Sarcasm isn’t a color most people are allowed to wear well, especially women (to be reductively gendered for just a moment). As Jen Kirkman illustrates in her new Netflix special, Just Keep Livin’?, women—more than men—are charged with being responsible for other people’s feelings. We’re supposed to care and to be careful when it comes to emotions. Being overly sarcastic, snarky and all manner of cavalier, then, potentially disrupts what the world still continues to expect of its female members.
Her stand-up doesn’t exactly hold tight to sarcasm as a subject matter, but it hangs over Just Keep Livin’? as a stylistic choice. As with her 2015 Netflix special, I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), Kirkman’s sarcastic tone peppers how she relays her wild, roundabout stories. It’s a barrier meant to keep sincerity at bay in order to shine a light on life’s bullshit. And, don’t worry, that includes Kirkman as well. A particularly ludicrous story about the inadequate sex ed class she received in high school turns into Kirkman tracking down a pregnancy book at her local library by using the card catalogue (this is pre-Internet, after all), because she was confused about the possibly fecund nature of fingerbanging. These are her gems. Kirkman shines when she trains her laser-sharp focus on the preposterous while managing to wink at her own complicity.
Where Kirkman is cranky and contemptuous about more routine experiences, she uses those weapons to call attention to issues like catcalling and the continued objectification of women. Just Keep Livin’? edges closer to proselytizing at one moment, which fits in with the way comedians—especially sharp-minded feminists—use the medium to discuss more pressing matters. Kirkman doesn’t know the exact solution to catcalling, but proposes an answer based on an experience she had one night in North Carolina when a man paid attention to something other than her body. It’s silly while being serious and gets her point across.
For all the laughs these stories convey, her special actually gets off to a slow start. A set-up about meditation takes far too long to reach the payoff, and compared to the other tales she includes in Just Keep Livin’?, it feels weak. Meandering hasn’t failed Kirkman in the past, but the opening seems disjointed, which is interesting considering I saw her perform the same joke live in 2015. The quicker pacing built into the story at the time felt closer to a fully formed narrative than the extended bit she recounts now.
Otherwise, with her latest set, Kirkman balances the style and point of view that drew me to her comedy in the first place: It’s a conversational 70 minutes brimming with biting honesty. Take, for instance, her reckoning with the term “ma’am.” She’s more than happy when someone lobs it her way since it only means she’s had a “rich and storied life.” As she pointedly says, donning a kind of verbal armor by way of outlook, “I don’t want to look like I have four roommates and shitty towels.” Preach.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance journalist specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.