Jen Kirkman Is at the Top of Her Game in OK, Gen-XImage courtesy of Shark Party Media Comedy Reviews
Jen Kirkman kicks off her new comedy album OK, Gen-X with a period joke that gets derailed halfway through. She uses inclusive language to refer to people who menstruate, and during the bit calls out Dave Chappelle’s transphobia as well as Netflix’s tolerance of his shitty views. As the moment unfolds, she riffs on the audience’s reaction, as well as her own, in a move that shows just what an absolute pro she is. Kirkman is in command of the room (Union Hall in December 2021, pre-Omicron) for the entirety of the show, her captivating presence extending to wherever fans at home are listening in from. This is a comedian at the top of her game.
Her first five minutes contains another dig at Netflix, taking shot at their willingness to let sexual assaulters go on apology tours via the streaming platform. Kirkman has two Netflix comedy specials to her name, but according to a press release for OK, Gen-X, studio execs claimed that “men in America would not laugh at her jokes.” This album is in some ways a rebuttal, not just because she fits in jokes at Netflix’s expense, but because the best revenge is just how hilarious Kirkman is throughout the record.
Of course, OK, Gen-X is more than a middle finger to The Streaming Man (but how very Gen-X of her, right?). Kirkman explores a number of topics, from sexism, to smoking indoors, to the idiosyncrasies of cultural Catholicism (punctuated by her hilarious impression of her mother’s Boston accent). Many of these subjects are familiar fodder for comedians, but Kirkman’s focus on her own personal experiences, impeccable timing, and masterful joke construction keep anything from feeling tired. I plan on educating my guy friends about her wonderful game show “Would two cis het guys say this to each other?” when they don’t recognize sexism in the wild.
Kirkman’s best moments during the album focus on her generation, Gen-Xers (people aged 41 to 56, according to the Pew Research Center), and how they’ve been wrongly maligned by Zoomers and younger Millennials. But her bits don’t come from a place of bitterness or condescension towards those who deem her rich or old or a slacker merely because she’s over 40. Sure, she might joke about a 20-something not knowing about car cigarette lighters (a personal highlight for me), but ultimately she wants camaraderie between all of us who’ve been fucked over by Boomers.
Kirkman also takes an opportunity to discuss an encounter with Louis C.K. that dogged her for a large part of her career. While she wasn’t one of the women C.K. masturbated in front of, he did ask if he could jerk off in her presence. In the past, Kirkman’s received rape threats for merely saying that an unnamed male comedian’s unseemly reputation kept her from working with him (and Internet sleuths subsequently pieced together that it was C.K.). She’s so incredibly brave for including this bit in her set, but doubtless she’s fed up after years of receiving hate from both C.K.’s defenders and people claiming she should’ve spoken up earlier (the latter of whom entirely miss the point). Besides finally getting to tell her story, Kirkman also crafts brilliant jokes around this horrible moment because she is just that good of a comedian.
And that’s the best thing about OK, Gen-X. Kirkman makes her opinions clear on misogyny, various comedians’ reprehensible behavior, and other subjects, but most importantly, she’s funny. So many comics, Chappelle included, air heinous views about other people without so much as even trying to make actual jokes (not that that would excuse discriminatory views, of course). They think that merely by being onstage they can say whatever they like (or, as Whitney Cummings would say, “be irreverent and dangerous…take you through a spooky mental haunted house so you can arrive at your own conclusions”). But being in front of a mic doesn’t give you license to be an asshole; it gives you the opportunity to prove you’re funny. And Kirkman does that in spades.
Kirkman mentions multiple times throughout the record that she’s quitting comedy. Thankfully, she’s not disappearing from the limelight altogether; it sounds like she’s retiring from touring, but will continue to run her podcasts Anxiety Bites and No Fun with Jen Kirkman, as well as write comedy in other capacities (she’s a co-producer for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). And thank god (or the Virgin Mary, as Kirkman’s mother would) for that, because Kirkman’s talent is undeniable in OK, Gen-X.
OK, Gen-X is available here on March 25.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.