Independent progressive podcast Citizen Radio has dropped co-founder and co-host Jamie Kilstein after numerous women alleged the performer made inappropriate sexual advances, or was emotionally abusive towards them. The news comes as a shock to progressives who follow Kilstein’s work as an outspoken comedian, writer, and musician who has styled himself as a male feminist and champion for women’s rights.
Citizen Radio debuted as an online radio show in 2008 and moved to an independent, donor-based daily podcast in 2010. According to a description in iTunes, it is “dedicated to covering the stories that the mainstream, corporate media ignores” (“It’s like Democracy Now but with much more swearing”) and past guests have included Noam Chomsky, Rachel Maddow, and Ralph Nader. Co-host Allison Kilkenny, who is also Kilstein’s estranged wife (they separated last year), announced Kilstein’s departure from the show via a Facebook post last Monday in which she wrote, “Recently, some disturbing allegations have been brought to my attention entailing several women who have accused Jamie of being manipulative, emotionally abusive, and predatory in his behavior.” It’s not clear, however, whether any specific incident triggered the departure. Neither Kilkenny nor Kilstein responded to Jezebel’s requests for comment.
Don Giovanni Records, which released Kilstein’s political punk band’s album A Bit Much last year, has also severed ties with the performer. “We believe all of the women involved and were able to come to a swift and easy decision without having to hear Jamie’s side of the story or anyone else’s,” the label wrote in a Facebook post that linked to Kilkenny’s.
Kilstein, who has performed comedy on Conan, appeared on cable channels like MSNBC, and has written for liberal sites (including Jezebel), based his work on progressive ideals like fighting rape culture, advocating for reproductive rights, and acknowledging white male privilege. In a 2013 video on male privilege, Kilstein told men to “Listen to women. Don’t be a dick to women.” In a podcast discussion about Amber Heard’s domestic violence allegations against Johnny Depp from a August 2016 episode, he remarked, “be a good person and believe women.” In the same episode, he told Kilkenny, “Don’t fucking validate all those dudes who were hitting on you when you were trying to do work.” In a piece critiquing male feminism, Kilstein was touted as an example of an ally who strikes the right tone, telling Slate, “any struggle I face is about .00001 percent of the struggle women face in their day-to-day existence.”
For years, Kilstein was a prime example of how a good progressive man should act. But multiple women have recently come forward with stories of being singled out by the popular comedian they had long admired, who they say he exploited his status and feminist principles to make sexual advances towards them. The allegations and subsequent response has launched a conversation about allyship and men who call themselves feminists, adding to a slowly developing conversation about misogyny in comedy. Women In Media & News founder Jennifer Pozner tweeted that Kilstein’s behavior was “inexcusable” and pointed to a Twitter thread by writer Josh Shahryar, who wrote: “After Jamie Kilstein, I’m done with ‘male feminists’. If you throw that term around, you’re suspect to me.” On Saturday, days after the allegations surfaced, Saturday Night Live aired a sketch lampooning men who perform feminism to pick up women.
Jezebel talked to three women with stories outlining how Kilstein allegedly used his feminism and popularity to make sexual advances on them. One woman, who requested anonymity, first met the comedian as a fan and was later invited joined the Citizen Radio’s podcast as its only staff member at the time. One year into the job, in August 2013, “He decided that he wanted me to travel to a show with him, and I had never done that before,” she said. On the train ride to a gig in Washington DC, she said that Kilstein commented on how an onlooker might “think that we are flirting.” Later that day, he suggested watching TV together in her hotel room, and the relationship became sexual that night. According to the woman, Kilstein was still in a committed marriage with Kilkenny, but the affair stretched on for nearly two years. The woman said she tried to break things off multiple times, but was unable to. “He never accepted that I was really done, so there were several times where I tried to break up the relationship, but he’s my boss,” she said. “I have to talk to him every day, I have to answer his emails, I have to tweet at him. I have to convince people to pay him money to talk on stage. So if he wanted to talk to me, I had to talk to him.” She left Citizen Radio in September 2014 when the show ran out of money for her position, and continued a relationship with Kilstein until May 2015 when she says she ended all contact by blocking his phone number, email address, and his social media accounts.
Another woman, a 22-year-old college student from Ohio, struck an online friendship with Kilstein after he liked one of her tweets in November 2015. He then sent her a direct message via Twitter. “I was star struck, because he’s a pretty famous podcaster,” she said in an interview with Jezebel. She mentioned that she and her boyfriend were big Citizen Radio fans, and later Kilstein gave her a shout out on the podcast. But when Kilstein’s messages turned into unwanted flirtation, she says she repeatedly mentioned her committed relationship. Jezebel obtained screenshots of one segment of the conversation in which Kilstein told the woman, “but if he hurts you your rebound is now lined up!” In another exchange, she asked Kilstein to “tone down” the flirting. She said that Kilstein apologized, but later resumed flirting with her.
“It was like a creepy dude at the bar, trying to get him to leave you alone by bringing up a boyfriend,” she said. “I thought, ‘this is a feminist. I shouldn’t have to have another man kind of dissuade him from being creepy and respecting my boundaries.” She said that Kilstein offered to send her gifts, fly out to Ohio to meet her, and told her he’d never met another girl like her.
The woman said she ended the Twitter conversation in December 2015, wondering if she had misinterpreted something or misbehaved in some way. “He would always say these feminist ideals I aligned with, I was so confused why he was kind of going against what feminism stood for. When I ended it, I would go through our messages and see where I was wrong and I could have been more strict with him,” she said.
This alleged behavior is a stark contrast to comments Kilstein made in the aforementioned Citizen Radio podcast episode from this past August, in which he complained of getting too many “flirty emails and stuff” from fans and told his listeners to “stop trying to have sex with me!”
Another long time Citizen Radio fan, Julie, 32, says they formed an unlikely friendship after she sent him a Facebook message in 2015. Kilstein’s response was flirtatious, but at the time, Julie didn’t consider it inappropriate. “This is Jamie, he’s a feminist, he’s a safe person,” she explained of her thought process about the situation. They met briefly at one of Kilstein’s shows in 2015, and she saw him again at another show in 2016. She offered to show his band a good vegan restaurant after the show, but says Kilstein was more interested in hanging out with her alone. “I was flattered,” she said. “Essentially, he charmed me back to his hotel that night. I chose to go.”
“I’m a survivor of sexual assault,” Julie said, “so me being able to touch a man again was a big deal to me.” That night, she opened up to Kilstein about her assault. “That night was actually really special to me,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I get to feel safe tonight because of Jamie.’”
However, months later, Julie heard Kilstein refer to women he’d slept with on his tour as “road fucks” on the podcast (Jezebel was not able to find the episode containing this quote.) “As someone who listens religiously, I knew exactly—I knew that he was speaking about me,” she said. “All of that trauma came crashing back down.”
In response, she wrote a letter about the shame, anger, and pain she felt and sent it to a weekly advice podcast called The Struggle Bus. The podcast’s co-host Katharine Heller read it out loud in an episode called, “Pure Imagination” in September. In the letter, Julie—who is identified in the podcast by the pseudonym “Madcat”—writes, “I was nothing but a conquest” and wonders: “Safety. How can I feel that after this experience? After all of the experiences. How do I trust?”
Julie’s letter spurred a discussion in the podcast’s private Facebook group, in which women shared similar experiences they’d had. They realized the trauma pointed back to the same man. “We shared notes on what he’d said, and it’s as if it were a script,” said the previously mentioned woman who worked for Kilstein. The women I spoke to said that someone in the group approached Kilkenny about the allegations in February, but did not reveal whom.
In a Facebook post published on February 27, Heller wrote that she, too, “had been experiencing some inappropriate behavior” from Kilstein, “who I originally considered an inspiration, an ally, and a friend.”
While none of the women I talked to have filed formal complaints with police accusing Kilstein of any criminal behavior, he is the most recent male comedian to be accused of using his celebrity status and progressive values as a shield for inappropriate or illegal behavior towards women. Without comment from Kilkenny, Jezebel was not able to confirm whether the stories of these three women were what led to Kilstein’s departure from Citizen Radio, or how many women have come forward with similar allegations. Regardless, it is clear that progressive women are disturbed by the alleged predatory behavior. “It’s devastating how much it doesn’t shock me anymore,” Julie said. “You don’t want the world to see that this world that we’re trying to create is not better. You certainly don’t want the misogynists to see. That’s so painful.”