Editor’s Note: It’s been a while since we’ve done a Women Making History article. I chose to revive the series with comedian Jackie Kashian because not only is she a breed of comic who doesn’t dance around the taboo, she opens the stage for other comics, actors, musicians, and writers to be who they are off the stage on her podcast “The Dork Forest.” Maybe you’ve heard her albums “It Is Never Going to be Bread” and “Circus People”, seen her half hour special on Comedy Central, or caught her appearances on Conan. Jackie was gracious enough to let me interview her about her experiences as a woman in the comedy industry and how gender roles didn’t stop her from performing comedy that was true to her voice. The most poignant part of this interview, I think, is how Jackie focuses on the idea of success and how it can be achieved through simply working with life experiences to the best of your ability, no matter what your job may be. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I was excited to have it happen.
Lauren: A lot of comics say they knew comedy was going to be a part of their life from an early age. What made you realize comedy was something you really wanted to do for a living?
Jackie: I did not know that comedy was a part of my life until it was my entire life. It’s always odd to tell people that we never listened to those great, classic albums when I was a kid: Cosby, Carlin, Pryor, Bob Newhart. Nothing. I remember watching an episode of M.A.S.H. once and the Charles character said something really funny (Oh, I know he was on after the shark jumped but there were still some good ones) and I said to the room (How weird is THAT? I wasn’t even talking to my parents) “I have to remember that line.” And my dad, confused, said, “What would you want to remember it for?” And I didn’t have an answer. Which is really par for the course, me talking to my dad when I was a kid.
I knew that it COULD be a living immediately. The comics who played through Madison, Wisconsin, where I started, all made a living at it, but I knew that I would want a steady paycheck. I had to force myself to quit my day job in 2003. Right after I got my 1/2hour special on Comedy Central. I knew it would be a living but one that was annoying and fraught with peril. My dad would say, when we were kids, that being a salesman, “Everyday I wake up and look for work.” That’s what standup comedy is and I didn’t know if I wanted that job for myself. But stand up, since I started doing it, has consumed my mind and waking hours like a crazy person. I know that.
Lauren: As a writer, things like my cat meowing or House Hunter marathons can stall my creative process and then I must fight my way back to focus. Sometimes the words just won’t flow even on a peaceful day. What is your creative process like and how do you keep yourself focused through a rough patch?
Jackie: There are peaks and valleys in standup. I know book authors talk about just “showing up” at the keyboard. I guess the stand up version of that is just going on stage. I’m in a weird place today. I have a lot of premises, topics, and funny ideas that I want to talk about. I just need a couple things. I need to pare them down, cut how long I talk about each topic in half probably. From six to 3 minutes. AND I need punch lines. There are plenty of funny things about the topics I have. I just need lines of punch. And those, for me, often come organically, on stage, while talking about the topics.
Lauren: Over the years, the stereotypical joke “women aren’t funny” has been disproved by, well, women being funny. Have you ever directly come up against this accusation at a show?
Jackie: I get what most women comics get, “Usually I don’t like women comics, but you’re funny.” Sigh. I know what they mean. They’ve been told women aren’t funny. They’ve seen a comic, who is a woman, who wasn’t funny, and then they saw me. Really, it’s just best to say, “I thought you were funny” and leave it at that. No qualifications, no explanations. Just, “I had a good time and you provided some/many of the laughs that made that possible.”
I have an unsubstantiated theory that, if you are a woman comic and no one has said the above to you, you might not be funny.
Lauren: Comedians of both genders often use humor to disparage the opposite sex, be it about relationships or casual friendships. Do you think this keeps women, and even men, from entering the comedic field?
Jackie: Nothing should stop people from doing stand up comedy. There’s always an open mic or a class that a person could take. If you are intimidated by what other people do “as comedy” to stop you from doing stand up, I don’t know what that is. I think that might mean you don’t want to do stand up comedy. Or you don’t like stand up comedy. None of my family members like stand up comedy. They will watch me do it, but they don’t go one iota out of their way to see stand up comedy. If you like stand up, think you want to do stand up and yet think you can’t do stand up because that’s the only kind of comedy there is – see different comedy. There will be comedy that inspires you.
There are people at every job who are bad at that job. Or, in the case of stand up, are “bad” at that job. Comedy is very subjective; it might be the most subjective. Comedy by or for certain people, places and things might not be for ME, but that doesn’t mean that there is not someone out there that wants to buy your “horny toad” jerk off T-shirt or whatever. Do the comedy you want to do. Whether I or anyone likes it. If you can make a room of people consistently laugh, there will be work for you.
Lauren: Your podcast, “The Dork Forest”, has you and your guest really digging into favorite obsessions and generates some fascinating conversations about everything from ancient history to perfume. Which episode or episodes stand out in your mind as most engaging?
Jackie: Both of those, actually. There’s so many like the True Crime episodes with Michelle McNamara, the Baseball episode with Greg Proops. The Hollywood episodes with Dana Gould, James Urbaniak and Ken Daly. The Janeane Garafalo talking about beads episode. The Diva Zappa about knitting. The two episodes where I get interviewed. Heh. “Dork Origin” episodes we called them. So many great shows. Feel free to Google YOUR dorkdom or favorite comic and the words “The Dork Forest.”
Lauren: I just looked at my list of podcasts I listen to. Besides The Dork Forest and Jen Kirkman’s “I Seem Fun”, men host all the others on the list. Do you think podcasting helps women in comedy mold their own niches where their artistic approaches aren’t compared to other mediums?
Jackie: It’s certainly a great place to just be yourself for women, for white guys, for black guys because you get to talk about the things you want to talk about. You don’t have to be any stereotype or fulfill any “Network” protocol. Aisha Tyler is a nerd. Erin Foley loves sports and she’s a woman. There are these two white guys doing 15 minute podcasts every day about ONE minute of Star Wars. Every day, these guys talk about the NEXT minute of the Star Wars movie. They are on, like, minute 86. It’s crazy. The greatest thing about podcasting and the Internet is that you can do whatever for whomever might care. It’s really a great time to do standup and comedy and be here.
Lauren: How do you feel your style of comedy has contributed to changing how women are perceived in comedy? Insisting you haven’t isn’t allowed!
Jackie: Ha! Well, I think that by just doing standup and doing it in my voice that it makes other women, who may still think, “Well, bros do stand up.” want to do stand up. Bros do stand up for other bros. Bronies do stand up for everyone. So, I, as a woman who does stand up – true to my own story and my own sense of funny and does it successfully (i.e. I make a living) – can point out, even to those who might think I’m an anomaly, that it can be done.
Lauren: Lastly, what are you reading? Any recommendations for our readers?
Jackie: There are four categories of “reading.”
Books: I’m reading Havana Nocturne by TJ English (non fiction about the mob in Cuba).
I’m listening, via unabridged audio and just finished: Eifelheim by Michael Flynn, Way Station by Clifford Simak, and now The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
I’m RE-reading a romance novel by Georgette Heyer called Black Sheep.
In comic books I’m reading a LOT. I guess I’d recommend Saga (Brian K Vaughn) Unwritten (Mike Carey) all of Mike Mignola, most of Marvel, anything by Ed Brubaker.
So, I’m reading a bunch of stuff I guess. Kage Baker’s Company series is a really fun sci-fi series too. You’ve clearly gotten me started.
If you want to catch Jackie Kashian live (and you absolutely should), you can catch her at:
Lauren Mack: Co-founder of The Well Written Woman is an aspiring writer, blogger, and overall enthusiast of brainstorms. She is a graduate of Flagler College with a BA in English Literature and has no intentions to teach. Lauren spends a lot of time reading novels and hoping she can one day finish her own. She often wonders how they made blue cheese so delicious. Really, she is just imposing her elitist attitude on everyone. You can find her sports articles on ChatSports and follow her on Twitter.