Satirist & Producer Caitlin Kunkel Avoids Video Calls Whenever Possible

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Caitlin and her dog, Zander

Caitlin Kunkel is a satirist who co-founded the Satire and Humor Festival, The Belladonna Comedy, and created the online satire writing program for The Second City. She’s been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and McSweeney’s and co-wrote the gift book, New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust, and Equal Pay in November 2018.

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

I’m sheltering in place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I live in a two-bedroom apartment with my husband and husky mix, Zander. (See pic above.)

What does your face mask look like? 

My friend and neighbor Marty Dundics, editor of the comedy site Weekly Humorist, is a wonderful artist. When everything started to go down and masks were impossible to find in March, he gave me a black painting mask that he had on hand for working with oil paints. It has a little respirator on the side and I feel like a very uncool, bad-in-a-fight Mortal Kombat character when I wear it.

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment? 

I’m a big creature of routine in normal times, so being thrown out of those was quite upsetting for me! I’m trying to recreate one as best I can. My husband is also working from home (I always work from home, but he’s usually at an office in Manhattan), so I spend most of the day in my little office, surrounded by my books, listening to him in meetings all day through the door while I look at the painting above my desk.

Home office

I try to read in the mornings as I drink my coffee, then aspirationally put on workout clothes. I do my first chunk of work (writing or preparing to teach), then exercise in some way to get blood flowing in my body and so I can sleep at night (sometimes, this is as little as a 7-minute workout or doing 100 squats, sometimes sustained cardio depending on my mental state), then I shower and do my second chunk of work. Around 2PM I walk my dog, and when we get back I have a late lunch and do my last, longest stretch of work, which is about four hours, while he naps behind me.

But, like many freelancers and producers, I’m losing work left and right, so I still try to maintain an active mind during my work chunks even if there isn’t paid work to do. So I read a nonfiction book and make notes, or call a friend or family members. I used to never take phone calls during the work day, but now, they’ve become so essential. I hate video calls and try to only do them when there’s money involved (with a button down shirt on top and sweatpants on the bottom), or it’s essential to a creative collaboration.

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time? 

I’ve found a strange source of solace in action movies from the ‘90s. The kind where even when things are going real wrong on an asteroid, there are a strange amount of laugh lines (referring to Steve Buscemi’s character in Armageddon, here, of course). They had a lot more levity than action movies now. In that vein I’ve watched Bad Boys, The Matrix (still amazing on rewatch!), Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and many others.

If I want to be more high brow, I’ve been taking a Pandemic Literature class (I know, I had to embrace everything going on) through Catapult online. We read The Plague by Camus, of course, and we’re going to read Severance by Ling Ma and On Immunity by Eula Bliss now. I’ve been reading a lot of essay collections from brilliant and hilarious authors, like I Don’t Want to Die Poor by Michael Arcenaux, and Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby, the title of which accurately describes this entire period.

Are you working on anything during this time? And if you’re having trouble “creating” things at the moment, how are you getting around it?

I’m actually working on a fictional book for the first time in my career — almost all my writing to date has been short satirical pieces, sketches, bits and games for radio, or screen and stage plays. I’m adapting an older piece into a modern context, and since it deals with a LOT of themes that are relevant now it actually feels very meaningful to work on. I did #1000wordsofsummer and wrote some stuff I really liked, and I’m editing that and moving forward now.

I barely wrote at all in March and April, and it was only at the end of May that the desire to express myself like that started to return. I definitely forgive myself for that — I saw a tweet that said “a global pandemic is not a writing retreat” and… yup, checks out!

Have you taken up any new hobbies? 

I got a rowing machine, so repeating the same motion thousands of times while looking out the window has become my new hobby (is this sad? Probably!) I used to be a distance swimmer, and there’s something about the repetitive nature of swimming and rowing that lets my anxious mind rest for a bit. Rowing machines were also on the cheaper end of home exercise equipment and fold up somewhat compactly, so it was a marriage of economics/convenience and mental health necessity.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar? What’s the worst?

Best home-cooked meal would be the week we finished watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix and promptly ordered Samin Nosrat’s cookbook. That week we made her buttermilk chicken, which is by far the most moist and delicious chicken I’ve ever been able to make myself (in a sous chef role to my husband, who is definitely the dominant cook in our household). Best non-home cooked meal would be the Giordano’s deep dish pepperoni pizza I had delivered in dry ice from Chicago. 

Worst meal — some of these lunches I’ve been “making.” My husband is finally coming around to the fact that “work from home lunch on a deadline” can be anything from a piece of toast to some pickles and an egg, to whatever else is in the fridge and can give you enough calories to make it to dinner — especially if there are deadlines involved.

What’s your current iPhone wallpaper and what’s the story behind it?

At the beginning of the quarantine, I started getting Kimberly Rose Drew’s newsletter Something I Saw, where she, like the name suggests, shares a piece of art she has seen. I’ve truly loved it, and upgraded to a paid subscription as well. On Day 89, she sent out this mosaic by Alma Thomas and I love the colors and composition so much. It also obscures almost all the icons on my phone, which is a feature, not a bug.

What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far?

I made a donation to the Brooklyn Service Workers Coalition and in return the amazing cartoonist, writer, and artist (and friend!) Emily Flake gave me one of her original sketches for a potential New Yorker cover. I have it very unprofessionally taped to the wall in my office right now so it doesn’t get creased while I wait for the custom frame shop near me to open again, but I love seeing this piece of art created during specifically this time (it’s all Zoom meetings) every day (not always above my dog’s butt like this).

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

I really love Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, and so I’ve also been enjoying her podcast Together Apart. Comedy writer Carlos Greaves has written some truly amazing topical satire pieces on McSweeney’s, including this mashup on coronavirus and Jurassic Park, and this one on abolishing the police and the Terminator franchise. He makes me laugh through tears! And for fiction, I’ve really liked Weather by Jenny Offill, Zone One by Colson Whitehead (a re-read, love a literary take on zombies!), and Temporary by Hilary Leichter (I needed some absurdity in my life).

Any unexpectedly memorable moments so far?

My husband and I had our eighth wedding anniversary on April 14, exactly a month into the quarantine. We dressed up and went and got takeout from al di la, a Park Slope institution that doesn’t take reservations so we had never been there before (we’d always arrive way too late to have a reasonable wait for dinner). It was also the first meal we’d eaten in a month that we hadn’t made ourselves, and that’s a long time for most New Yorkers! We ate too much and tried hard to make that day different from all the other days. We succeeded!

Do you have a favorite photo you’ve taken since lockdown?

Anyone in my immediate and extended family can tell you that I’m NOT a good photographer, but this selfie I took stands out to me. My husband and neighbor have worked very hard to turn the flat roof of our building into a lovely garden and outdoor space for us during all this. This was the first day I went up there when there was a table and the garden was starting to look beautiful and green, and I was so relieved to be able to sit in the sun in a safe place without a mask I thought I would cry. I compromised and drank that wine instead.

Follow Caitln on Twitter @Kunkeltron and on Instagram @Kunkeltron.