Comedian Jackie Kashian Lost Herself in The Dork Forest

Jackie Kashian performs at Comedy Works South February 6 to 9.
Jackie Kashian performs at Comedy Works South February 6 to 9. Michael Helms
Comedian Jackie Kashian has built a solid following since 1985, when she got her start, heckling the legendary Sam Kinison. That incident was followed by an invitation to participate in an open-mic night at the same club. But these days, she's less interested in how people started standup than why they stay in it.

“Looking around, the scene is littered with broken people," she says. "Why would you want to work in this field? Why not? It’s addictive and fascinating.”

Along the way, she dabbled in acting and became a podcasting pioneer. She began doing the latter nearly sixteen years ago with The Dork Forest. Among the first to launch a podcast, she followed Keith and the Girl by about a year and Jimmy Pardo (Never Not Funny) by just four months. She was actually a few years ahead of Marc Maron.

Originally she used a platform called Blog Talk Radio. At the time, Blog Talk only required the podcaster to call into its service. The sound quality wasn’t great. “It sounded like a telephone was being held up to an AM radio,” she recalls.

The show’s name stems from an old joke in her act about how far into the Dork Forest one has to venture to engage with Civil War re-enactors. After all these years, she says she wouldn’t mind having one on her podcast, though she does bristle at World War II re-enactors. “Let’s wait until everyone is dead from that time before we play World War II re-enacting games," she says. "‘Can I be a Jew?’ It’s a terrible idea.”

Guests on The Dork Forest include the famous (Brian Regan, Maria Bamford, Greg Proops) to the not famous at all, such as a group of model-railroaders in Indiana who re-created an old line that ran between two towns in the Hoosier State in the 1960s. They even ran their train on the real-life timetables of the defunct railroad.

“New ones come out of the closet all the time,” Kashian says of her guests. “Then all of a sudden you find someone who is into closets. There are so many weird things that people genuinely love that I’ve never thought of, that you’ve never thought of, that nobody has ever thought of. It can be anything from Shakespeare deniers and defunct football leagues to model trains and stationary.”

Her husband, a video game designer, is very supportive. “He’s the nicest guy in the world,” Kashian reports. “But whenever I say that, he says, ‘Can you also tell them that I’m dangerous?’”

Having hardly ever dated before, Kashian met him through an online dating service. “Online dating is great,” she says, “because you both go in knowing the other person is looking for someone who is willing to kiss you. ‘Is this someone you’d be willing to make out with?’ And you see each other and sometimes it’s ‘Nope!’ Or maybe you go on three or four dates, and by the end you’re like, ‘Yeah, probably.’” She’s quick to point out that during the process, she strove to be up front, noting on her profile pic for the dating service that “professionals were involved.”

“I’d never even had a boyfriend before,” she says. “Standup was all I did. And occasionally I would meet a fella, nature would take its course, and I’d feel pretty.” That system had its limitations, though, as Kashian only knew about relationships through the jokes of male comics with whom she performed. There are basically three jokes male comics tell about their wives, she says. “One: Once you get married, women stop having sex. Two: They spend all your money. Three: They’re all bitches, man.” So after tying the knot, Kashian stuck to a carefully crafted plan to make sure none of those things would be true of her. “I’m making sure everyone is happy in the sack, I don’t hemorrhage his money, and if I have a negative emotion, I stuff it. Because that will never backfire.”

As for her comedic approach to the subject of marriage, she’s always tried to take a different path than other female comedians. “If you listen to all the comedy about marriage, none of it seems to be about how to be good at it,” she notes. Where the guys talk about how awful their wives and girlfriends are, using the same premises, women seem to limit their setups to certain subjects.

“There’s the one about how the sexiest thing a man can do is his chores; that’s been covered. And then there’s the whole thing about how they like to go through their husband’s or boyfriend’s cell phone or web history,” she says. “This is great information on how not to be a crazy person. I don’t have time to go through my own emails; I’m certainly not going to go through my husband’s emails. There’s no standup comedy about how to trust your significant other, but there’s comedy gold there if I can figure it out.”

While her husband can be a source of material, it’s her family that has always been her bread and butter for jokes. “My family continues to be hilarious,” she reports. “My father likes to ask, ‘How come you don’t talk about your brothers and sister more?’ I say, ‘Because you keep opening your mouth and saying things that are hilarious, and I have to repeat them in public.’”

A favorite tale that still occasionally appears in her set is about her father. She describes the time she met him for coffee back home in Milwaukee. “He showed up wearing a sleeveless denim shirt and homemade Daisy Dukes. On my dad!” she exclaims. “’Where have you been in this outfit?’ And he says, ‘Fishing.’ For men? It looked like he had just come from a gay rave.

“When I talked to him after my first DVD came out a few years ago, he asked for a copy,” she continues. “It has a lot of personal stuff on it, more than my first two albums. I thought he might want to talk about that stuff, but all he wanted to talk about were the two bits about him.”

Jackie Kashian will perform February 6 through February 9 at Comedy Works South, 5345 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village, $16 to $24.
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P.F. Wilson
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