Caitlin Kunkel is a comedy writer and satirist who lives in Brooklyn. She created and teaches the Online Satire program for The Second City and is a co-founder of the comedy and satire site for female writers, The Belladonna. Her first satirical book, New Erotica for Feminists, comes out in November.
This week, Kunkel talked to me about The Belladonna, as well as her forthcoming book and some of her favorite tweets!
You’re an editor of The Belladonna Comedy! Will you tell me about how it started and what you do?
So I actually co-founded the site in February of 2017 with three other amazing women: Carrie Wittmer, Brooke Preston, and Fiona Taylor. We saw there was a dearth of outlets that focused exclusively on showcasing the myriad of funny pieces by women and other marginalized genders, so we wanted to create one! We chose Medium as our platform so that there was minimal tech involved at the top and a built-in readership (using tags). Day-to-day, we read submissions and provide feedback to all of them (INCLUDING the ones we don’t accept, that is a big part of our mission to foster new voices), edit the one we do accept, and then we post at least one piece every weekday and share all over social media. We now have two amazing interns who help us with Instagram and Twitter, and we also host events and college workshops. So there’s a lot of daily stuff as well as long-term planning! Submit to us here.
Congrats on the book deal with the Belladonnas, btw! Can you tell us anything about it?
It just became official! The book is called New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust and Equal Pay and it came out of a McSweeney’s piece that the four of us wrote in February that went viral. From there, we were approached by an amazing editor in the UK from Sceptre Books, and she bought the book based off the piece. Then we frantically got a literary agent, wrote a 40-page book proposal in two weeks, and went out to US publishers. We are so happy to be publishing with Dutton/Plume, imprints of Penguin Random House in the US. Both editions (US and UK) come out in November, 2018, right after the midterm elections. So we have to finish it!!! The book is funny, of course, but it also talks about so many issues and imbalances in society.
Like, really. The whole season. I wondered why everyone else had altered/fantasy names while the Dothraki warlord was just named Carl, but honestly didn’t let it bother me too much. You can’t worry every little thing to death is the takeaway here.
How did you first get into comedy?
I took a long and winding road – I studied writing undergrad but mostly serious writing, then I taught English abroad in Indonesia for a year where I wrote a lot (still, mostly serious), then I went to graduate school at Northwestern for serious writing, and basically the day I finished I decided I wanted to write comedy. I guess I needed to get all those dark plays and screenplays out of my system! So I started taking classes at Second City in Chicago, went through their year-long sketch program, and at that point was truly introduced to satire, which is absolutely my niche and love. I can combine the serious topics I read about constantly with the comedic forms and tones I love so much. I also love writing satire for the internet, which I’ve done throughout my time in Chicago, Portland, OR, and now in New York. It’s a form that you can improve at and get publications in from anywhere. I went on to create the Online Satire Writing program for The Second City and teach classes for people all around the world.
I was not popular in high school, so getting friendly messages from these women feels like a weird adult roller coaster. They’re reaching out to me! They see the error of their ways!! They are being so nice!!! Oh, nope, they’re selling me life coaching or makeup or leggings.
If you could change one thing about Twitter, what would it be?
Twitter needs to listen to the overwhelming majority of people who report harassment. I guess I’m confused what they think they’ll lose if they ban Neo-Nazis and people threatening to rape and kill women – that we won’t tweet as much? That they won’t be as relevant? It’s appalling that people can go through this level of abuse on a day-to-day basis and Twitter claims their hands are tied. Then we lose amazing voice like Lindy West off the platform because they just can’t tolerate the abuse anymore. Sooo that’s a big ONE thing, but that’s it!
Do a quick google, guys. You all had the same idea.
Who’s your ideal target audience on Twitter?
Even though most of my longer writing is satirical, on Twitter I’m all about tiny observations and just being silly. I have had tweets that do well turn into longer pieces, like this one that went on to be a list on The Belladonna. So my audience is a lot of other writers who will riff with me, give me book recommendations, and people who are into looking at the absurdity in everyday life. I wouldn’t say I’m a joke machine on Twitter – more of a “let’s see if this observation has any legs” machine.
I guess some things should remain private, even in a long-term relationship.
Karen Chee is a is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.