Vegamusicomic Jamie Kilstein: “If we weren’t changing minds I would be pretty sad”

By on August 10, 2015


Comedian and animal activist Jamie Kilstein, who recently killed at the closing night of FARM’s Animal Rights National Conference, is the co-host of Citizen Radio, a political podcast spiked with humor, and co-author of #NEWSFAIL: Climate Change, Feminism, Gun Control, and Other Fun Stuff We Talk About Because Nobody Else Will (Simon and Schuster, 2014) with co-host and co-author Allison Kilkenny, a writer for The Guardian and The Nation. As a comic, commentator, and writer, his credits include Conan O’Brien, MSNBC, FX, NPR, Keith Olbermann, Showtime, CNN, BBC, Salon, Jezebel, and Wonkette. When not palling around with terrorists, he can be seen with a guitar, working on an upcoming album.

We had a chance to chat with Jamie about his work, and his activism, and of course, his opinions.

Most of the time you’ve performed in front of mainstream audiences, sneaking vegan and animal rights material into a set that is otherwise heavy on politics and cultural commentary. What was it like for you to be in a room full of your fellow vegans and the animal rights community?

It’s great. I mean, to be honest, I’m more proud of the mainstream shows. I’m not really known in the vegan community. My goal has always been to bring new people to these events so it’s not a bunch of old white people reassuring each other we know where to get protein. But there were about 500 people who were so into it, and that makes me happy. Preaching to the choir can be important when that choir gets shit on every day, gets called preachy, while we’re the ones who have asshole uncles wave bacon in front of our face going “baaaaaaacon.” Yet we’re the preachy ones? Do you go to your meat eater friends, “toooofuuuu?” It’s fucking insane. So to be in a room full of passionate excited activists is always empowering. Makes me want to fight harder than ever.

Let’s talk about the book briefly, which is about how corporate media fails the public. I was impressed that you brought veganism into the discussion. Did you get any pushback from the publisher, like how does this exactly fit into the theme of the book?

We didn’t. I mean, she would make bacon jokes like fucking everyone does, and like every liberal press outlet we did. But she was awesome. I mean, we barged into that first meeting like maniacs, no pitch, sick of other meetings, and said – in the biggest meeting we had – “we just need these suits to get the fuck out of our way and let us write a book for vegans and feminists and progressives.” And they said, “okay,” maybe because they thought we would hold the place hostage. Liberals are in such denial, you could be at an event for climate change hosted by Noam Chomsky inside the womb of Gloria Steinem, and there would still be fucking bacon there.

In #NEWSFAIL you mention you went from vegetarian to vegan to get the girl, who is now your wife, co-host, and co-author, Allison Kilkenny. Once you got the girl, what kept you vegan? In other words, what are your primary motivations?

Ha yeah. She was like, “I’m vegan,” and I’m like, “I am too…now.” I was veg through high school and always wanted to be. I mean everyone loves animals, we aren’t fucking monsters. It’s just connecting the dots. I feel like once you learn where the food comes from it’s pretty hard to come back.

You’ve said that most of your listeners and fans aren’t vegan, but you do a great job bringing up various progressive issues around veganism: worker’s rights, immigration, climate change, etc. We all know progressives who either have a blind spot for veganism or just don’t care about these issues enough to change their animal habits. Obviously I don’t expect you to insult your audience by calling them hypocrites, but what do you think are the most effective ways to bring in feminists, leftists, environmental activists, pro-immigration activists, etc.?

Here’s what I see. I see a large group of famous people on the left, and they are full of shit. They talk about climate change, but how much they love eating meat. So anytime PETA does some sexist bullshit, some fat-shamy bullshit, anytime some rich white liberal does some racist bullshit, they see that as their excuse to bash ALL VEGANS. They are looking for the excuse, and we hand it right fucking to them. I often have to be the “not all vegans…sigh” guy. And they like me. I try to post things that are accessible and stuff. It’s funny, lots of vegan places won’t book me cause I curse, WHICH IS HOW PEOPLE TALK, and sometimes I feel like we have our little club and don’t want new people in it.

I would rather hang out with the 19-year-old street teamers from PETA 2 than be involved with the higher-ups, to be honest. How’s that for burning bridges? BAM. ALL THE BRIDGES.

It’s working, because you get feedback from Citizen Radio listeners and fans of your comedy that they’re now vegan. Is that an unexpected side bonus of the platforms you have, that people may hear your animal rights message, or is it something you and Allison do subversively and intentionally? Rope them in with the political and cultural content, then expose them to a vegan ethic?

Yeah. I mean that’s the goal, right? If we weren’t changing minds, I would be pretty sad. I try to be really good about being honest, about how hard it was for me at first. I have food addiction and booze issues, I have depression, I’ve lived out of my car. I’ve done it all. Because of that I can really empathize with people who are trying and failing. And I get them back on the horse…to save the horse. Plus, because we aren’t a “vegan show,” but we talk about it a lot, people aren’t coming to us as vegans. Sometimes they don’t even become vegan because of a vegan episode but because they like my music or hear me talk about competing in MMA or Jiujitsu and winning – I’m a Brazilian Jiujitsu champ and MMA fighter – or losing weight, or fighting depression. I think that’s even cooler.

In #NEWSFAIL, you talk about various issues that the media gets wrong or chooses not to cover due to sponsors and politics. We do PR for many animal rights organizations, authors, documentary filmmakers, etc. and see the corporate media’s reluctance to cover undercover investigations and other animal cruelty issues. They are happy to cover celebrities going “vegan” for a short period of time and even happier to cover the stories about how they are back to eating animal bodies and secretions. What are your thoughts on how media covers animal issues and veganism?

Terrible. I mean, it’s either a fad, or they look down on it. IT’S SCIENCE MOTHERFUCKER. IT’S CLIMATE CHANGE. IT WILL LITERALLY KILL US ALL. I don’t care if Natalie Portman had a cupcake.

Bill Hicks was also a hero of mine. When I saw his HBO special, when he knew he was dying of cancer and just didn’t care what anyone had to say about his comedy, I was seriously blown away. Can you talk a bit about Bill and how he has shaped your comedy?

Yeah, I mean. He was the first person that I listened to and said, “OH. This can matter.” Fun fact not a lot of people know: when I went on Conan for the first and only time wearing a vegan shirt and ready to do a rant about the war that would probably get me banned, the only thing I had in my pocket was a card from [Bill’s] funeral that his mother gave me.

You recently announced that you’re no longer going to be playing comedy clubs and living the stereotypical stand-up life on the road. What’s the deal, and how will fans see you on stage in the future?

Yeah. I’m never going to play for a two-drink minimum. A brick wall. There will never be a hack comic telling rape jokes in front of me, or making fun of vegans. But I’m never not going to have a guitar. I want to play for people who love music, who love helping others, who think comedy can’t be for them. I want to get in front of the good guys. Not just drunk assholes who want to hear you make fun of people who are already oppressed. I don’t give a shit about money anymore. I’ll play every fucking festival out there for kale and a flight. I want to make this shit huge. I feel more dedicated to the animals than ever. This is my biggest year yet, making my first major studio album, and preparing for my first Funny or Die TV and music special. I also happily speak on vegan outreach in the mainstream media, how to get our message out to the right people, intersectionality, and being a vegan athlete.

Citizen Radio is one of very few independent media outlets in the country. Can you share with our readers how Citizen Radio came about, why The Thinking Vegan readers should be listening to the podcast and how can we support the important work you do?

The show we started for the same reason any of you would. I was too political for standup, Allison was far too left for writing, and we had a lot to say. We literally started it when we were living out of our car and now we’ve done sold-out live shows with Moby, Rise Against, Sarah Silverman, Amy Goodman, Howard Zinn. I mean, it’s wild. I think there should be a place for atheists who aren’t racist Arab haters, and vegans who won’t throw women under the bus, and outcasts who feel alone, and people who care about the news but literally can’t watch it without crying. We are filthy, honest, funny, and cover stories you won’t hear anywhere else. It’s weird as fuck, but we’ve created a family. Literally. It’s a family. The show is It’s free, you can subscribe on iTunes. I’m at @jamiekilstein on twitter,, and I just started an Instagram (@veganmma) that’s only going to be vegan and vegan fighter stuff.



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