Jamie Kilstein is a vegan mixed martial arts athlete, a stand-up comedian, a political activist, and cohost of the progressive Internet podcast Citizen Radio. Kilstein—who has been seen on Conan, MSNBC, and Showtime—often uses his comedy to shine a spotlight on animal rights. PETA U.K. recently caught up with the rabble-rouser ahead of his upcoming U.K. tour. Check out the interview below!
Congratulations on winning bronze in a world jiu-jitsu championship in November. Even though so many top athletes have turned to a vegan diet, do you face any challenges with the perception of veganism in sports?
My jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts friends have been some of the most intellectually curious about the way I eat. I think it’s because these are high-level athletes who actually care about what they put in their bodies. Nowadays, there is so much research put out from sources that aren’t seen as “hippy,” like the U.N., that it’s started to pique the interest of people who care about their health.
I love the fact that more athletes are becoming vegan. I’ve always been small, even when I ate dead things, but it sure shuts up the meathead in the Tapout shirt when you can point to the Diaz brothers!
Animal rights features regularly in both your stand-up comedy and your political radio show. What drives you to speak up for animals in your daily life?
The whole premise of Citizen Radio was to speak out for people who don’t have the opportunity to defend themselves to a large audience. In the U.S. media, you only get a shot to defend yourself if you are an old-ass rich white dude who helped bankrupt the country. But who is more voiceless than animals?
A lot of people who eat animals aren’t the monsters we like to imagine. Many of them are ignorant like we once were. They don’t think of a McNugget as a baby chick. They think of it as a McNugget, whatever the f*** that is. Most people love animals. We treat our dogs and cats like members of the family, but the cognitive dissonance is unbelievable when it comes to the dead animals we put in our mouths.
My partner and I have found a way to talk about veganism without making people feel like assholes right away. We are honest, then we inform them, and we try to be funny about it. We’ve had thousands of people e-mail us who hated vegans and are now 100 percent vegan. They feel better when they are healthier, and a bunch have even started jiu-jitsu. The key is not telling them right away that we are better than them.
You’ve toured much of the U.S., and you’re coming back to the U.K. with gigs in February. Do you have any tips for eating well on the road?
Google! I try to only go to all-vegan places, and it’s getting easier and easier. The best veggie burger I’ve had is in Texas, a place where I thought they hate-crimed vegans. It’s made travel much more fun—when you go to all-vegan places and see the tattoos, the indie-rock T-shirts, the political activists, you just want to be best friends with everyone.
What’s one thing that your fans can do right now to help animals, even in a small way?