When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I read every men's magazine I could get my hands on: Maxim, FHM, Stuff, Playboy, whatever. But, because I wanted to see how the other half lived, I also read Cosmopolitan. Some of it I didn't (and probably still don't) completely understand, but it was full of invaluable information, shedding light on how the ever-mysterious feminine persuasion thinks and what they might expect.
These days, I tend to be more informed about the contemporary female experience by comedians. Like Tig Notaro, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, and Iliza Shlesinger, Jen Kirkman has taught me a lot about what it's like to be a woman through her work. I've listened to Kirkman's albums, 2006's Self Help and 2011's Hail to the Freaks, and watched her first Netflix comedy special, 2015's I'm Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine), and I have learned something from each one. Any guy who has any questions about the menstrual cycle or wants to know the best way to compliment a woman in public should consult her 2017 Netflix special, Just Keep Livin'?
Yet, however informative, Kirkman's material is not overly political, preachy or pretentious. She keeps the vibe on common ground, while taking her own stances. She talks about her period in greater detail than you are likely to find in any American school's sex education curriculum, but she's not a gross-out comic. She outlines the ongoing taboos and unfairness generally afforded to women in this world without always filling in every blank, but she's not just a political comic. She keeps it relatable, but doesn't pander. She walks a line that few can.
I'm Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine) drew much of its heavy vibe from her then-recent divorce. The sense that she was working to cope with it seemed clear. Just Keep Livin'? sees her moving on and living strong, channelling her inner Matthew McConaughey. As ever, her highstrung energy propels her champion rants. She's a captivating storyteller, playing in darkness as much as the light. She goes as far as relaying suicide and Holocaust stories, yet still maintains a spark of level-headed joy and, ultimately, survival.
That said, the special's ending does seem a bit tacked on and incongruous. While her performance sets a tone of building confidence throughout, the outro skit contrasts this feeling with some awkward bumbling involving her parents that comes off a little too much like a throwaway bit. She didn't need that gimmick. Her substance is all there in her performance, and she's got plenty of it. Check out Just Keep Livin'?, and laugh while you learn.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here. (Netflix)