jen kirkman

Comedian Jen Kirkman brings her personal-meets-political comedy to the women of Oklahoma City
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK

Jen Kirkman is a “feelings comedian.”

The New York Times best-selling author, television writer and stand-up performer’s signature comedy style highlights the absurdity of her personal experiences, from street harassment and solo travel to menstruation and marriage. Kirkman, who calls herself a “flaming liberal feminist,” also has found comedic respite in modern American politics, including election night sadness and the so-called Bernie Bros.

A sample joke from her Netflix special, release in January and titled “Just Keep Livin’?” illustrates the personal-meets-political bent she’s perfected in her two-decade career: “I don’t have time to be afraid of ISIS. I’m just busy being afraid of plain old men.”

To that end, Kirkman is performing a comedy show for a female-only audience (trans-inclusive) in Oklahoma City, to benefit Planned Parenthood’s Central Oklahoma City Clinic. In Kirkman’s words about the show, “87% of women have reported being sexually harassed … in real life and online. I want to provide a safe space for women to laugh loudly, speak freely and feel safe — and a space where I can see what it’s like after 20 years to perform to a roomful of people that have similar experiences just being on planet Earth in our bodies.”

I spoke with Kirkman at length about the show, her material, social media and the wisdom of Matthew McConaughey.

Q: How did the idea to do a show benefiting Planned Parenthood’s Central Oklahoma City Clinic come about?

Jen Kirkman: Obviously in areas like San Francisco and New York, I think there’s better access to programs like Planned Parenthood and probably people doing things for them all the time, so I wanted to find somewhere it seemed like they needed the support.

Q: This is the only all-female audience show you’ve done. Where’d that idea come from?

Kirkman: I was inspired by the “Wonder Woman” screenings and things like that, but now I sort of feel like an old lady who’s 10 steps behind as we keep growing and changing. People have been emailing me saying they’re not binary, or they’re agender, so can they come? What do I mean by women-only and trans-inclusive? What about all the other things? I’m a white, straight woman; I have privilege and blind spots. We’re all learning so fast.

 My whole point was trying to find somewhere people who have been harassed because of their gender, whether they express that subtly or overtly, can come and laugh without worrying. Not every man coming would be shouting us down or trying to hurt us, but when I taped my Netflix special last year, the women were laughing, and the men were quiet. I’ve had trouble at my shows with boys who think they know better, who think they’re feminists. I wanted to see what it felt like for everybody if they weren’t there for one night. It might be more than a show. I hope people will speak, and I’ll bring the mic around, and people can tell their #MeToo kind of stories. Honestly, a show where men come and watch that might be really informative, but that’ll be next.

Q: Americans look to their comedians as an extension of their identity politics. How do you broach that expectation?

Kirkman: Honestly, I don’t feel any expectation. It’s an interesting question, and you’re right; I can look at it as a big picture thing and see that society has an expectation. Or look at Jimmy Fallon, who doesn’t do politics, and I’m like, “Dude, why not capitalize on this time to be cool and do the right thing, or even just take an opportunity to talk about what’s on everyone’s mind?” Some people still want entertainment without politics.

I’m always preparing for my next album or special, so my material has to not be stuck in a certain period of time. In my Netflix special, I talk about street harassment and how we’re not supposed to talk about our periods. … I’ve always been sort of the personal-as-political female comedian. I talk about the generation gap, and how sad I was on election night, and I do a really silly bit about watching a Hallmark movie instead of the election results. It’s politics, but it’s really not hard-hitting. I’m a feelings comedian. I don’t want to talk about anger, but the sadness underneath it. It always comes back to me.

Q: How has being an American been different in all of your travel pre- and postelection?

Kirkman: I think people root for us because they know we’re not all terrible. In Canada, I got some booing and some guys coming up to me after shows because they love Bernie Sanders so much they didn’t want me to tell my experience. I have jokes about how his supporters harassed me and told me they were feminists; I have one about a guy who chased me into a parking garage to tell me he’s a feminist, and when I pointed out that what he was doing scares women, he said it shouldn’t because he’s one of the good ones. I was talking about aggressive male feminism that doesn’t listen to women and ironically got booed during it onstage.

Q: From a public personality’s standpoint, and someone who, when you started your career, it didn’t exist: Is social media good or bad?

Kirkman: For as much hell as social media can feel like, it’s really helpful. Is it bad to hear everyone say horrible things to me? Yes. I keep my filters on, though, and try to use it very strategically. I use it as a promotional tool, but I’m very careful now; I don’t go looking for trouble.

Also with the stuff we were talking about earlier, I get to eavesdrop and learn from people who are different than me all day long. I don’t talk to 10 people of color a day and 10 trans people or 10 gay guys, but I can on Twitter, so I can learn. Just like anything now, it’s a terrible environment for women: Whenever a new world emerges, we’re as scared as we are in a parking garage or whatever. I don’t enjoy the things everyone hates about it, but I find more positive than negative. Overall it’s evil, and also my experiences with it, at the end of the day, are mostly positive.

Q: You have a tattoo that says “JKL,” which is a reference to Matthew McConaughey’s slogan, “Just Keep Livin’.” Is that well-known? Do people know what you’re talking about?

Kirkman: No … (laughing) I think if it were more mainstream or my initials weren’t JK I probably wouldn’t have done it. It came from the writers’ room on “Chelsea Lately,” where anytime he came up, I would rush to his defense, like, “Guys, he seems really nice.” He started saying it after his dad died, and he has foundation for kids or whatever. It turned into a joke where whenever I would have a touch of good luck, like catching a flight someone else missed, my friends would say, “Oh, that’s JK livin’.” I never thought of myself as someone who had good luck, so it was sort of this moment in my life where I realized I don’t have to be who I always thought I was; I don’t have to be this sort of negative person. It’s really dumb, but it’s symbolic to me of how at any point you can change your perception of yourself. Now I think of myself as someone who’s really lucky. It means a lot to me on a weird level, and it’s technically a funny story.

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bacon jam

Bacon Jam
Written for and published in McSweeney’s Reviews of New Food.

Did you know that they make tiny slow cookers? I found this out because I am 29 and live by myself still, and I was waiting for a wedding registry to come into my life so I could get all new kitchen appliances, but then I got tired of waiting because I found out bacon jam was a thing that could exist.

It is basically like if you were going to make barbecue sauce, but then you replaced the ketchup in the recipe with bacon, and then you took out a bunch of the spices and put in more bacon. I made it today, in my tiny slow cooker, and I do not care anymore about wedding registries or family-sized kitchen appliances or finding love, because I cannot eat bacon jam on any of those things.

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an open letter to the oklahoma city thunder’s seventh man

An Open Letter to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Seventh Man
Originally submitted to McSweeney’s Open Letters. They didn’t publish it, but they did tell me they hope Nick and I live happily ever after.

Dear NBA Dreamboat of My Heart Nick Collison,

I am pretty sure that the most important things to look for when choosing your very first favorite professional athlete are not perfectly symmetrical cartoon beautiful head shape and whether or not he matches his shoes to his home and away jerseys. And when I say I am pretty sure of this, I mean that I am gleaning it from the eye rolls I receive when I talk about those things.

What I know about your college is that it is in a town very similar to mine, except yours has an Urban Outfitters. I know our team is surprisingly good and that our guys are on average too young to have publicly become bad people. That is important to me. From what I understand about basketball, you come off the bench and then large guys run into you a lot, which is a sacrifice you make for your teammates and not very glamorous but probably important. Maybe you have realized by now that I do not know a lot about sports. Don’t worry, because I do not feel like this is an obstacle for us.
Here is the thing, Nick: You are 31 years old, and I am 29 years old, and according to my mom, we are both “not getting any younger” (though I admit she has not said that about you specifically).

When I live tweet your sweet playoff dunks and nod knowingly when people ask if I saw your “screen” just then, it is because I love you. And when I try not to drop the f-bomb when my friends send me text messages that say you are at the same restaurant they are, it is because I am sure that it will happen for us, someday, and I need to play it cool for now.

You are the only Thunder player who does not tell me (us) on the Internet to “have a blessed day” and you also probably like the same things as me, which I can tell because you are so funny in your blog and so am I, and also you have the same taste in restaurants as everyone I know.

When my dad rolled his eyes and told me that the Spurs would knock your team out of the Playoffs, I pledged to disown him in a way that was much more dramatic than was probably necessary, but it was my birthday when he said it, and also it hurt my feelings.

Up-close basketball tickets are apparently very expensive, so I have not gotten a chance to express my feelings in person yet, but I feel confident that our time is coming. And when we hit it off, and I introduce you to my parents, my tiny Korean mom will be so excited that you are the tallest person in the world and also gainfully employed. (Head’s up: She will probably wish that you played tennis instead of basketball, but don’t worry. Sorry in advance, but if you know any other Korean moms then you know that this is totally normal.)

I don’t want to put a time limit on our potential love, but there are only so many times I can start a “COL-LI-SON!” chant in a bar before I am asked to leave because the game hasn’t started yet and also because the Thunder isn’t playing.

I think that you live here now, and all the free time you’ll have in the off season means it’ll happen soon, us meeting (and subsequently falling in so much love). You like pizza, and I also like pizza, and maybe we will want to eat pizza at the same time. Maybe you will order something weird on your pizza like jalapenos, and I will order jalapenos at the next table, and we will lock eyes and smile. And I will tell you how much I liked that one screen you had during that one game and offer up all of the hilarious nicknames I’ve given your teammates.

And eventually, you will tell me that you like my perfect head shape and notice that shoes match my outfit.

Yours,
Becky Carman

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dana carvey

‘Special’ performance
for Oklahoma Gazette

A scheduling snafu on the interview meant I received (and kept, of course) a long, charming, rambling voicemail from Mr. Carvey’s cell phone, explaining he’d had trouble operating his technology in Canada and hoping I’d call him back. I did. To date, the most surreal interview I’ve ever done. He’s eager to please, did many of his famous impressions on the phone for me, and told me I’m funny, that I made him laugh.

Although he’s known for characters like The Church Lady and “Wayne’s World”’s Garth, there’s one moment in Dana Carvey’s career that cemented his future: “My first 200 shows or so I did for free, but for one gig, I got $50. I said, ‘This is it. Fifty bucks.’ I felt incredibly rich.”

Foregoing his backup plans and those of his parents — waiter and typist, respectively — Carvey says he “rode the wave” of the exploding comedy scene in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

“By the time I got on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ there were 10,000 comedy clubs. When I was in college, there were none,” he said. “I was performing at music venues and places with people heckling me and ignoring me.”

After joining the cast of “SNL” in 1986 — a sure sign at that time, according to Carvey, that you’d made it as a comedian — he found an immediate hit with his pious Church Lady bit.

“My very first show, I did ‘Church Chat,’ and it barely got on,” he said. “It was the last sketch before the goodnight, but it killed. There were a lot of religious scandals back then; that was the first thing to hit for me.”

The 1986-87 season was the show’s 12th, but the show faced cancellation for the first time in its history.

“We had to dig our way out,” Carvey said, “but we had Phil Hartman and Mike Myers, then Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz, Adam Sandler … this hybrid cast from 1990- 93 was kind of a peak. I also think the current cast is brilliant, though I was on the last phase of the show before the Internet and cable were really everywhere. It meant a lot to be on NBC on Saturday night.”

After his departure from “SNL,” ABC aired a mere seven episodes of “The Dana Carvey Show” before pulling it, reportedly due in part to family-unfriendly material. The cast included future comic superstars Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Louis C.K., among others.

For comedians now, Carvey said, “It’s easier to kind of break in a lesser way. There are young people on YouTube making a hundred grand a year doing videos from home. It’s easier to be in the business and make it to the middle level, but to make it to the top is always hard.”

For now, he will continue to do things the old-fashioned way: stand-up in cities across the globe. Despite his affection for the region — “I love the Sooners. I love Oklahoma. I could live there!” — Carvey’s visits have been infrequent. He makes amends Friday, with a performance at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville.

Expect plenty of new stand-up fodder, like this sample gem: “There are rules when you talk about your friend’s wife. You can’t say, ‘My wife’s kinda moody, but Barbara’s a bitch.’ That’s against the rules.”

And don’t worry: The show will include plenty of political ribbing from both sides of the fence.

“Most places, making fun of the far right is fun, but the real challenge  is finding leverage to also make fun of the left. It’s very challenging to satirize Obama; there’s a lot of sensitivity. I like to play both sides. I’m a radical moderate … a social liberal with a dollop of Karl Marx and a spoonful of Ron Paul. I don’t belong to a party. I don’t want to have to call someone up and ask what my opinion is. I’m an Americanist.”

Well. Isn’t that special?

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margaret cho

Margaret Cho stages stand-up with songs that aren’t a joke
for Oklahoma Gazette

It must bear some semblance to torture, when your profession and passion require being raunchy, opinionated, provocative and in all other ways outspoken, and something tries to stifle your voice. It is just like Margaret Cho, however, to roll with the punches.

Chances are you’ve heard of Cho, who, early in her comedy career, garnered support from such television stalwarts as Bob Hope and Arsenio Hall. She’s an award-winning artist with successful standup tours, essay collections, movies, television and all other manner of performance under her belt, and her trademark is her comedic, though often gritty, bent on the happenings of her life. Cho is a walking taboo, famous for speaking openly about everything from race to body image to sexuality.

A first-generation American with two Korean parents, Cho’s devil-may-care forthrightness is especially alarming, given her cultural background, though being raised in San Francisco during the ‘70s may have something to do with that. Regardless, her parents’ initial resistance to her line of work was merely the first of many hurdles over which Cho has leapt in her 25-year career.

“They hated it,” Cho said in a September 1 e-mail interview, “but then they saw my success, and it was so overwhelming, they were forced to change their minds. I know that they are way into what I do now, but they really hated it and practically disowned me.”

While Cho is probably most recognizable from her starring role in the 1994 ABC sitcom “The All-American Girl,” Cho’s 2000 standup show, “I’m the One That I Want,” shared in gruesome detail the effects of network pressure on Cho as the first Asian primetime sitcom star, from being warned against being “too ethnic” to having to lose weight in order to play herself.

Cho’s activism is deeply-rooted in her comedy. A staunch advocate of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, she speaks frequently about her own hetero- and homosexual relationships and has been in a less-than-traditional marriage to (male) artist Al Ridenour since 2003. The bottom line, according to Cho, is to be who you are.

“It’s true. I want to have sex with everyone all the time,” Cho said. “That’s my choice, and it’s also how I was born. Why is it a problem?”

More recently, Cho’s exploits included a stint on Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ tour, a celebration in support of GLBT rights; and the Lifetime network’s “Drop Dead Diva,” chronicling the life of a model reincarnated in the body of an overweight woman – a seemingly peculiar choice, considering Cho’s previous series experience.

“I fell in love with the show’s creator, Josh Berman,” Cho said. “I loved the script and felt so moved by the story I had to be involved in it; there was no question. Given my history, I am very careful about what I accept in terms of television, but I love this show.”

For the moment, Cho’s focus is shifting to music, and she has an album in production slated for release in the near future. And if you’re skeptical, this comedy record is no joke –tentatively titled “Guitarded,” the album includes collaborations with such artists as Andrew Bird, Jon Brion and Patty Griffin.

“My project was comedy plus serious music, so I put together the most serious musicians I know,” Cho said. “It’s going to be an amazing record. I am such a fan of all of these people, and they did such a beautiful job with the music. The lyrics are funny, too. I’ve spent the last year learning guitar and banjo and am now able to play decently. I’m not trying to change, I’m still a comic. I’m just trying something different.”

Before embarking on her current nationwide tour, which focuses on her music, however, the unthinkable happened: Cho’s voice was silenced, literally, when nodes on her vocal chords resulted in doctor’s orders not to speak or sing. At all.

“I lost my voice and had to do the first part of the tour with no voice at all,” Cho said. “Some of the things I had to do were so surprisingly good that I’m keeping them. It’s a work in progress depending on the status of my voice, but it’s great that I can do a great show without opening my mouth at all. I think that’s very impressive.”

Cho has been recruiting the text-to-voice function on her computer, as well as bringing along friends and celebrity guests to be her voice for each performance. According to her blog, Cho’s improvised shows are going well. Good news, though, as Cho’s voice is currently on the mend, though Cho insists there’s little missing from the performance.

“My voice is doing better, but I’m still doing the shows silently,” Cho said. “My initial reaction to the diagnosis was, ‘Um, no, this is not happening.’ It was a Monday, and I had to do a show in Los Angeles that Thursday. Jon Brion suggested I still do the show and said he’d sing my songs and read my material. We went ahead and did the show, and it was tremendous. I found I could work around being silent, and it’s helped me be even more creative in the development of the show.”

A good lesson in overcoming not just adversity, but continually thwarting the people – or medical diagnoses – that try to keep her down, Cho is living her lifelong dream and plans to continue doing just that, regardless of what life or politics throws her way.

“I just wanted to do comedy, and I didn’t care where it would lead, because it was exactly what I wanted to do,” Cho said. “I knew I was a comic inside, and that I would do this my entire life. I didn’t have goals other than to do comedy every night. That’s what I did, and it all turned out okay.”

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let’s go outback tonight

Let’s Go Outback Tonight
Written after a particularly traumatic restaurant outing.

I like to tell people the truth—that I was born in South Korea, to a military man and a farmer’s daughter. The exoticism of that intentionally-partial reality tends to cloud certain details: that I have spent most of my life in the U.S., that I wear my shoes in the house, that I don’t speak a lick of Korean, that I am 5’ 8”.

My mom and I visited her side of the family in Songtan and Seoul in the fall of 2006, for the first time in 18 years. For me, the experience was largely exciting, disconcerting in an entirely different way than for my mom, whose relatively-new American way of life had weaned her from all Korean familiarity. That is to say, what was once her everyday way of life had been nudged into history by AMERICA!, so she had to battle with the loss of her history versus the comforts of her new life versus the way her family lives, blah blah.

But this isn’t a story about loss. It is a story about cultural confusion and, more than that, embarrassment.

On the maternal side, I have one uncle who speaks English. I gather he is some sort of international businessman; I have no evidence of this save for a business card that says “Johnny Lee”; it is common for Korean people with difficult-to- pronounce Korean names to adopt typical American names to make life easier for everyone. Uncle “Johnny” (known to me as Samchoon my entire life) really wanted me to feel at home, offering me assorted alcoholic beverages and offering to buy everything I glanced at sidelong. Samchoon decided to take us out for dinner, and in a fairly questionable fit of hospitality, suggested Outback Steakhouse in Seoul.

I’d already No Reservations-ed a few times, ducking into back alley restaurants, sitting on upside-down buckets and eating spicy soups of God-knows- what, and that’s fine, because it’s all part of the experience and a facet I genuinely enjoyed. But it had been about ten days at this point, and even if only for one meal, I was ready to eat with a goddamned fork.

Samchoon triple-parked (something he did with alarming frequency) and ran in, only to find the wait was unbearably long. Naturally, we parked the car and walked two doors down, in the same building, to another Outback, this time only to be seated immediately. The menu was basic, with new names for the same items I imagine are on the menu stateside. I decided on a pasta dish, and my mom ordered something similar.

While stirring my Coke (which came half-full with no ice and was refilled at no point during the meal), I tuned out the Korean conversation happening next to me and people watched. Even at home, I’m a little obsessed with hip-looking, young, Asian couples, and at the booth next to us, one such pair was sharing a huge salad and plate of ribs. Adorable.

The waitress brought our food, and I immediately began inhaling my Queensland shrimp and noodles, or whatever it was called, and my mom did the same. Several minutes and half a plate of pasta later, I looked up from my gluttony long enough to realize that my extended family was dishing out a little of this, a little of that from everyone’s entrées. I glanced, panicking internally, at every other table in the restaurant. Sure enough, those humongous American-Australian portions make sense to Korean people only in the context of sharing. That is to say,

IF YOU ARE GOING TO ORDER A THREE-POUND ENTRÉE, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO SHARE IT.

…COW.

I could feel my cheeks burning, and my mom had come to the same realization at roughly the same time I had. Heads bowed in shame, we finished our meals in mutual embarrassment, silently begging for forgiveness from our tiny Korean dining partners.

After the meal, my aunt, mom and I stopped at the restrooms, where I was confronted with my ultimate Asian vacation nightmare: the bidet. The idea of the thing has always given me the heebie jeebies. I am by no means electronically-inept, but this thing has so many buttons. So many. And not a single letter of English to be found. I did what any tourist lacking in confidence would do and held it until I was sure I knew how to flush. I pressed a button that, to me, looked like water going down the drain, and threw myself flat against the stall partition when a surprisingly powerful stream of water shot out of the bowl. Ducking, I inched out of the stall and slammed the door shut, only to see the water pooling on the floor.

Seconds later, I heard my mom yell, “Becky! What’s ‘BEE-DAY?’, followed by a blood-curdling scream and then my mom, shirt soaked through, emerged from her stall. She had to borrow my aunt’s jacket to leave the restaurant.

Let this be a hard lesson for Americans about exploring new cultures. To paraphrase, ‘tis a far better thing to justifiably embarrass yourself in an unfamiliar place than to accidentally bidet your shirt in an Outback.

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