If you’re familiar with Jen Kirkman’s stand-up, or have had the misfortune of running afoul of her on Twitter, you know that she’s one of the most outspoken comedians working today, that she’s unapologetic about her feminism, and she’s not particularly concerned with any discomfort this may cause her male fans. That mind-set is in full force in her Netflix special, Just Keep Livin’?, where she speaks frankly about topics like menstruation, sex education, abortion, and street harassment. Chances are, if Kirkman’s feminist material hasn’t connected with you before, your mind won’t be changed now. But for longtime fans, this special offers more of the good stuff.
Before delving into the heavier material, Kirkman tells a story about her failed attempt to start meditating. It’s a relatable story: Meditating seems like a good idea until you start actually doing it, at which point, it reveals itself to be mind-numbingly boring. The heart of the bit, however, involves Kirkman actually getting five minutes of meditation in, then getting distracted at a stop light when she focuses on what the color green really means. This leads to a road-rage encounter where she has to tell a white lie about her mom dying, and things only get worse from there. Kirkman’s stage presence is what allows this bit to thrive. She is quite an illustrative storyteller, and it’s easy to feel like we’re in the car, watching her scream about how she meditated this morning.
For anyone wondering about the title of the special, it came from a tattoo that Kirkman got on her ankle that reads “JKL,” an abbreviation for the Matthew McConaughey catchphrase popularized by Dazed And Confused. This information follows the perhaps more meaningful story of her friend’s tattoo of a quote from her grandfather, who was a Holocaust survivor. The idea here seems to be that not everyone is going to have the most emotionally resonant reason for getting a tattoo, but that’s no reason not to do what you want.
Though Kirkman has a knack for lighthearted storytelling, the special eventually starts touching on the more serious topics, with the comedian’s feminism appearing at the forefront. She tells the story of taking a two-day trip to Italy while on tour doing stand-up in London. When she tells her friends that her boyfriend won’t be coming with her, they react with unnecessary concern, but that’s not the truly troubling part; that would involve Kirkman’s private Italian tour guide, who insists on harping on why she came alone. Perhaps most insultingly, he says that her life doesn’t seem interesting enough for her to have a stand-up career telling people about it. Again, Kirkman’s narration is what makes this work. The audience is able to understand both her frustration at the tour guide’s dated attitudes, as well as her uncertainty about what might happen next. A later bit about how her Catholic education led to a younger Kirkman having a limited knowledge about sex further illustrates her honesty, and her ability to be self-deprecating while also mocking the idiotic systems she has to encounter. It makes for one of the strongest parts of the special. She paints an easily identifiable portrait of someone who is caught between wanting to know more about sex but faced with a world that wants her to know less.
After getting in a few jabs at male feminists, Kirkman concludes Just Keep Livin’? by addressing street harassment. Specifically, she recounts a conversation with a less-than-enlightened male friend who doesn’t see what’s so bad about yelling “Nice tits!” from his car. Her attempts to explain why this behavior is wrong falls on deaf ears, but she ends with an almost-pleasant story of a man who confronts her from his car to see if he can “say something really creepy.” She fears for the worst, but it turns out all he wants to do is compliment her boots and ask if they felt comfortable. Still a bit creepy, but not as menacing as one might have thought. Perhaps Kirkman’s feminist message is best captured by how adeptly she forces the audience to put themselves in those boots.
Just Keep Livin’? touches on uncomfortable topics, and tells us exactly how Kirkman feels about them without coming off as preachy. Ironically, it’s her knack for self-deprecation that makes it feel so satisfying when she tackles the most insidious elements of society. That, along with her strong narration, make Kirkman’s comedy, as well as her politics, quite easy to engage with.