Comedian Jen Kirkman attracted attention from the blogosphere — first Death and Taxes, then Jezebel — for posting and subsequently deleting an episode of her podcast I Seem Fun in which she describes declining to go on tour with a “very famous comic” and “known perv… because I knew if I did, I’d be getting more of the same weird treatment I’d been getting from him.” At the time, it seemed fairly obvious she was talking about Louis C.K.; she references the comedian’s habit of releasing “new material every year” and describes him as “basically a French filmmaker,” which many interpreted as a reference to C.K.’s critically lauded series Louie.
Kirkman hadn’t elaborated on either her comments or her decision to take down the episode since — until Friday, when she spoke with comedian and @midnight host Chris Hardwick on his popular podcast The Nerdist. After the two discuss Kirkman’s aversion to small talk and sexism in the comedy world more generally, the stand-up, whose hourlong special I’m Gonna Die Alone (and I Feel Fine) is available on Netflix, discusses her experiences with both the comedy superstar — who she still declines to name, though she admits “it’s kind of obvious who I was talking about,” and sharing her story publicly in greater detail.
At the time, Kirkman’s story was immediately linked to other allegations about C.K. previously published by Jezebel’s sibling sites Defamer and Gawker. In 2012, Gawker ran a blind item titled “Which Beloved Comedian Likes to Force Female Comics to Watch Him Jerk Off?” that is widely assumed to be about C.K., and a few weeks after Kirkman posted the podcast episode in question, Defamer ran a story alleging that C.K. called up a disappointed fan to discuss similar rumors. While impossible to verify, the story was enough to inspire some soul-searching from dedicated C.K. fans, including some who write for this very site.
Kirkman is adamant that she had no intention of co-signing these allegations, and that her podcast was meant to speak to her experience and her experience only. The media “added all these other rumors,” she said, “so it sounded like the rumors of this guy were things I said he did.” So what exactly had happened to make Kirkman reluctant to tour with this comedian, and why did she talk about it publicly in the first place?
About ten years ago, Kirkman explained, “a male comic… said something kind of creepy to me. In no way physically violated my space, I did not see his body parts, he did not corner me, it was just a couple creepy incidents.” Kirkman didn’t feel threatened so much as “annoyed,” describing the encounter as the breach of trust women often have to deal with from male colleagues and friends:
There are certain things where you’re hanging out with someone and then you’re like ‘Oh, shoot. They’re gonna creep on me for a second.’ And then as a woman you can go, ‘Hey. No.’ And then they’re like ‘Sorry,’ and you’re like ‘Okay, bummer, you creep me out.’ But then I have to take into consideration, ‘Do I want to go on tour with this person?’ Probably not. Are they gonna rape me? God, no. I just don’t wanna have to deal with, you know, you have a drink after the show — ‘Hey, do you want to make out?’ ‘No!’ Like a puppy dog. Get away, no. I just don’t want to have to do that all the time. Sometimes being a woman is an extra thought in your day, like, ‘Do I need a sweater?’ That’s it.
The question of why Kirkman brought up the encounter a full decade later brings the stand-up to another thorn in the side of female comedians: constantly getting questions about what it’s like to be a woman in the industry instead of their work. This spring, Kirkman was on tour in Australia, where she was frequently asked just that — in addition to getting reviews dismissing her as a “dirty comic,” a critique that gets leveled at women much more often than men. (Exhibit A: Johnny Carson, who once said female stand-ups “sometimes are a little aggressive for my taste… I’ll take it from a guy, but from women, sometimes, it just doesn’t fit too well.”)
“I decided to just talk about it on my podcast,” Kirkman said. “Here’s what it’s really like to be a woman in comedy: you have friends, and sometimes they’re creepy, and they’re really successful.” Her point was about the small, subtle burdens placed on women in the industry, not to target a single perpetrator: “That’s what I was trying to explain. It’s not always like, ‘I’m uncomfortable.'”
Kirkman also mentions that she and the male comic discussed the incident “months ago”:
That person, on their own, was like, ‘Yeah, I was kind of a creep.’ I was like, ‘You are a creep. That’s who you are! And God bless you. That was something that was staying in me for a while, and I was having resentment about other things. So I talked about you on my podcast, because I was just in a resentful mood, and I was just like, bleh, sometimes people are creepy’ So we talked, and that was it. I’m fine, because I was never violated. Never! It didn’t cost me any career stuff, I was never violated, I was just bummed. It’s one less person that I trust. That’s it!
Finally, Kirkman stresses that she didn’t keep the story private or take down her podcast because she was afraid of the repercussions: “People always ask me questions about him in the press. I’m not going to say anything about him because it would ruin my career! Now, what I meant by ruin my career is, if I have only so much space in a small press article, and that’s what I talk about…”
“They’re gonna pick the dramatic angle rather than talk about you as a performer,” Hardwick replies.
So while Kirkman’s story isn’t the exposé or rumor confirmation some took it to be, it’s still relevant to understanding the obstacles women face in comedy that their male peers don’t: wariness of material that’s par for the course in men’s acts, low-key sexual harassment, and the choice between staying silent or being identified with their cause instead of their work. Kirkman’s interview is available in full here; the discussion of her podcast episode starts at approximately 54:00.