This interview was conducted while Jackie Kashian walked around Atlantic City.
When did you develop an interest in comedy?
I was nineteen and I saw standup comedy live. I had never seen it as a kid. I was raised by sales people and all we did was listen to motivational stuff.
What were you like in school?
I certainly wasn’t the class clown. I was a bit of a loner. I did a lot of reading.
Is school something that you enjoyed?
I did enjoy it. I’m the youngest of six and home was chaotic, but school offered structure and I liked that.
What sort of aspirations did you have as a child?
I wanted to be a forest ranger, high school teacher, or a lawyer.
Is television something that impacted you greatly growing up?
Yes, I watched sitcoms none stop.
Were you interested in performing yourself after that first time that you saw standup live?
Yes. I heckled the comic and the manager told me that I had to wrap it up and that the open mic was on Sunday. So, three weeks later I went to an open mic. I had three minutes of material that no doubt was not funny, but I didn’t know it. If you get one laugh the first time you’re onstage, you think it’s a million.
Were you incorporating humor into your daily routine in school in anyway?
Sure, I was very sarcastic. I also drew political cartoons. I was the editor of the school newspaper. I wanted to be a serious journalist at one point too. I wanted to be anything, it turned out. Everything sounded very exciting. I wanted to get out of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
What did you study in college?
I have a degree in political science, South East Asian studies.
Were you in some sort of comedy troupe in college?
I wasn’t. The town that I started doing standup in only had seven comics. It was very much like a troupe in that we all lived and breathed each other, essentially, for eight months until the club burned down.
Why did the club burn down?
Supposedly, a homeless man set the club on fire. It wasn’t doing well anyway. I did standup very sporadically for three years after that. There was really nowhere to do it. I moved to Minneapolis after I graduated.
How often were you doing open mics at the time?
Because it was the only club in town and it just opened, there wasn’t even an open mic. I was doing standup six nights a week at ten minutes a night and I’d get ten bucks a week. It was like something out of vaudeville. The guy that owned the club, he said, “This is the best training you’ll ever get.” He was right.
Did you encounter any interesting characters at those open mics?
There’s always interesting characters. There’s the schizo guy, who essentially needs some medication but also likes the attention. Occasionally, he’ll say something funny. There’s an old guy who does open mics in Minneapolis and he’s been doing standup for twenty years. He has one funny joke, but comics encourage him because the comics are bored and drunk. Then there’s the guys who aren’t funny and never will be. If you’ve been going to open mics for six years, there’s trouble.
How has your material changed over time?
The first three or four years, you just try to get a laugh. Then you find something to talk about and get more comfortable onstage. My jokes have become more personal. When I first started out, I did a lot of self-deprecating stuff. Now I do more positive stuff.
Are you enjoying your stay in Atlantic City?
I wish I still did drugs and drank because this would be a great town to do it in. It looks like I’m in a dodgy neighborhood now. I’ve just walked off the boardwalk and seem to be near some housing projects. No, its just apartments. It’s a private residential community, but they look like projects. They’re very ugly. I’m just walking around. I’ve been doing some gambling. I’m just bored during the day. Usually I just hang out with the other comics. The other comic, he’s a nice guy, but his wife won’t let him hang out with me because, obviously, I’m a crazy sex dynamo and I’m out to seduce her husband.
How long was it before you moved up to middling or emceeing?
I first started doing open mics in Minneapolis in 1990. By ’92, I was emceeing. I moved up pretty quick to featuring. More on the road than in town. Everybody says, “I have thirty minutes of material. I could feature.” Usually, you don’t. The only way to learn how to feature is to feature. You can say that you have an hour of material, but it’s an entirely different mindset. I started headlining in ’98. It’s only been in the last four years that I’ve been doing A rooms.
What were you doing to support yourself financially at the time?
I’ve always had a day job, but I haven’t had one in three years and it’s the longest I’ve ever gone. It terrifies the heck out of me. I had to get rid of that net, though, because I felt that I wasn’t trying as hard. When I first moved to Minneapolis, I worked at a Kinkos, which was the worst job I’ve ever had. I worked at a hot dog stand once serving foot long hot dogs to transvestites and Kinkos was worse.
What changes have you noticed in comedy since you’ve gotten involved?
Hacky comics never change. Someone was telling me about a guy doing a My Sharona musical parody. He did, “My Sca-ro-tum.” I heard that in 1986 and it wasn’t funny. That’s brutal. You can write the same joke as somebody else, but My Sharona is slang for some guy’s penis. To do a parody of a song that’s already a dick joke is a way to go. The first four years of any comic, almost no one is really funny. They may be funny people, but their standup isn’t because it’s a learned skill.
What are some misconceptions about standup that you’d like to clear up?
Some people may think that I have a choice to do or not to do standup comedy. I don’t. I was just talking to Maria Bamford and we were discussing what else we could do. I don’t want to be a forest ranger or teacher anymore. My life would feel like it’s been narrowed greatly.
What sort of venues do you prefer to perform in?
I like a club that’s about two hundred people with a low ceiling and a short stage. My least favorite place to do comedy is outdoors, like at a festival. All the sound is diffused and your timing has to change because you have to wait until the people in the back get the joke.
Are you noticing that comedian is a career that young people aspire to have?
Yeah, more and more I think. It has to do a lot with Comedy Central. I remember when it first came out. People were saying, “No one’s going to watch comedy that much. They’re going to ruin comedy.” Once you did your set on Carson, you weren’t supposed to do those jokes anymore, but one thing we learned from Comedy Central is that people will watch your comedy special or some show over and over again. When I go on the road and someone has seen my half hour special, they want me to do my Dork Forrest bit. I love that bit; it used to be my favorite bit, but it isn’t anymore because it’s three years old. But they want to hear it again. It’s almost like music now where they can listen to it over and over again.
Magazine-wise, why do you think that comedy doesn’t get much attention?
Music always claims to be an outsider sort of business and that the disenfranchised come to music. I don’t think that that’s true anymore. It’s been smoothed over by the corporate music machine so badly that by the time they sign they have their own hairdressers. Standup is the only thing that’s really disenfranchised. I book myself on the road and I work thirty-five to forty weeks a year. If corporate America got into comedy, there would be a great deal of money to be made. I make a good living, but it’s nothing like a rock star.
There are guys you’ve never heard of that make four times as much as me, but they work only corporate and cruise ships. Those are hard gigs. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do them; I just wouldn’t want to do them. When you do corporate or a cruise ship, it’s very restrictive. I don’t curse often, but with them you can’t curse at all and you have to watch your topics. I did a corporate gig last month for a financial house. Whenever I do a corporate, I have written in my contract that adult topics will be discussed and that if you’re easily offended that you shouldn’t come.
I am told that a big part of comedy is networking, but do you have any experience with the other type of networking: Amway?
No, but I once had a UPS guy ask me if I was happy with the amount of money I was making every year and I knew that Amway was coming. My father sold everything. He sold dried food, water softeners, and he sold some sort of hot sauce that he bought in tanks and bottled under his own label. My father would say, “You want to get in a pyramid scheme, you start it.” I never wanted to be part of it.
What projects are you contemplating?
For the last year and a half I’ve been concentrating on my standup. I wrote treatments for some movies and pitches for TV shows. I’m working on a lot of writing stuff. In the last four months, I’ve been working on putting together my new solo theater show.
What do you think of the state of television today?
I hate reality shows. They’re not that real and they’re very pathetic. I’ve been asked to be on several reality shows. There was one year where I got a series of e-mails asking if I wanted to be on Extreme Makeover and Queer Eye for the Straight Girl. Four months ago I was asked to be on something called Starting Over. Extreme Makeover, that’s surgery. I’m going to work with what I have. I would love to be on television and to act, but I am not going on Extreme Makeover.
Do you enjoy being an adult?
I do. I didn’t used to. It takes a while to get used to being an adult because there’s no real coming of age. When you’re twenty-one you can start drinking, but most people have been drinking before then. And if you haven’t been drinking before twenty-one and that’s your big initiation, that doesn’t say, “Hey, I’m an adult,” that says, “Hey, I get to be a jackass in public now.”
I remember when I first realized that I was an adult. When I first moved in Los Angeles, I was a nanny. I have never met kids like the kids in Los Angeles. The kid’s eight and he has a PS2, satellite TV, and he’s sitting there watching Sex in the City on HBO. At one point, I got so furious at the older kid, who was ten at the time. She shook up a can of soda and said, “Watch: I’m going to open it in the house.” I said, “No, do it outside,” but she did it anyway and it went everywhere. I was so mad that I whipped a towel at her and made her clean it up. Later, she told her parents that I physically abused her. I took three months off and in those three months I realized that she was the kid and I was the adult. That was the first time. I had to be thirty-years-old when that happened.
Do you partake in any sort of shenanigans when out and about?
I am in a committed monogamous relationship, so I do not shenan in that way. I used to drink a great deal and work heavy machinery, and I no longer shenan in that way. The only shenanigans I really do are play a lot of video games and do a lot of reading. My shenanigans are that of a sixty-year-old woman, but I mean well.
Do you have a special message to leave our readers with?
I talk to strangers a lot because I’m alone often. Strangers are just friends that I don’t know.
Visit Jackiekashian.com to find out more about Jackie.