There aren’t many people in the industry that can say they’ve heckled Sam Kinison. In truth, if you knew what the late comic’s act consisted of you most likely would have kept to yourself when he was onstage. Luckily, in 1985, Jackie Kashian had never seen a stand up comedy show.
Despite having an intro to the stand up world that was surely an embarrassing one – claiming Kinison “mopped the floor” with her – Kashian took to the stage soon after the experience and has never stopped. Starting officially in the Minneapolis comedy scene (home of the great ACME Comedy Theater) Kashian built her act for the road before heading out the Los Angeles. Fifteen years since moving west, she has become a well-known touring comic all across the country and just made her Late Night debut on “Conan.”
Kashian was kind enough to speak with The Smoking Jacket about Kinison, Minneapolis and the twitchiness she acquired from “Last Comic Standing.”
The Smoking Jacket: First of all, congratulations! I saw you a few days ago on “Conan.” That was a great set.
Jackie Kashian: Thanks! I was very nervous about it but it was really fun. Very simple too, which I loved. They make it very easy for you.
TSJ: It’s a wonderful place to make your debut.
JK: Yeah! And honestly, that’s the one I really wanted to do. As much as I love “Letterman,” I have been enjoying “Conan” a lot lately.
TSJ: What was it about that show that made you want it to be your first?
JK: I truly enjoy how silly he is and how open he is to a lot more experimental comedy, and experimental comics. All of that stuff with Jon Dore and Rory Scovel and Eddie Pepitone; it’s like, Oh; they just want you to have fun.
TSJ: I think that show has a very deep appreciation for stand up. It’s very cool.
JK: It was that, but also the appreciation that they are just trying to let you remember that it is all fun. I kept going have fun, have fun before they pulled the curtain. [laughs]
TSJ: So when did you start stand up? College?
JK: Yeah! I started in Madison, Wisconsin, in college. I had never seen stand up comedy either. I come from salespeople so we had listened to a lot of motivational speakers when I was a kid. It was a lot of sell the sizzle, not the steak sort of thing; a lot of advice coming down from my Dad. [laughs] All of the spoken word stuff was mostly storytelling and sales advice. The only stand up I saw was some Johnny Carson and some Gallagher, which made me laugh. Then in 1984, in Madison, I went to a comedy club owned by Sam Kinison’s brother, Bill. I proceeded to get completely hammered and heckle Sam Kinison, which is a bad choice. It was emotionally jarring. [laughs]
And the worst thing in the world is a woman heckler. Even as a stand up comic, if I have a woman heckle me, it’s very hard because the audience is like, Oh we have to protect her. I don’t know why; it doesn’t matter how big of a jerk she is, the audience is on her side. So I was the worst kind of heckler, but Kinison mopped the floor with me. I just wouldn’t shut up. The manager actually came over and said, “Hey! The open mic is on Sunday. Shut up!” So I went back a few weeks later and tried out jokes.
TSJ: I guess of all the comics to heckle, Sam Kinison was a bad choice.
JK: Exactly! And it was the first show I had ever seen live.
JACKIE KASHIAN — CONAN
TSJ: So then you went to Minneapolis?
JK: I did. But before I did, when I started stand up I just would not stop. It was like heroin. My grades really suffered. I got a 1.8 that semester. My friends were like, Are you doing anything else? [laughs]
So when the club I started in, in college burned down I thought about dropping out and moving, but my sister said I couldn’t. I had no idea but it turns out she’s the boss of me. So then I graduated and moved to Minneapolis in 1990.
TSJ: It’s funny that you had no comedy upbringing, but once you did it, you jumped fully into it. I guess it was just that strong for you?
JK: It was that strong and instantaneous. People ask how I chose it, but honestly I don’t feel like I chose. I feel like a priest. [laughs] It’s a calling.
TSJ: And the manager of that club was being sarcastic when he told you to come back after heckling.
JK: Oh, totally! But when I went back three weeks later he recognized me. There were only like six of us who were local, and he would bring in LA comics who would perform for little money. This was in the supposed “comedy boom” too, but not in Madison, 1985. [laughs] The boom seemed to have skipped over.
TSJ: Why did you choose Minneapolis?
JK: My brother was there. Plus I didn’t know anyone in Chicago.
TSJ: That’s where ACME is, no?
JK: Yep! That’s my home club.
TSJ: Everyone says that is one of the best clubs.
JK: For me it is the best club, but I guess I’m prejudiced because I came up there. The ones who say that are right though. Louis Lee is the guy who owns it, and he is the most supportive guy of my comedy career – hands down. What he does that’s different is two things: he brings up comics from open mics to headline. He hires from within which is almost unheard of. If you consistently prove that you have new material then he’ll promote you. But also, he doesn’t care if you work the other clubs in Minneapolis. He feels that the more stage time, the better.
TSJ: I actually didn’t know some club owners didn’t like that.
JK: Oh, there’s always some weird war going on in Chicago or Indiana or wherever. It’s crazy, especially if you live there.
TSJ: Why haven’t other clubs adapted ACME’s process then?
JK: Some have, actually. Louis helped start the Helium Comedy Club chain. He and a handful of other guys know that more stage time makes a better comic. ACME has been built for twenty years. His open mic is legendary; he started it fifteen years ago. It’s a lot of comics, a long night, but Louis watches and helps people rise from within. His open mic sometimes has like 250 audience members or something; it’s amazing. The rule is if you’ve never been on that stage you get a set.
TSJ: Was it like that when you started?
JK: No, he started it a couple of years after I started there. But Louis was always focused on make a great club for comedians.
TSJ: How heavy was the comedy scene when you were in Minneapolis?
JK: It was great! Wherever you go and start doing stand up, you end up hanging out with other comics and that’s your life. It can be cliquey to begin with. And when you move to a new town you have to prove that you’re funny. That’s one of the biggest problems with moving to a place like Los Angeles; there are so many people. It’s like, I’m huge in Duluth! And you want to be like, Yes, yes you are. In LA, I meet like ten new comics every night, and four are amazing. But you have to prove yourself. If you don’t do LA open mics, no one is ever going to know who you are.
JACKIE KASHIAN — EFFINFUNNY
TSJ: Yeah, that’s frustrating.
JK: It’s a pain in the ass; I get that. But you kind of have to do it.
TSJ: At what point did you decide to head to LA?
JK: Well, I did a comedy festival, and once you do one of those “you go to LA” apparently. People love to say, “Come to LA. It’s going to be amazing! You’ll be famous in a minute!” So you go and you’re not. [laughs] I’ve been here for about 15 years and still do the road a lot.
TSJ: So what differences have you seen between the Minneapolis and LA scenes?
JK: Somebody once told me – and I don’t know if this is true – that 10,000 people tend to do comedy in Los Angeles. It’s like when people say women aren’t funny or there aren’t great black comics or why isn’t that lesbian Asian woman hilarious? I feel like in LA there’s just so may people doing stand up; that’s the difference.
TSJ: I get that. So many people in one city are trying to do one thing.
JK: Right! And it’s usually people who really believe in themselves, the ones who come to LA. And then there’s the poor bastards that are born here and try to do it.
TSJ: I wonder if that’s harder.
JK: I think it is harder. There’s good and bad things I guess. A bad thing is that you’re not ready to be seen by the industry yet. There’s people who really want to work the road but you can’t get a 30-minute set in LA. Somewhere like Minneapolis, you can do that.
TSJ: You also did “Last Comic Standing,” correct?
JK: Oooh, yeah.
TSJ: I was going to ask how you enjoyed it, but I’m guessing you didn’t?
JK: I did not! I did not enjoy it.
TSJ: I’ve asked a lot of comics and they’ve had good things to say. It’s kind of refreshing to hear someone say different.
JK: Oh no, it is not enjoyable! I had a couple of problems with it. First and foremost, it wasn’t stand up comedy. And second of all, it was thought of as a reality show competition. The best season was, for me, was when they started doing real competitions. One of the best episodes was when they took everybody to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and made them be prop comics.
But the reality show, because there’s a camera shoved in your face, it created twitchiness about cameras that I don’t appreciate to this day. I’ve never suffered from stage fright, but ‘Last Comic Standing’ did create a small amount of that for me. I hadn’t had that before.
TSJ: Why did it do that to you?
JK: Well, think about it. For four or five hours a day there’s a camera in your face with a producer behind constantly saying the same thing to you in various ways. They’re saying, “What do you think your life is going to be like if you win?” and “What do you think your life is going to be like if you lose?” It’s over and over again. The first thirty times they ask you, your answer is flippant because no matter what you can always do stand up. But the seventieth time they ask you or the seven-hundredth time, you start thinking oh, what will happen if I don’t win or move on? It makes you want to smother someone. [laughs]
The show was not about stand up. It would have been great if it was but it wasn’t. There’s a great show called ‘Set List’ run by Paul Provenza and Troy Conrad. They hand you a set list when you go onstage and you pretend it’s your act.
TSJ: That sounds pretty cool.
JK: It is so cool! Talk about genuine stakes. You’re not supposed to do your act or any prepared material. You get bullet points, a list of different joke topics. One might be dinosauritis and you go off on it. The great thing about that show is that everyone does their stand up. People like me or Maria Bamford or Sarah Silverman, whoever goes up there with that list, they end up doing whatever their stand up is. It really is a very cool show. It’s a sociological marvel!
TSJ: Aside from that you’re the host of ‘The Dork Forest’ podcast. You have an interesting angle to the show. Can you explain it?
JK: Yeah! ‘The Dork Forest’ is essentially based on a joke I used to do on whom I am willing to hang out with in the world and how deep in the dork forest I’m willing to go. So it’s what dorky things people enjoy. I interview people about things that they love. Often times it’s about movies, TV, action figures, etc., but it can also be like the history of weird NFL things or odd things like that. It’s mostly my friends, but I’ve gotten some famous comics and now authors – which is very cool. I just had a guy who is a Shakespeare denier. He wrote a 1,400-page non-fiction report on it. Two hundred pages are just footnotes and appendices. I don’t know anything about Shakespeare so I didn’t have a horse in that race. That’s the great thing about the podcast; it’s not necessarily things I’m interested in, it’s what they are into. I dare people to bore me with the minutia of what they love. Then it becomes fascinating for everyone.
TSJ: Do they tell you their “dorkdoms” before hand or do you ever find out in the interview?
JK: I try to find out beforehand. Often times, we’ll find out something in the interview though. Podcast fans are amazing like that; they’ll sit through hours of conversation on end. [laughs]
TSJ: Do you think stand up is something you can teach?
JK: I think you can learn. When people want to do stand up I tell them to think of three things that are funny, write them down, go onstage with those topics for the three minutes you’re given, and then talk about them. Then you repeat them, forever. But if you can’t make yourself do that but want to do stand up, go ahead and pay someone $300 so make you get up there. Try not to let other people tell you what is funny. I think that’s basic… right?