Jackie Kashian Is Big Time Smiles
Photo by Michael Helms

Jackie Kashian Is Big Time Smiles

Photo by Michael Helms

If you are not yet a ranger of The Dork Forest, you soon will be. Please grab a comfy chair and familiarize yourself with TDF podcast’s dorkdom purveyor, Jackie Kashian. Jackie has created a podcast that is 300+ episodes strong and ever increasing in popularity. Marc Maron, watch out! Oh yeah, he’s been a guest on the show too. Jackie is an engaging interviewer who reels in her audience with an inviting voice and boundless energy. But Jackie’s work doesn’t end with podcasts. She has been a touring comic for 15 years. Her comedy draws on personal experiences but she can pretty much joke about anything. She has appeared on Comedy Central numerous times, was a semi-finalist on “Last Comic Standing” and has been featured on This American Life . Does the list end there? Nope. Jackie has done a one-woman show It’s a Terrible Burden Being Right, entertained the troops in the Middle East, has two standup CDs Circus People and It Is Never Going to Be Bread and has contributed to the fantastic read, The Comedy Film Nerds Guide To Movies. Here and only here will you get the full origin story including Jackie’s take on hecklers, bands and gnomes. So stop everything you’re doing. Wait. Don’t turn off your computer, silly. Read this interview stat, future TDF rangers of the world.

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Photo by Christina Gandolfo

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Serial Optimist: It’s truly yet another lovely summer’s day here in Cali (except for my dead a/c). Soooooooo, garden gnomes! Garden staple or more hideous than wicker?

Jackie Kashian: If forced…I would choose to have seats made of garden gnomes. We’d straddle them like sitting on the shoulders of a loved one when you are a child. Have you ever sat in a wicker chair? They’re loud. They make a lot of noises that make you self-conscious of the fact that you aren’t at home, comfortable. Wicker is also the go-to for torture. I know people think bamboo. I think Wicker. It’s pointy and slivery and all weaved together to create something that is brownish and gross. I have NO IDEA why I hate wicker as much as I do…But I genuinely don’t like it.

SO: I had to Google the difference between rattan and wicker. Apparently wicker is the ancient technique used to manufacture items out of materials like rattan. “Rattan is a specific material, hence rattan furniture is crafted out of rattan only, but wicker furniture may be crafted out of different materials such as bamboo, straw and even rattan.” As an aside, Pier One imports has yet to apologize for the Rattan Death March. I went there.

SO: You grew up in Milwaukee, the youngest child of 6. What was life like at the dinner table? I have one sibling and dinner was like dropping a rotted carcass in a den of starving hyenas. Two of my grandparents were members of outrageously large families, 13 and 16 children. They turned out ‘somewhat’ sane. Do you think large families are ultimately more fun?

Jackie: I DO think large families are more fun, if only because you get all kinds of skills from being forced into a group. You don’t have that immediate sense of entitlement to attention and praise those only-children and the very wealthy have ingrained into them. You have to EARN every bit of attention. For a good five years, in my childhood, we all ate at the table, my dad at the head and him grilling us about the day. You got about 15 seconds to really get his attention with your story. If you couldn’t get his attention he moved onto the next kid. It was a lot like NACA trials. You’d think I’d be better at NACA auditions. (NACA is the college judging board to hire “acts” for consideration to work colleges).

SO: I had no idea NACA even existed. And here I thought everything I saw in college was a spontaneous hodgepodge of traveling hippies.

SO: You began your comedy career as a bit of a fluke. The story: you got drunk and heckled Sam Kinison in Madison where you were quickly instructed that open mike night was Sundays. Just three weeks later you were at the open mike. What did you learn from that experience?

Jackie: I had never seen live comedy but seeing it and then performing it…It must be what heroin is like (if you end up really liking heroin). It felt like I fell into another world. A world where I finally could say and do what I wanted and people VAGUELY cared. Not even a lot…just enough for me to love how you get to say and do whatever you want.

SO: What is your take on this taboo jokes business? Should Daniel Tosh have apologized?

Jackie: Nice segway.

SO: There has been a lot of media focus on heckler altercations lately. Eddie Griffin and Tammy Pescatelli both had drinks thrown at them. What are your thoughts on these recent rather violent heckler entanglements? Do you think comedians should retaliate? Is heckling just an on the job hazard? If it weren’t for hecklers we might not have brilliant comedians like you! Grin.

Jackie: I’m glad Tosh apologized. But not because of anything besides that it was rude. It wasn’t genocide. He shouldn’t do time for it. It was just a horrible thing to say in the moment and HE was the one who said it. So he apologized and was made fun of by other comics and The Onion. Because with millions of Twitter followers, comes great responsibility.

I’ve said terrible terrible things to audience members when I’ve been furious in the moment. No one saw it; no one recorded it. But I’ve felt bad. Apologizing might have helped me move the hell on instead of still beating myself up, years later, about some drunk lady I made cry or some drunk guy I made so mad that I had to be walked to my car.

As you mentioned, I was a heckler that very first time seeing comedy. And I was the worst-case scenario. There really is nothing worse than a drunken lady heckler who thinks she’s “helping.” And that was me when I heckled Sam Kinison. The manager who shut me down did good work. Because hecklers don’t make comics better. Go see improv if you wish to be “part of the show.” They want you to “help.” Stand up comics have written material they slaved over between shots and chicken wings. Comics don’t need your “help” anymore than when, you go to a play, you should shout the lines to the actors in Richard III if they aren’t saying them “fast enough.”

Griffin and Pescatelli? Well… they are pretty well known and the Tosh thing just happened so they got some extra attention. But know this, Internet, as I type, as you read, as anyone later is reading this…right now, hundreds of comics are offending dozens of men and women around the earth.

As far as “is there some sort of line they crossed” yeah… the not funny line. That’s the only line there is. But it feels like, in each case, the comic was doing their act…interruptions occurred…they genuinely got mad…and then said a variation of “shut the fuck up” in a not-funny way. Just think…it could have been funny. I’ve said and heard hundreds of comics say horrible things that were funny. Comedy is crazy like that.

In Tosh’s case…if you were to hear as many rape jokes as I do – you too would become a bit of an unwilling connoisseur. If you’re not a comic or a comedy dork, you may not enjoy any of them. It was certainly too far for that lady. But I’ve had male comics tell me to shut up by saying, “I wish you were being raped right now because then you wouldn’t be talking.” And in a couple of those instances I’ve laughed when they said it. But, again, not everybody can carry it off. Guys that say it and can’t carry it off are guys I don’t hang out with. But that’s for many reasons and most of them are that they aren’t funny on several levels. Please note that there are many many many more men who find other ways to say…“Hey, you’re boring the shit out of me” including, “hey, you’re boring the shit out of me.”

I have one wish for comedy clubs and one wish for audiences of comedy. I wish clubs would police the room for their live events. This is not the first time they’ve held a live event that includes the serving of alcohol. The Laugh Factory (or any club) has had other audience participation problems. Cough…Michael Richards…cough. They might want to look into some sort of “policy.”

The second is a wish for audiences…for that lady who walked into The Laugh Factory and sat down to a show. We live in an Internet age. Google the comic you’re about to see. Daniel Tosh is not for everyone. Lisa Lampanelli is not for everyone. Hell I’M not for everyone (though I’m VERY close). YouTube Google the comic’s name…you may even, at this point, get to see them dealing with a heckler online. Do it. Save yourself humiliation, $17 and about 2500 calories in mozzarella sticks from Costco by knowing what “sort” of comedy you’re about to see.

I know the wish fairy will ignore these wishes. For the wish fairy can be a jackass.

SO: I agree wholeheartedly.

SO: You tour ~ 25 weeks out of the year. What do you find the most rewarding aspect of touring? What was your most grueling year doing standup and why?

Jackie: I love the new audiences, new towns, getting to do long sets, making new fans. Probably 2011…I did a military tour of the Middle East, the road with Maria Bamford for about six weeks, my own weeks of about 18 weeks and went to Australia for two weeks. I was burnt out on airplanes, travel and people. I still loved the comedy…it was getting there that was killing me.

SO: That was a brutal schedule. Congratulations for making it through in one piece. Prost!

SO: What venue do you consider to be your “home,” where you feel most comfortable, with the crowd and the place itself?

Jackie: My home club is in Minneapolis, MN and is Acme Comedy Company. It’s a well-mannered bunch of well-trained comedy fans. They’ve been all trained up by the club to see a variety of different kinds of comedy. The audiences are receptive, I’ve done the room about a ga-jillion times (which makes me super comfortable in it), and the staff and club owner are sane and supportive of my kind and me. There are plenty of other great clubs in the country…but that’s my home club. Seattle, Portland, Austin and the Bay Area are great breeding grounds for new comics and comedy fans right now as well as this small club in Bloomington, Indiana, Atlanta, GA and even this weird one-nighter in Chattanooga, TN. New York and LA are always great…guess what? I like doing comedy and could talk about clubs forever. Moving on.

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SO: I could listen forever. Ok, I just made myself gag.

SO: You are host of one of the most engaging and prolific podcasts on the comedy scene. Your plethora of guests dork out on everything from designer jeans to model trains. How did The Dork Forest podcast get started? What’s your process for booking guests? What’s been your wackiest podcast moment to date? What interview did you get the most fan feedback from?

Jackie: I’m always amazed and psyched by the response I’ve gotten in the last couple years of The Dork Forest.

In 2006 I just started the blogtalk call-in show where people could talk about what they LOVED. I got my buddy Joe Wilson over the phone as well, to help me organize and co-host. Joe left after a couple years for other work… but the first four years were live streaming, essentially, a conference call, which were the first 213 episodes of TDF. I had people over to the house to record the episodes, but still on the phone. We sat on couches, in my living room, each of us on an extension, staring at each other over the phones. It was pretty weird and great when I think back on it. But weird with terrible sound quality. I started getting more and more people saying that they would download and listen if the audio were better. In 2010 I went to a pre-recorded version of The Dork Forest and so many more people started listening. Perhaps because they could actually hear what everyone was saying?

At first we just booked comics that we knew that loved video games and comic books and politics or whatever. The Dork Forest has always broadly defined what is “dorky.” It can be comics and video games, but it can also be Napoleon (Rob Delaney), self help (Maria Bamford), or Anger Management (Mike Schmidt). I continue to book comics but regular people started asking if they could be on the show to talk about their dorky obsessions. Puzzles and Korean Spas. By the way, yes…everyone can be on the show. Eventually. But know that it’s an attainable goal. But know, too, there’s a long list of people before you.

I also dream a bit bigger and reach out to “dork luminaries” to see if they’ll do the show. And sometimes they do. It’s fun. I’ve had authors and actors…but I also like that it can be people you don’t know but who you can listen to and appreciate the enthusiasm they have for their thing. Like bees.

The Dork Expeditions might be the wackiest. The Planet of the Apes collection, the Perfume ladies, the coffee importer guy. They’re all non-traditional dorkdoms that were fascinating…because they were excited. I really like how psyched people are about their hobbies or collections.

Most fan feedback? So many. The Greg Proops baseball episode was amazing. People love the Aisha Tyler episode. Mostly because we’re both out dorking each other at about 97million miles a minute. She’s hilarious and so dipped in dorky goodness that it was a blast. There’s plenty of episodes to start on … you can type your dorkdom into the search on dorkforest.com and there SHOULD be an episode for you.

SO: I plan to be at the next live taping taking place at The Nerdmelt Theatre in Los Angeles. Please join me everyone. Also, I’m officially adding my name to the bottom of your guest list. Go Dork Forest!

SO: You have a penchant for comic books and are, in your own right, a talented artist. I’ve seen some of your drawings and WOW! Awesome! Would you ever consider writing a children’s book?

Jackie: Do we play Draw Something? ha@! I’d love to do everything. Books, shows, comics, play the piano. I think writing a children’s book is closer in the realm of reality than me learning to play the piano. I think I’d need a plot idea though. Children are no dummies…just because I can draw a camel doesn’t make it a kid’s book. I can hear my niece Noa saying, “there’s no arc!”

SO: Duly noted.

SO: You were recently published in a genre book about movies, The Comedy Film Nerds Guide to Movies. You wrote chapters on Fantasy movies and musicals. How did this opportunity present itself to you? For those who have not yet purchased their copy, give us your best promo for the book.

Jackie: Comedy Film Nerds is a website and podcast run by two movie nerds who are standup comics. Chris Mancini and Graham Elwood. Their website and the book is the greatest exercise in getting comics to write about movies, ever. Laura House on Romantic Comedies. Greg Proops on film noir. Matt Weinhold on Horror films. All of the writers that contributed to the book are really smart, hilarious people and their insight into each of the genres is real and interesting and funny. It’s not just my chapters that are great…the whole thing is fascinating. I got to write my chapters because I contribute to the website and they asked and I was honored to be a part of it all.

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Photo by Christina Gandolfo

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SO: Slap your money down people.

SO: You are slated to do The Barbary at the Outside Lands festival next month in SF. It will feature acts like “Hot Tub” with Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler, “Gelmania” with Brett Gelman, Neil Patrick Harris, Justin Wilman’s “Magic Meltdown”, Jonah Ray and more. What’s your take on the symbiotic relationship between music and comedy? Do you get a chance to watch bands perform when you attend these festivals? You opened for bands early on. Do you still do that? Do you prefer variety shows or strict comedy shows?

Jackie: The last musical act I opened for was Anita Baker. I kept referring to her as Anita Bryant. Thank GOD not on stage. Obviously, music is my life. The audience was populated by some of the most polite upper middle class black people I’ve ever seen in my life. I felt like I was in the movie White Man’s Burden.

I love music…I know almost nothing about it. I have the first album of many popular bands. And I thoroughly enjoy them. But I don’t do bands like I do authors. When I find a book I love, I read everything by that author. A lot of people do that with music.

Here’s a fun game for listeners of The Dork Forest (TDF)…when a band is mentioned, will I know who they are? Listen for the silent beat of me not knowing who they are and then deciding to (or not to) ask for more information about a band. I had Jimmy Pardo on talking Musicals…I’ve got a nominal amount of information on that, better than average actually. I just had great NY comic, Al Jackson, on and said to him, “Is your dorkdom old-timey hip hop?” He replied…“Never.” He then pointed out the term I was looking for was “old-school” hip hop. Every musical dork I’ve had on has been worthy of the TDF drinking game of “what doesn’t Jackie know about ____” insert Punk Rock, Guitar Rock, Classic Rock, Jazz, Marching Bands (actually I know a little bit about marching bands).

I do love to sing though. Heh. They say comics want to be rock stars and rock stars want to be…well…rock stars. But many comics will work a musical number into their set to prove that they can sing. It’s pretty hilarious if you think about it. I’m thinking of doing it. But I’d break out half of the “Mountain Duet” from the non-hit musical CHESS by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

SO: What notable projects are on the horizon for Jackie Kashian?

Jackie: I’m working a lot. Stand up right now is really fun for me. There’s so much to explore. I’m acting (when encouraged) as well. And I’m thinking about buying one of those pianos that rolls up so that I can learn piano with headphones so no one has to suffer through scales.

SO: Thanks so much Jackie. It’s been an honor.

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SO Note: Check out jackiekashian.com for Jackie’s touring schedule and podcast merch. Listen to Dork Forest episodes on iTunes and here. You can find her CDs on her website and iTunes as well, and follow her @jackiekashian.

Deborah Thomasian

Deborah Thomasian

Contributor at Serial Optimist
I will categorize myself as nerdette extraordinaire. I'm a self-diagnosed comedy junkie. Moonlight as a writer on various subjects. Make me laugh please.
Deborah Thomasian
Deborah Thomasian

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