Jen Kirkman on Trump, Twitter, and her future as a sex-ed teacher

Jen Kirkman on Trump, Twitter, and her future as a sex-ed teacher

Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

Jen Kirkman is no stranger to Netflix. Her last stand-up special, Jen Kirkman: I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), premiered there in 2015. Now she’s back with another, Jen Kirkman: Just Keep Livin’?, which is available now on the streaming service. A polished hour that finds Kirkman waxing rhapsodic on everything from meditation to abortion, Just Keep Livin’? also addresses the comedian’s apparent deep, abiding love for Matthew McConaughey, whose very existence inspired Kirkman’s only tattoo.

The A.V. Club talked to Kirkman about Twitter, sex-ed, and New Year’s resolutions.

The A.V. Club: Happy New Year, Jen.

Jen Kirkman: Oh, would everyone stop. It’s terrible. I refuse. But Happy New Year to you, if you insist.

AVC: Why is it terrible?

JK: I’m just not looking forward to President Trump. Everyone’s like, “2016 was so bad.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s the same shit in 2017 but with a different number.” But if that’s what comforts everyone, I’m going to let them have it.

AVC: January 20 is looming.

JK: I’m still holding out hope that something is going to happen. I don’t know what. I don’t understand why every single person in Congress isn’t standing up and going, “He’s in bed with Russia.” And then they could just lock their arms and not let him in. Or they can just make [Mitt] Romney president. And we’d be like, “All right, fine.”

AVC: “It’s better than it could be, I suppose.” If Romney had run for president and actually won we might have said, “Oh no, Mitt Romney.” But now we’re like, “He seems fair.”

JK: Exactly. That’s the same thing that is making me like George W. Bush. “He was nice. I know he was nice. He didn’t know what he was doing but he was nice.”

AVC: Did you make resolutions for the new year?

JK: I actually did this year. I won’t tell you what they are because they’re very materialistic but I made a career goals list for 2017 and it’s so funny. I have low self-esteem or something, so I put both wishes and goals. The goals were things I’m going to do anyway, because I have no choice because my job is to do stand-up comedy so I have to tour and I have to write stuff. The wishes were all things that could be goals. As in, I bet people who have achieved these things called them goals at one point. But I haven’t looked at that piece of paper since.

My birthday is in August—right before September, so I have that “back to school” feeling ingrained in me so that time of year is when I usually do personal goals or resolutions. I did buy a new piece of furniture so it’s like, “Oh, that’s something new.” But generally my goals are made in the fall.

AVC: January is a hard time to keep goals.

JK: This week is great because my special is coming out but it’s also my least favorite week because everyone else is on hyperdrive. They’re like, “Let’s do it! We’re doing our goals!” Everyone is bothering me and there’s so much hyper-intensity going on and I’m like, “It’s winter, you guys. It’s hibernating time.” Even if it’s L.A. and it’s warmer, we’re not supposed to be revving up right now. I don’t like everyone’s energy around this time of year. I’m still hibernating so I get really frustrated with other people’s goals and just stop.

AVC: You need time to do nothing. You need time to recharge because you’re already hyped up from the holidays and it’s so intense.

JK: I think March and fall are natural seasons for me to feel invigorated. Look at everything around you. Trees are dead. Everything’s sleeping. I don’t understand why people are going to the gym and stuff. Just fucking calm down.

AVC: Resolutions are inherently optimistic. You’re saying, “I’m going to do this. I know I can do this.” Are you an optimist?

JK: I am to a crazy fault. I don’t run around feeling infused with positivity, but I’ll have to be taking my last breath before I’ll admit I’m dying. So I’m either optimistic or in denial.

For me, making any kind of resolution or saying, “I’m doing this!” can only cause pain, to get very deep. Any expectation is what pain is. I just try to live a moderate life of always checking and trying to be the best person I can be and I’m in therapy and am always working on something.

Let’s say I was like, “I’m going to write a book this year,” which I’m not. Let’s just say that was it. Then it would be for the joy of writing it. It wouldn’t be like, “And it’s going to be No. 1 and I’m going to get rich and go on a book tour and own a library.” I don’t know the difference between doing what I normally do and making a resolution. And if it doesn’t happen, then I’m going to be miserable. I always try to be open to whatever the universe wants from me. There have been many times in my life where I got opportunities that I never thought would be the things that I needed, so I’m always saying, “I want to do this but whatever the universe thinks is right, I’m open.” Because otherwise it causes me so much pain if I don’t get what I want. It’s my least favorite thing.

AVC: Shifting topics, let’s talk about Donald Trump. Last year, as you know, some people walked out of an Amy Schumer show in Florida because she was shitting on the then-presidential candidate. Do you want Trump supporters at your shows, or even people you disagree with? Do you think about it?

JK: People I disagree with is fine. It really just depends. We’ve seen a kind of Trump supporter on steroids, like the hate-crime people. Those people, I don’t want to see, like anyone violent or carrying a gun or anything like that. But I won’t know if they disagree with me unless they decide to heckle.

I’ll take anyone I can get that will pay money to see me. And if there’s more of me in the world, people who think they’re good people and comedians who have a good message or whatever, then that’s great. If there’s some kind of balance there that’s good.

Let me say this. Trump is the only person that has control over what Trump does. Maybe his supporters support him but they don’t support every single thing about him. Maybe they are misguided about what it means to be friends with Russia. Maybe they come to my show and they never thought about sexism in the way that I talk about it in a joke. Then they might turn into Trump supporters who think, “Hey, I get what women are saying.” So any chance I get to have people listen that should hear me is good. I think I say things nicely and my whole goal is to be understood and that includes by people who don’t understand me.

In terms of what happened to Amy, if that happened to me I would be like, “Yes, please leave.” But I toured a lot. I started as an opening feature act touring a lot during the Bush years, like around 2007. I was touring during the Obama election—the first one with [Sarah] Palin and [John] McCain—and I talked to crowds about that and they were always split down the middle. I don’t do jokes about elections so that’s probably why it went okay for me, except for the crazy people that are hate-crime people.

AVC: You draw a lot of trolls on Twitter. How much shit are you actually getting? Is it all day, every day?

JK: It used to be. I put my filter on, though, and I only see things people I follow write now. So, I don’t even know anymore.

Sometimes I look, but even one ignorant comment can make me go, “Oh god.” My rule is if one person says it, a thousand people want to say it. That goes for compliments too. I try to balance it out in my head.

AVC: What makes it worth it for you? Why do you stay on Twitter?

JK: I think Twitter is kind of boring, to be honest. To me, it’s not even real life.

I stay on because I deserve to. I stay on it as Jen Kirkman, a person. It’s just a way for me to connect with what I know and read everything and catch all areas. It’s not totally where I go anymore to sell myself as a concept, as a comedian, because it moves too fast. I don’t think people are really breaking ground and getting new fans or anything. So, I just use it more in my personal life but obviously I’m in a business where people think that Twitter matters so I’ll be like, “Yes, I will tweet out this show.” But it is something that me, the human, uses.

It certainly doesn’t hurt me. I’m not in any pain over any of the things I see. I’m just more disappointed.

I want to be one of those cool people that’s like, “What is Twitter?” and just be totally blind to it.

AVC: Twitter definitely contributes to this media buzz around us. It’s hard to know what’s important anymore.

JK: I have a new rule where I only follow fashion people on Instagram. You never know anymore if you’ll see something you don’t want to see, if you’re jealous of something, if you’re going through a breakup and you see something, so I just don’t even look at those things any more.

I log out of Twitter on my computer so I have to log in and then I log back out. I don’t like news channels so I have six websites that I check and I get the daily update. I try to minimize the noise, and I don’t use Facebook except for my fan page, and I don’t look at anything. It’s getting a lot easier. I don’t have that addictive, “What’s going on?” feeling anymore, thank god.

AVC: In your special, you talk about meditating. Logging out of social media could certainly help cut down the noise in your head, in terms of successful meditation.

JK: I actually really do it and then I spend my morning reading.

Have you ever seen the stereotype of the angry yoga teacher? There are some people that are at an 11 and yoga takes them down to a nine. That’s me. It never calms me. Ever. But it certainly helps me prevent something. It never feels bad after, for sure. I’m wired to be neurotic and loud and high-strung. I’m not anxious, I’m high-strung. I just decided that’s the difference for me. I’m not like Woody Allen like, “Oh my god what’s going to happen? Ooh Ooh Oohhh.” I’m just high-strung. So I do need to do a lot of stuff.

I know everyone says they go to yoga, but I actually really go. I notice that helps me so much.

AVC: You also talk about traveling alone in the special. That can be therapeutic.

JK: Everyone traveling alone is just on their phones the whole time. I have no choice sometimes, but there’s something about being alone. When I’m alone I might not speak for 24 hours, but you’re totally seeing things. It’s a pretty cool experience. I mean, I can’t say that I’ve had many deep thoughts because I traveled alone, but it’s good to be with myself in the quiet. When you travel, people might not have the same ideas about what is interesting. I’m not really good at compromising when I travel.

AVC: I try to be, but it’s hard. And if you go with someone, when you get back, you just want to be alone. I went to Poland with my husband, and I love him, but when we got back I just thought, “One of us needs to leave the house.”

JK: “Babe, you should go to dinner.” I’ll say, “Please leave. Go anywhere else.”

There’s something grand and revolutionary still about [women] traveling alone. There are some parts of the world where you can’t.

AVC: You talk in the special about your experience with sex-ed. What was your sex-ed program like? And if you had to teach a sex-ed class to kids, what would you teach, and how would you want to do it? Would it be a week? A year? How old would the kids be?

JK: First off, I just have bits of what I remember. The first time we had it, it was sort of the stuff I talked about in the special which is like fallopian tubes and periods. And then the teacher says, “The man’s penis goes in the vagina.” I remember a guy fainted.

My mother was like, “What did they teach you?”, and I had never talked about that so I freaked out. They asked us to draw pictures of what we thought men and women look like naked and so I was like, “Get away, I’m doing my weird homework, drawing a naked man and woman.” And I can’t even draw. That’s all I remember. I have no memory.

Then I remember the next year in sixth grade, I had a teacher explain about how if you put a penis in a woman you get a baby, but we asked, “Why would you do that if you didn’t want a baby?” And then she explained, “Do you know when you have to sneeze really bad and then you do and then you feel great? That’s what an orgasm feels like and that’s why men and women do that to each other.” And we were like, “What?!” People’s minds were blown and even so, I’m sure kids had masturbated by sixth grade. I had for sure.

It was such a slow rollout for me. I just didn’t know what the hell was happening.

God, there’s teaching biology and teaching sexuality, and it’s two separate things. They mix it and make it more of a morality thing where it’s like, “A man and woman have a baby.”

My curriculum would be the whole year. It would be really slow and it would be about human anatomy. I would teach people about women’s bodies so they understand what Planned Parenthood is for. Not everyone is there to get an abortion. Your body is like a car that has needs and women’s bodies constantly need a level of care that men don’t.

I’d also talk about the period and of course all the different gender things that people might feel that they are. I’d be a terrible teacher because of what I don’t know about that.

AVC: Well, you could bring in outside speakers.

JK: Yes! I’m the queen of outside speakers. And it would be constant and it would be geared toward every level of maturity. You teach someone about fallopian tubes in grade school, and you revisit it again in seventh grade for a better understanding of that stuff. I think it’s never-ending. I don’t know why it isn’t all the time.

I just remember a creepy sex-ed teacher putting a banana on a condom and then saying, “It goes in the girl if she gets all juicy.” We didn’t even believe it. We were like, “Well, that’s weird.”

I just feel like if it’s not treated like, “We have to do this and everyone’s embarrassed,” if it was just a part of the regular curriculum, that would be good.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s my new calling?

AVC: You can teach a class to New York kids.

JK: I like kids, I guess.

AVC: Maybe if we spent more time talking with kids about sex, there were would be less sexual assault. People would understand consent, and they wouldn’t feel like they had to forcibly take it to get it.

JK: I don’t even think people really understand how you can get pregnant or when you get pregnant. I still have questions about that. There’s no harm in Googling. There are so many things we don’t know and I think it would definitely decrease unwanted pregnancies for sure, if people were aware of their bodies and when they were ovulating or whatever. I don’t fucking know. We would see our bodies not as these natural things but as machines.

Also, I’m really big on hormones. Like, you know how it’s like, “Women can’t handle things because they’re always sad. That’s estrogen.” Men brag about testosterone, which makes them completely out of control too. On the other end of things, it’s like, “Oh it was just testosterone. He got in a bar fight.” Why is that better than crying at work? I just feel like estrogen is bad hormones, and seen as shameful. Testosterone makes you completely out of control, but that’s okay.

I want to re-visit everything. We’re people and we’re so different. I think it would just be nice if it wasn’t just like, “Eww, women.” That would be a big thing for me.

Now I want to do it! I don’t have anything to do all year. I’m not on tour until September. You’ve just inspired me. I’m just going to go to schools and give inspirational speeches about our bodies. I’ll just wear flowing dresses and talk way quieter than I can.

AVC: “Let’s rap.”

JK: “It’s just your body.” Oh my god. Part of me really wants to be that.

Hey! That’s my resolution! Full circle.