Interview: Jen Kirkman on Chicago, Twitter Trolls & Finding Solace In Hallmark Movies

Jen Kirkman

Earlier this year, Jen Kirkman dropped one of the funniest stand-up hours of 2017 when her Netflix comedy special, “Just Keep Livin’?,” premiered on the streaming service. Now, she is taking her show on the road, armed with a collection of brand new jokes inspired by everything from election night to her latest birthday, to the experience of going on a silent retreat with her All New Material, Girl tour.

In advance of her Oct. 6 performance at Chicago’s Thalia Hall, Rebellious Magazine got a chance to chat with the comedian about performing in The Windy City, dealing with paid Twitter trolls, the therapeutic qualities of Hallmark Christmas films and more.

“I’m so excited to be returning to Chicago, and I love Thalia Hall,” Kirkman said. “I played there last year, and the acoustics are great. It’s really great when you have a venue where the laughs actually make it to you on stage and they don’t fly up into the rafters.”

Chicago is home to many of the best venues in the world, but what truly makes it a celebrated comedy destination is the fans. “Chicago’s such a comedy city, and fans aren’t jaded,” she said. “So, even though they’ve seen every comedian – including me 50 times – they know when a punchline is coming. They are very sophisticated, and they’re always having a great time.”

Politics isn’t a major topic of the All New Material, Girl tour. Rather than rant about the latest scandal of the day, Kirkman found inspiration in her own personal experience of living in Trump’s America. “The whole umbrella that it’s under is ‘I cannot handle this.’ I really wanted the first female president. I don’t bash Trump – it’s not about him – the show is about me. I think he would do the same thing if he were doing a show. He’d make it all about him, so we’re really no different are we,” she said with a laugh.

“My politics are always more personal, so the show is about disappointment and how I’m handling just the everyday, overall experience of waking up with a feeling of doom and stress with this president,” she said. “So, it is about what I’m doing to deal with that feeling. The chunk I do about election night is so much more about a Hallmark Christmas movie than politics.”

While her comedy isn’t steeped in politics, Kirkman often takes to Twitter to voice her opinions and question what actually occurred throughout the 2016 election. For this, she has faced an onslaught of Twitter bots, paid Russian trolls and general harassment that goes well beyond what most Americans think of when it comes to social media exchanges.

“It’s not like in the olden days when we all started out on Twitter and there’d be someone with no profile picture – we used to call them ‘eggs’ – they had no followers and no tweets and they’d just be harassing people,” Kirkman explained. “This is different. This is targeted political harassment.”

She went on to detail the extent of her harassment – primarily in the form of an assault of “you’re crazy, get help” tweets in response to criticisms of Bernie Sanders – which reached the terrifying point where emails were sent to people she was in businesses with in an attempt to get her shows cancelled. “When 500 people tweet you at the exact same time, you know that everyone didn’t just have the same thought. So you think, ‘What is insane about tweeting that I wish Bernie Sanders would unify the Democratic party,’” she said of realizing that these were paid trolls, bots or other suspicious accounts.

Kirkman has since received guidance from the intelligence community on how to deal with this problem, but she hopes that the curtain is finally being pulled back in terms of the way social media was – and still is – being manipulated. “Russia has been doing a disinformation campaign in America for years. We noticed it in the 2016 election because they’ve been doing it for so long. It’s like if you see a pregnant woman at nine months. She didn’t just get pregnant that day, the baby’s been cooking for nine months. So this has been cooking for awhile and it really showed up in the election,” she said.

“No one is paying attention to this, and I’ve been screaming about it for a year and a half. And you always look crazy when you’re on the forefront of paying attention to something,” she said. As Facebook and other platforms have begun to share data with the government in regards to Russia’s influence, misinformation campaign and ongoing harassment, Kirkman hopes that this issue will finally get widespread recognition in the collective American psyche.

So, what does Kirkman recommend as a way to reconnect with happiness and hopefulness in these troubled times? In her opinion, there is nothing quite like a Hallmark holiday movie.

“The ones that I love the most – and thankfully there’s about 20 of them a year – is those that feature a busy businesswoman who works at some vague job – that they never specify – in New York City,” she explained. “She’s always got papers and her coffee. She’s always living in New York and walking around in the snow with her jacket open, no hat, no scarf – they don’t even spring for that wardrobe – …until she meets the guy that owns the Christmas tree farm. They [Hallmark Christmas movies] are not very intersectional at all – they don’t have anyone but white, straight people in them – besides that, I find them very feminist because the women always seem to find a way to have it all.”

When asked about the 2012 Lifetime classic “The Christmas Consultant” – a personal favorite of yours truly, – Kirkman had this to say: “One of the thrills of my life, is when I worked on ‘Chelsea Lately’ and David Hasselhoff came on and he sang, ‘Rock Around the Christmas Tree.’ I got to dress up in a red holiday dress, like in a very old-timey TV show. I freeze-framed a shot of him and me, and I made it into my Christmas card one year. I feel like I should just make it my Christmas card every year because it doesn’t get better than that,” she said.

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Click here to pick up tickets to see Jen Kirkman’s All New Material, Girl tour when she performs at Thalia Hall in Chicago on Oct. 6. Her 2017 special, “Just Keep Livin’?,” is available to be streamed on Netflix.

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Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more. When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.