“It’s Not Easy Being Vegan” Comedian Nikki Glaser says, “It Just Feels Right.”
Nikki Glaser's star is on the rise. You may know her as the beloved comedian who is hilarious on barbed roasts of stars like Alec Baldwin and Bruce Willis on Comedy Central and for hosting Not Safe with Nikki Glaser, also on Comedy Central, and her numerous late-night talk show appearances, where she shares her self-deprecating stories about dating, sex, and looking for love. Watching her standup, you might think she is one of the funniest writers of her generation. But what you may not know is how passionate she is about being vegan and her animal rights activism.
Glaser told The Beet that she is hoping to add more "vegan humor" into her comedy routines in the future. "One thing about vegans is they don't have a very good sense of humor about it. So I’m challenging myself in my next hour of stand-up to find a way to speak about these issues in a way that doesn’t make people want to tune me out," she told The Beet. In fact, she admits to once upon a time making jokes at the expense of vegans and admits now that it was a "hack" thing to do.
Glaser is a passionate, devoted animal rights activist. She has what she calls "overwhelming animal empathy," which she has chosen to see as one of her superpowers. She has to see it this way, she explains, since it’s also the same emotional response that can trigger her depression. “A single PETA headline can throw me into a state of hopelessness and despair that can take weeks for me to climb out of. I have to be careful about how much I read. I want to be informed, but I also don’t want to be sad all the time. It’s tricky,” Glaser explains. Now she connects the dots from her life to creatures, including animals, birds, and fish: "I had just as much of a chance of being born as a chicken as being born Nikki Glaser," she says.
Glaser shares her vegan journey with The Beet in an exclusive interview. We met after The Beet reported that if you're single and vegan, you should consider moving to England, where there are more single men on a vegan dating app per capita than any other country. She perfectly tagged us with the caption: Cheerio! Now Nikki shares her enlightened approach, which really got serious when she adopted her dogs.
The Beet: You're one of the funniest people on the planet, yet when it comes to being vegan, you're dead serious. How did it all start?
Nikki: "I became vegan over time. It was a slow progression. First I stopped eating animals that I associated with being "cuddly" like cows and pigs. You could see their furrowed brows and the sorrow in their eyes. I had recently gotten my own dogs for the first time and I couldn’t help but see just how similar their faces looked to cows and pigs. I couldn’t deny that those animals weren’t capable of the same feelings as my beloved dogs. It took me longer to connect chickens to the parakeets I had as a child, but I eventually got there. I cut out cows first, then pigs of course and then chickens were last, before fish. I was pescatarian for a while and then I read a headline that said “fish feel pain” and I was like, “Welp! Guess that’s it for seafood!”
"The final straw, the first moment I really made an effort to go pescatarian, is when I got my own dogs. I had dogs as a kid but thought they were different from the animals I eat. But something about having dogs of my own I realized that I was being specist, and if they were at all similar to the animals I would eat, it made me cry just to think about it."
The Beet: So your pets made you go vegan? That makes perfect sense.
Nikki: "Yes, thank god for pets. My heart broke when I pictured my little dog Marion experiencing even a second of the pain and fear that factory-farmed animals feel their entire lives. It’s embarrassing to say that this only dawned on me at the age of 32. It took even longer for me to link chickens to my childhood parrots, but I eventually got there. I just always thought of chickens as brainless, emotionless, and ultimately disposable. It’s what I had to believe so I could continue topping my salads with them. It just shows the power of denial.
The Beet: And from that moment on, you went vegan?
Nikki: "I’m ashamed to say that even though I had connected my beloved parakeet kiwi to the chicken breast on my plate, I was still eating eggs and dairy regularly. I hadn't made that leap yet. I convinced myself that egg-laying chickens and dairy cows had great lives. Deep down I knew that wasn’t the case, but I just didn’t want to give up my feta omelets! Thank god one day I got a particularly runny greek omelet that made my stomach turn. I thought, “Now is the time. You’re already grossed out; let’s push this to the next level”. So right there at the table, I Googled what I needed to and that was that. I think I read two paragraphs about the tortured life of egg-laying hens and baby cows who are ripped from their crying mothers, and about how “free-range” is essentially complete B.S. and I decided then and there that I would never eat eggs or dairy ever again.
Nikki: "In terms of dairy, I suffered from skin problems forever. I had heard dairy was bad for your skin. So I did the research and read two paragraphs about the life of a cow and that was all I could take. While I knew the information was out there, I hadn't wanted to read it. But in just a minute and a half of reading, I saw how tortured their lives are and I couldn't eat dairy ever again."
The Beet: So how do you deal with others who still eat meat?
Nikki: "Everyone knows the information is out there and everyone is in denial and I just chose to see the truth and lift the protective veil that had until that moment allowed me to keep doing the things I wanted to do.
"I read some quote and I wanted to get it on a t-shirt. It said something like: 'Just because you want something doesn't justify having it.' As in: Just because you like the taste is not reason enough to do it. Meat eaters say this all the time. “I could never go vegan! I love cheese too much!” I always want to tell them “and you think I don’t!?”
"I am not going to lie and say I don't love cheese. I think it tastes great. I’m sorry to say that. A lot of vegans might disagree, but I think pretending animals don’t taste good is a mistake we are making. Because meat eaters think they are different than us. We need to admit that animals can be delicious. It’s not wrong to say that. It doesn’t justify eating them! Again, what I want meat eaters to understand is that just because you want something or enjoy something doesn’t mean it’s okay to have.
"People don’t seem to grasp this concept. For instance, there are times when I want to punch someone in the face. Not a ton of times, but there have been a few. But guess what? I don't do it! Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s socially and morally unacceptable to do so!"
The Beet: This doesn't sound too popular. How does that go over?
Nikki: "Being vegan isn’t easy or fun. It’s a sacrifice, albeit a rewarding one. But let’s be honest with ourselves: People automatically don't like you when you say you're vegan. When you go out to dinner, not only is the only thing you can order off the menu a side salad, but you often have to throw yourself under the bus to make others comfortable. I apologize profusely to waiters for my requests. I am still embarrassed to let people know I’m vegan because I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or make them feel like they’re wrong (which I know for certain they are!). I’m getting better about having vegan esteem but it’s a struggle."
The Beet: Despite all that it's totally worth it to you to be vegan
Nikki: "Oh hell yes. I know I’m doing the right thing and that’s what makes never getting to taste ice cream again totally worth it! It brings me peace and self-worth to know unquestionably that I love animals more than people who eat meat do. This angers people, but it’s pretty undeniable: If you eat animals, your love for them is conditional. I want to shake people and say 'Don't you understand pigs are smarter than your stupid dog!?' I want to put that on a t-shirt." God, that would anger people. They’ll be so hurt that I call their dog stupid. “Don’t verbally abuse my dog!” they’ll say, as they bite into a pig cadaver.
"When I'm eating dinner with my parents and they’re consuming an animal corpse, I will sometimes hold up their dog at the dinner table and say: 'That pig you are eating is exactly like this dog. It only felt horror and pain it’s entire waking life. Would you wish a second of that pig’s terrible life on this sweet pup?” They usually don’t even answer me. They know the answer, but they don’t want to stop doing what they’re doing. The power of denial is too strong. And some people’s addiction to food is even stronger."
The Beet: I'm sure they love that. How do you get people to eat more plants?
Nikki: "It's painful because I want the people I love to be as good as I know they are. It hurts me that the people in my life who I love can't make the mental leap that to me seems so obvious. I don't even have to try anymore. I can look at meat and immediately see the living animal it once was. I long for the cognitive dissonance that so many of my loved ones live with."
The Beet: How's it being single and dating. Does it matter if you date a vegan?
Nikki: "There are so few men who are vegan so I can’t really put my foot down about that just yet. I’m 36 and my options are dwindling by the hour. Here's what I’ll say about guys who aren’t vegan: I will date you because I have hope. I believe that leading by example can get people to change.
"I went on a date with a guy once who upon finding out I was vegan said, 'I wish you had put it in your profile.” I couldn’t believe it. It was like he found out I was a lesbian. He was really upset and I was really confused. But maybe he had a point. I would prefer it if men who love meat more than their moms tell me before I agree to waste my night on a date with you.
"Luckily, a lot of men on dating sites will tell you in their profiles how much they love meat. It’s a popular “personality trait” that men list, and I always appreciate the heads up so I can then swipe left so hard my phone's screen almost cracks.
The Beet: So how does this all make its way into your comedy?
Nikki: "That’s a hard one. Vegans are the easiest punchline, so doing pro-vegan material is nearly impossible. Nearly. It’s a challenge that I’m setting for myself for my next special. I must admit that in my early years as a comic, I had jokes at vegans’ expense. It makes me cringe even thinking about those jokes. Vegan jokes are just so cheap and easy. They are all the same: vegans are weak, vegans are annoying, vegans are pale, vegans are malnourished, vegans are snowflakes. If you’re a comic who makes vegan jokes: you’re a hack. Plain and simple. And this is coming from someone who made those jokes! I was a hack once, too! It was probably six years ago and a guy I dated who was a vegan hurt me emotionally. I was angry at him and lashed out at his veganism instead of digging deeper. I wasn’t experienced enough as a comic or human to explore the pain of that relationship. So instead I took to the stage and accused him of being soft because he told a waiter that he couldn’t have honey in his tea. I’m still humiliated by that joke. And in retrospect, a guy being outspoken about veganism is one of the hottest things I can imagine. In fact, I have recently replaced porn with Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscars’ speech."
The Beet: What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
Nikki: "It's all excuses. My biggest thing is that people say 'I just love the way it tastes,' and 'I could never live without it.' And people say that we have canine teeth, and were meant to eat meat. Well, do some research. Our teeth were not meant to eat meat.
"Or, people always say 'It's a tradition. This is an old family recipe.' Guess what else is a tradition? Spousal abuse, slavery, and child marriage. There are tons of traditions that we end because we have learned to be better humans. And for some reason eating chicken parm isn't one of those."
The Beet: It sounds like you're polishing your vegan material. What's next?
Nikki: "I am in negotiations for launching a new podcast and am continuing to write more standup. And like I said, a goal of mine is to incorporate vegan messaging in my standup. It’s going to be tough, but I have to do more with my comedy than talk about boys not texting me back. I care about animals too much not to try. As far as material goes, I’m working on a new joke about when PETA reached out to me to participate in one of their campaigns. I was really excited because I thought it was the one where you get to pose naked and say “I’d rather go naked than wear fur!” I was stoked to be asked to pose nude! Finally! But instead, they asked me to dress up like a “lazy/funny sheep” in an anti-wool campaign. I was so disappointed.
"In all honestly, weaving vegan messaging into my stand up is going to be more difficult for me than talking about the most embarrassing moments of my sex life. I am very outspoken about personal issues, and people often accuse me of over-sharing. It’s too much for a lot of people, and I get that. But that’s why I’m lucky I’m a vegan. My job is to be annoying about stuff that other people might not want to hear about. I have to take that risk."
The Beet: So we can expect your signature no-holds-barred approach to veganism?
NG: Vegans get a lot of criticism for being over the top and in your face. Well, guess what? It works. A huge reason I became vegan is that vegans wouldn’t shut up. Their messaging got through even though I fought so hard against letting it in!
"I personally know the power of being “in your face” about it. That’s why I post a lot about veganism on my Instagram story. Initially, I thought I would only upset non-vegans and although that has certainly been the case (boo hoo!), I know I’ve introduced ideas about animal rights to people who would have normally never considered them. I get messages all the time from people who are cutting down on meat because of the images and articles they see on my feed. In fact, I posted one tweet that went kinda viral of a baby pig in a bathtub with the caption 'Just a reminder that your favorite breakfast food enjoys gentle baths.' I couldn’t believe the response to that tweet. For whatever reason, it cut through in a way that other vegan messaging doesn’t. I felt more satisfaction from the success of that tweet than I do from my comedy specials. Don’t tell.
The Beet: Other comedians are treading into this territory. Does that embolden you?
NG: "Ricky Gervaise was able to handle the topic of the Yulin Dog Festival so masterfully and with such comedic precision that I have made it a goal to handle animal rights, and I have found sneaky ways to incorporate it into my act. It's one of the hardest things.
"If I could say one thing about vegans it's that they don't have a very good sense of humor about it. People don't want to be lectured, and we have to figure out how to make it funny. We need to do better because so much of it is in your face and angry. And boy do I relate."
The Beet: You said your animal empathy is like a type of superpower. Explain that
Nikki: "I was given a gift of animal empathy and it leads me to depression a lot. I can't watch things like the documentaries that made other people switch over. because it will trigger a sadness in me and I am overwhelmed with thoughts of animal suffering but am grateful because it has caused others to make changes and am grateful to that.
"If you truly can trace having a gummy bear back to an animal suffering, there is no in-between and you can't eat that gummy bear. And it's not because it is shaped like a bear. In some ways, we go too far like that. Okay PETA, calm down.
"But it makes me upset that people who have dogs can't make the connection. And I think every child should have to visit a farm and make the connection between what they are eating and what they are petting at that farm.
The Beet: You went from pescatarian to fully vegan, what do you tell pescatarians?
NG: "People are so proud of themselves for being pescatarians. There was a report out last year that said, sorry pescatarian but fish have feelings. How are we going to get people to grasp that?
"I used to have a joke about it. The only way I could justify it was that if every chicken was a person who tortured animals in a past life. Then I could eat them. But I don't believe in reincarnation. I am pretty agnostic that way.
"But I had just as much of a chance of being born as a chicken as being born Nikki Glaser. We all could have been born an animal, and we just got lucky being born a human. I reach 'peak vegan' when I started saving spiders and not killing bugs. I think: What if I was that bug? And I don't see a difference between them.
"There is nothing about being a vegan that is not right. It's kind of inarguable, and defensible from every angle. Except for the farmers' point of view perhaps. It just feels right. I am not as sure that 1 plus 1 equals 2 that I am about the fact that eating animals is wrong."