comedy. What if people come to my shows that don't do anything to help other people, and then they just want to laugh, I can't be a part of that. But it does seem like people are so activated that even if I was just talking about boys or pimples or whatever, that would probably be fine. I’ve heard from a lot of people, "No, please, I need to laugh, I spend all day calling senators and marching and my mother’s been banned from coming into the country."
So, in a weird way, which I didn't see coming, I think it is okay to talk about silly things. I'm starting to wonder if we’ll notice comedy changing a lot. I think a lot of people think it’s going to get super political, but I could almost see it being the opposite, I could see good old fashioned vaudevillian silliness coming back.
(Robyn Van Swank)
Yeah, exactly. I didn't quite take people away completely because I do talk about periods. I filmed it before the election and I was just so sure he would never win.
Is there pressure as a person with a platform, especially a woman with a platform, to be political right now, because you have a voice and people will listen to you?
I'm not trying to be falsely modest, but because I live in Hollywood and I know people who actually have platforms, and know how the world treats them, I don't really have a platform. I have 200,000 Twitter followers, I have people that I guess have seen me on Netflix , but I don't have my own TV show and today—even in this day and age where people keep saying, “TV doesn't matter,” unless you have a TV show you really don't have a huge platform.
I don't think I have one, necessarily, so no, I don't feel pressure. If I were really famous, if I had a show like Samantha Bee's or something, I would feel tremendous pressure. Her show is political, that’s her point, but I would feel the pressure of getting it right and being as smart as I could be and being as funny as I could be. I feel more peer-pressure. I don't ever want to be tweeting about stupid shit. I’m a white, straight woman who was born here, so except for the woman part, I have all the privilege. I would never want to seem oblivious and be tweeting “I’m watching The Bachelor" and then have my friends be like. "My parents might get blown up at their mosque."
Are we still allowed to watch The Bachelor though?
Well, it depends, how much did you do that day? It’s like a diet. You can have that cake if you just ate carrots all day, but if you had pancakes for breakfast you might want to skip the cake today. So it's like, I don't know, how many senators did someone call? Did you protest that weekend? You can watch The Bachelor. I really think that. I think it’s going to be one of those things that countries have always done, where you live a little where you’re very politically aware and very active. We have to balance all of that now. We should have been doing that already. I think that was Obama’s point where he was like “You guys, I thought you were doing this already. You weren't?!"
Your Twitter feed has been a lot more political over the last few weeks. Is Twitter changing under Trump? Is it a more serious tool now than it was before?
I know for my friends and me, we don't care if our followers like the political stuff or not. A friend of mine was saying that she’s gotten more followers since this all happened, and she has not been being funny in her opinions. People just want to know what’s going on, and I think in a weird way, sometimes people will check a comedian’s Twitter page and feel comforted that the comedian is just as confused as they are. Finding people you know that feel the same way is totally human nature.
I always forget that there are people out there who live in a community or a family where they’re the only one who feels a certain way. I you feel like you know someone because you see them on TV or you see them online a lot, it might be comforting to see them tweeting about politics. They don't feel so alone. So yeah, I think it’s getting more political because, like you said, no one can think about anything else right now. Is it even political anymore or is it just the new world?
How do you deal with extended family members who voted for Trump?
Well, I’m the only one in my family that lives in California. Everyone else is on the East Coast, so I don't even talk to my extended family members and I never have. I think some of them talk to each other because they live closer to each other. I see them once a year, at family events. Facebook used to be a way to hit “like” on a few people’s things and stuff like that—I mean, I feel very close to my extended family and I love them all and I could call any of them and it wouldn’t be weird—but I recently got off Facebook, I just have a fan page, so I don't have to read their stuff anymore.
I kind of don't talk to them, but I didn't anyway. It’s not that it's some big drama, but I don't think it’s funny. I think they’re fine with it, they’re like, “Oh, you liberals, ha, ha." If I lived next door to my family members who voted for Trump, they’d totally come over and fix my garbage disposal and be nice and break bread with me, but then they’d also like, “Oh liberal tears, haha, Hillary Clinton.” It's cruelty, but also family. Luckily I don't have to deal with them. I have people in my family that didn’t vote for Trump but they have everyday interactions with people who did, and they're like, "There's a disconnect happening, there’s just weird cruelty going on."
In your special you talk a lot about being alone and traveling alone and not having to rely on another person. Do you feel now is an especially important time for women to learn to rely on themselves? I feel like we're all going to have to be a little stronger now.
The night of the election was like, “What was having a boyfriend going to do about that?” You can lean on anybody that you want, whether it's a boyfriend or a best friend or someone like that for emotional support. But I think we should be able to be comfortable alone. I mean, it’s hard, because sometimes it’s not comfortable to travel alone. It can be scary, we can be victims of crime. There’s always that thought the life is easier when you have a person to share it with, but is it? I don't really know.
But in terms of traveling and having your own money, it’s really important that women do that. As culture changes too, you might not meet a man who's going to have more money than you. I really feel like people shouldn't be afraid of being alone. Take yourself down that rabbit hole, so you’re by yourself, traveling around—what is the worst that could happen? Someone could look at you and be like, “Are you alone? Oh my God, what a loser.” But then you could be like, "You’re a bigger loser for even caring." People should feel self-sufficient on their own even if they’re in a relationship.
You mention having to look up safe places to go when you're a woman when you’re traveling abroad because it's still an issue. Women are still getting attacked. It's not like we're really safe.
I have those phrasebooks. I went to Paris with a female friend of mine years ago, because I’d gone with my ex-husband years earlier and we didn't have a good time there together. We wanted to do totally different things and I didn't really enjoy my time there, unfortunately, with him. And so I went back on my own terms, but I didn't want to go alone, so I went with a friend that's a girl and people were like, “hmmm.”
People were like, “Oh my God!” It was this tragedy, Iike what is so tragic about two women having plenty of money to travel and go to Paris together? Then I noticed that the words I looked up in my guidebook were different than when I went with a man. I had this page marked that with phrases like, “Call the police!” “Get away from me,” “Help!” and stuff like that.
So this is my last question and it’s about Matthew McConaughey. How do you feel about him saying it’s time to embrace Trump?
Well, I used to have a thing in my act, I don't think it made it into the special, where I’m like, "He better not fucking say something stupid!” Because the tattoo is permanent! I’m super bummed. I mean obviously he’s just an out-of-touch white dude anyway, I’m not shocked. Maybe he was high. Last week he was in an anti-Trump video, so maybe he’s just saying on some spiritual level we have to accept it.
I don't know, I’m not going to make excuses for him. I will say that Dave Chappelle said the same thing on Saturday Night Live, he said "I’m going to give him a chance." But, luckily my tattoo means so much more to me than McConaughey. "Just keep living” really did become a thing between me and my friends. It's about finding good luck in things that happen, it’s just a different mindset than what I was brought up with. Now it's become my personal thing so it doesn't matter, but I am super embarrassed that he said that.
Yeah I saw that today and was like, "That’s going in the interview."
It’s such a bummer. I still stand by that he will hopefully say something to retract it that will be completely genuine. I don’t think he knows what's going on. I can’t expect a guy in Malibu who’s playing drums with his shirt off to know what’s going on. I heard rumblings that he was more conservative than not, but again I don't anticipate that anyone who's a conservative likes Trump, I mean he’s his own brand of insanity. It’s a bummer, but, oh well. Just keep livin', right? Exactly.
Jen Kirkman: Just Keep Livin' is streaming on Netflix.