Citizen Radio

Citizen Radio

Tune in to Cit­i­zen Radio and you might hear Alli­son Kilken­ny and Jamie Kil­stein make impas­sioned argu­ments about the impor­tance of think­ing crit­i­cal­ly, lament the sex­ist com­mer­cial­ism of Mother’s Day, get angry about the attack on pub­lic sec­tor work­ers’ rights or inter­view lead­ing polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors includ­ing In These Times reg­u­lars like Noam Chom­sky, David Siro­ta, Mike Elk and Greg Palast.

But you might also hear the two relay ram­bling tales of over-eat­ing and near­ly get­ting into fights at a Veg­e­tar­i­an Food Fes­ti­val in New York, or catch Jamie singing Israel com­mits war crimes” in soft falset­to. The inde­pen­dent, mem­ber-spon­sored polit­i­cal com­e­dy pod­cast was for­mer­ly known as Drunk­en Pol­i­tics, and while Cit­i­zen Radio might not always be drunk­en, it’s usu­al­ly anar­chic and wide-rang­ing, not to men­tion hilarious.

What’s most impres­sive is when its hosts man­age to make the absur­dist satir­i­cal humor and the uncom­pro­mis­ing polit­i­cal angle work togeth­er, as with Jamie’s recent dec­la­ra­tion — just ever so slight­ly too late — that he was going to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden, in Iraq,” with his mag­ni­fy­ing glass, and Allison’s dead­pan attempts to explain that he had been fed mis­in­for­ma­tion about bin Laden’s where­abouts by Dan­gles, a (stuffed toy) Ama­zon­ian Punch­ing Monkey.

Mean­while, the pair have ever-more-impres­sive indi­vid­ual résumés. Kilken­ny writes about eco­nom­ics, labor and protest move­ments reg­u­lar­ly for The Nation (among many oth­er pro­gres­sive pub­li­ca­tions and web­sites) and blogs at her own site, while Kilstein’s acclaimed stand-up com­e­dy has tak­en him on a tour across the globe and led to an appear­ance on Conan and fre­quent com­par­isons to Bill Hicks.

As ever, their con­ver­sa­tion with In These Times is not for those who have a prob­lem with profanity… 

—Joe Macaré

Cit­i­zen Radio is usu­al­ly full of humor, often very irrev­er­ent and/​or dark. Is there any issue so bleak you can’t bring your­self to laugh at it?

Alli­son Kilken­ny: No, and I don’t like the humor police” who often­times emerge on Twit­ter or Face­book to let us know what top­ics are not appro­pri­ate to laugh at. Peo­ple cope with dif­fi­cult news in their own ways, and our way is through humor, name­ly so our audi­ence doesn’t start off­ing them­selves, one-by-one.

Jamie Kil­stein: As long as we are not mak­ing fun of some­one who doesn’t deserve it, I think it’s fair game. I had a lot of rough stuff hap­pen to me as a kid and humor was how I got out of it. With­out it I would prob­a­bly be some ser­i­al mur­der­er or Repub­li­can. So the more seri­ous an issue is the hard­er you have to go after it, cause chances are you just cheered some­one up who was real­ly bummed. Then once you can laugh at it, you can start to think crit­i­cal­ly about it.

Your bios on the Cit­i­zen Radio web­site both list insults from right-wing icons as badges of pride. Do you still enjoy antag­o­niz­ing the right, or does their criticism/​invective ever wear you down?

Alli­son: We real­ly don’t go out of our way to antag­o­nize the right. G. Gor­don Lid­dy con­tact­ed me out of the blue on Twit­ter with that won­der­ful quote (“Alli­son Kilkenny’s writ­ing makes me want to vom­it”), and Glenn Beck’s peo­ple tend to lift sound clips out of con­text from our shows to put up on his web­site, but we don’t insti­gate dra­ma with them. We do, how­ev­er, enjoy mak­ing fun of them when they make fools of themselves. 

Jamie: As long as they are ass­holes we will call them ass­holes. With that said, we have a very left-wing audi­ence so it’s more impor­tant for us to stay after the Democ­rats and maybe teach our lis­ten­ers some­thing, instead of every day being like Hey, remem­ber George Bush! Whaaaaat an idiooooot!!”


What do you think makes for an effec­tive activist or polit­i­cal cam­paign? Can you name a cur­rent one that you admire?

Alli­son: Cre­ativ­i­ty is impor­tant. It’s very dif­fi­cult to get Amer­i­cans inter­est­ed in activism, so any dis­play of resis­tance has to be unique: a) to grab the atten­tion of our ADD cul­ture, and b) to grab the atten­tion of our ADD media. Also, it’s impor­tant Amer­i­cans grow a pair and start rais­ing the stakes. It’s not enough to sign online peti­tions. I real­ly admire the peo­ple in Wis­con­sin who occu­pied the Capi­tol in response to Scott Walker’s strip­ping of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. That’s the only type of protest that mat­ters any­more: occu­py and refuse to leave. It scares the hell out of the politi­cians and the media loves the dra­ma, so they’re more like­ly to cov­er it.

Jamie: I hate to say it, but make it about them.” Even the best of us are self­ish crea­tures and some­times appeal­ing to com­mon decen­cy doesn’t work. I love what Rethink Afghanistan did. They had a cal­cu­la­tor on their web­site where you could fig­ure out how much YOU spent on the war.

What’s one piece of leg­is­la­tion (state or nation­al) you’d like to see passed right now?

Jamie: Gay mar­riage. It’s 2011 and we don’t have equal rights for all cit­i­zens. We are fuck­ing disgusting.

Alli­son: Well, now I look like an ass­hole if I don’t say gay mar­riage. Obvi­ous­ly, gay mar­riage would be awe­some, but also cam­paign finance reform. The way Amer­i­can elec­tions are run, we have to choose between Cor­po­rate Shill A or Cor­po­rate Shill B, which inevitably screws us when it comes time for some­thing like health­care reform. Big Phar­ma prac­ti­cal­ly wrote the leg­is­la­tion because they were one of Obama’s biggest donors. If we had pub­licly fund­ed elec­tions, we could say (with a straight face) Amer­i­ca is a democ­ra­cy, run by the peo­ple and not by corporations. 

Tell us about a policy/​political debate that you’re still on the fence about.

Alli­son: Nuclear ener­gy. It’s an emo­tion­al issue because of what we see hap­pen­ing in Japan (and what we saw hap­pen­ing in Cher­nobyl before that,) but we need­ed to get off coal yes­ter­day, and if the world doesn’t imme­di­ate­ly start phas­ing out coal, cli­mate dev­as­ta­tion is inevitable. Plus, when com­pared with the annu­al deaths caused by the coal indus­try, the nuclear ener­gy has a much, much bet­ter safe­ty record (except when it fails, it fails spec­tac­u­lar­ly). There’s a ton of prob­lems with reg­u­la­tion in the nuclear indus­try (reg­u­la­tors being too cozy with indus­try and politi­cians). It’s com­pli­cat­ed. I could rant on at length.

Jamie: Gay mar­riage (just kid­ding). I think char­ter schools. I know that any time you make some­thing about mon­ey, it’s not good. And I know 100 per­cent you shouldn’t defund these pub­lic schools and peo­ple with mon­ey should not be giv­en bet­ter edu­ca­tions, but there seem to be some char­ter schools that tar­get the poor and do good work. I think I just need to read up on it. 


What’s a mis­take the main­stream media always makes that real­ly gets under your skin?

Jamie: Lead­ing us to war? Also that they will have two talk­ing heads come on and scream at each oth­er with­out say­ing who is fac­tu­al­ly full of shit. So fat white pun­dit num­ber one will say x” and old white pun­dit num­ber two will say y” and the hack TV host will say I guess we’ll nev­er know.” Well, just look it up, asshole.

Alli­son: Jay Rosen calls what Jamie describes The View from Nowhere.” Also, false equiv­a­len­cy. Often­times, the media presents the far left” and far right” as though they have equal pull in Wash­ing­ton, which is absurd on its face. Our coun­try is broke from the For­ev­er Wars and the GOP is slash­ing the social safe­ty net. Those were the vic­to­ries of the far right. What has the left won?

…And how about a mis­take that Amer­i­can pro­gres­sive, inde­pen­dent media keeps mak­ing — and what does that say about the Amer­i­can left in general?

Alli­son: Being afraid of look­ing uncool when they object to the insan­i­ty com­ing from the right. Lib­er­als are very proud of how detached and awe­some we are, and protest­ing is inher­ent­ly uncool. It demands pas­sion and scream­ing, and a lot of lefty hip­sters aren’t up for the challenge.

Jamie: Not being as hard on Democ­rats when they act like Repub­li­cans. Being scared into fol­low­ing the rules.

Name a jour­nal­ist, blog­ger or writer whose work you read or fol­low reli­gious­ly. What makes them a great writer?

Jamie: Glenn Green­wald. The dude has nev­er once strayed from his con­vic­tions. Also when he takes some­one down, they don’t get up. He is the Sug­ar Ray Leonard of journalism. 

Alli­son: Green­wald, Dig­by, John Cole, Atrios and Matt Taib­bi. All of these bloggers/​journalists are able to take com­plex issues and break them down in a digestible, enter­tain­ing way. Humor is a big thing for me. We deal with such mas­sive­ly depress­ing top­ics that it’s impor­tant to be able to laugh at this stuff. Glenn Green­wald is the most moral­ly con­sis­tent writer I think I’ve ever read, sec­ond only to Chomsky.


When did your polit­i­cal awak­en­ing occur?

Alli­son: The first time I read Howard Zinn and Noam Chom­sky. I want­ed to run up to total strangers, scream­ing, HOLY SHIT! EVERY­THING YOU THINK YOU BELIEVE IS A LIE!” And then, I start­ed watch­ing Amy Good­man on Democ­ra­cy Now!, which makes you under­stand how adults can watch the estab­lish­ment media all day and learn absolute­ly nothing.

Jamie: I think when we were on the road and just start­ed talk­ing to peo­ple about their lives and saw how the cor­rupt choic­es our politi­cians made affect­ed real-life peo­ple. OH! Also, I remem­ber the first time I watched Democ­ra­cy Now! being like… WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?! EVERY­ONE HAS LIED TO ME!” 

What’s the best piece of advice some­one gave you when you were young?

Alli­son: I can’t think of any­thing from when I was young, but Howard Zinn told us, If you don’t under­stand his­to­ry, you’re a vic­tim.” This stuck with me because Amer­i­can cul­ture doesn’t have a long mem­o­ry. We for­get, for exam­ple, what hap­pened when the U.S. armed the Mujahideen to fight the Rus­sians in the 80s (they became Al-Qae­da) and that 911 was retal­i­a­tion for the U.S.‘s pres­ence in the Mid­dle East. Even though that exper­i­ment in realpoli­tik blew up in our faces, Amer­i­cans still sup­port the government’s pol­i­cy of impe­ri­al­ism to this day. And the next time blow­back hits our shores, every­one will feign sur­prise all over again. 

Jamie: Always go for the throat. 


Rec­om­mend a book, film or album you enjoyed with­in the last month (and say why!).

Alli­son: Nerd alert! I’m read­ing Trea­sure Islands by Nicholas Shax­son. It’s all about tax havens. I’ve been writ­ing a lot about the bud­get cuts and US Uncut, which is an anti-cor­po­rate-tax-dodg­ing group, so tax havens have been on my mind a lot.

Jamie: Cit­i­zen Kane, The Wire and the entire works of Noam Chom­sky. (I’m try­ing to sound cool.)

Name a pop cul­ture guilty plea­sure. Can you make the case that is it sub­tly polit­i­cal or subversive?

Alli­son: Jamie and I watch Glee, which is a super pro-gay show. They even ran a com­mer­cial for the It Gets Bet­ter Project dur­ing last week’s episode. So that’s my attempt­ed defense of me watch­ing Glee.

Jamie: Oh god, well it’s NOT Glee or The Voice. (It’s both of those.) I could make a case but would sound sil­ly. I was actu­al­ly afraid Glee would be awful and stereo­typ­i­cal with Kurt being gay, but they have done some real­ly cool stuff espe­cial­ly with his father. The Voice—I got noth­ing. It was made by the evil dude who made sur­vivor but it has Cee-Lo AND he wears a Mis­fits shirt. C’mon, dude, that’s fuck­ing cool. 

—May 102011

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