Standup Jen Kirkman on catcalling, self-care, and finding inspiration in Matthew McConaughey

Robyn von Swank

Robyn von Swank

Comedian Jen Kirkman perseveres -- through misogyny, through political upset, through breakups -- and transforms the ugly, awkward stuff of life into her incisively funny and empowering standup act. But Kirkman isn’t a one-trick pony; she’s also written two best-selling memoirs, worked behind the scenes on Chelsea Lately, and travels the world for business and pleasure. On Thursday, she returns to Minneapolis with all-new material that’s sure to incite laughter, a sense of kinship, and maybe even motivate you to become a better person -- and that’s not something many comedians can cop to.

The Cedar Cultural Center

We asked her about self-care, catcalling, and the “C” word ahead of her show at the Woman’s Club.

City Pages: We last interviewed you pre-presidential election. How did you react to the outcome?

Jen Kirkman: The night of the election, I just turned off the TV. I couldn’t watch. I still haven’t watched Hillary’s concession speech. I was just numb. I was depressed for months. It’s part of some of the stories I’m going to be telling when I come to Minneapolis. I want to warn people there will be talk of Trump but it’s not going to be too triggering. I don’t talk about whatever insane thing he did that day ‘cause there’s no time to think of anything funny about it. I think it’s been cathartic for audiences and me to bond over the weird things that we have done since the election to try and take care.

CP: What self-care strategies are you using to survive the current political climate?

JK: I was kind of prepared, because I do that kind of stuff anyway... Obviously, as a white woman, I do not have it so bad in America. I cannot sit around acting anxious and panicking, because it’s up to me -- and other people with my privilege -- to help. I think it’s highly selfish to sit around and be like, “I’m so depressed about this. I’m so depressed about that.” I got depressed and I moved on. However I feel on any given day, it cannot get in the way of how I need to be part of the culture of helping out.

CP: The name of your most recent comedy special is Just Keep Livin’? It’s not just a title, it’s also a philosophy. Explain that.

JK: Basically, Matthew McConaughey has a personal mantra which is: Just keep livin.’ I used to work on Chelsea Lately, and in the writers’ room, people were making fun of his oversimplified philosophy. And I was like, “You guys. He really means it. Don’t be dicks.” People started teasing me like, “Oh, you’re J.K. Livin’” because of my initials. It became the name of my life now – good luck and a lot of self-care is “J.K. Livin.’”

It’s a weird thing that I was inspired by, and I thought JKL was funny so I tattooed it on my ankle. It’s my first tattoo and the only tattoo I have. Even though it’s really stupid, it’s kind of served as a reminder to me on a bigger philosophical level that you can change your mind about who you think you are at any time.

CP: One of the issues you address in your act is catcalling. Do you have any suggestions for how women should respond when it happens to them?

JK: The other day, in an Uber, this guy was like, “You smell good.” It was even creepier because I didn’t have perfume on. I had headphones on and I was texting. I go, “I don’t know.” He goes, “I smelled you the minute you came up to the car.” I go, “Uh-huh.” And I let him sit in the silence and hear in the replay in his head the ridiculous thing he just said to someone.

I don’t think we should ignore it. I think it should be very clear we heard it and chose to keep walking because we weren’t looking to be stopped and interrupted with this foolish person’s opinion of us. If you feel safe, I think I would say, “You talk to men this way?” and let them deal with that.

CP: You’ve received death threats because of things you’ve tweeted in the past. How do you handle that? Do you ever get afraid?

JK: Not really. Like, a guy that shoots a bunch of people probably had an online manifesto that went unnoticed for a while and then you connect the two dots. So I don’t think online should be treated as, “Oh, people say stupid things but they don’t mean it.” I just assume that if I ever get violently attacked or killed on the road, it won’t be from someone who told me in advance.

CP: How do you feel about the word “cunt”? You’ve used it in a controversial tweet before [about the Irish] and I imagine you’ve been called that as well.

JK: I love the word. I was just recording my podcast and I was using the word a lot. I don’t necessarily think I should look someone in the eye and call them one but I like to jokingly refer to myself as one if I’m being cranky. I like to use it gender-neutrally. There’s a wonderful feminist book, called Cunt, in defense of the word. I think it’s a British word that we appropriated. In comedy, we get obsessed with sounds. It’s like “fuck.” It’s strong, sharp. But someone going, “That guy’s crying like a pussy” offends me more, because it’s a judgement on something that’s supposed to be feminine as being weak.

CP: You’ve done a lot of solo traveling. What tips do you have for women traveling alone?

JK: If you’re traveling and you ask a guy, “Hey, is this neighborhood safe?” don’t necessarily listen to his answer, because he’s going to have a different perspective. Google “Is this a dangerous area for women?” Google it up.

When traveling alone, just bring a book. Try to not look at your phone when you’re sitting alone at a restaurant. My favorite thing to do is go to a restaurant when it’s not crowded. I go at 5 o’clock right when it opens. I take a seat at the bar and I eat. You can end up talking to the bartender or the local staff and not feel lonely as opposed to you going at 8 and it’s crowded and you’re getting pushed aside.

Also, don’t be afraid to do it. It’s the most fun thing. Once you involve people, you involve their schedules, their tastes, and you’re going to miss out on half of the things you really want to do. And realize most of the people traveling are traveling by themselves, too.


Jen Kirkman's All New Material, Girl Tour
Woman’s Club of Minneapolis
7 p.m. Thursday, October 5
$22-$25; more info here