Comedian Jackie Kashian describes herself as a “very well-kept secret in show business.” But to me and other comedians, she’s a household name. Between her long-running podcast, Dork Forest, her late-night sets on Conan on TBS, and her longevity in stand-up, she’s left a significant impression.
We spoke about her background in comedy, comics, and video games, as well as the different parts of the brain used when doing two different types of podcasts. Oh, and the Armenian Genocide also came up, plus a little bit about what it is like working with her co-host Laurie Kilmartin.
Early in your comedy career you made jokes about growing up Armenian. Now, on your new album you joke about the Armenian Genocide. Do you wish you could recite some of your older Armenian jokes for context, for your new audiences who might not be familiar with it?
I am a huge fan of doing the stand-up that I think the audience needs to hear. If there are jokes that I need to do to set up the next joke, I will do it. I only had a couple of jokes about being Armenian. On my latest album I might actually have more powerful stuff about my ancestry than anything I’ve ever previously done.
I was reminded of my grandmother talking to me about the Armenian Genocide in 1915. So I tell the story of the three times that she mentioned it in my life. Two of those stories are very funny, and one of them is not. I put that one in the middle because that’s how comedy works. I do a lot of shows in Los Angeles, where there’s a lot of Armenians, and sometimes people will come see me because they see my name is an Armenian name.
What’s the difference between co-hosting a podcast like The Jackie and Laurie Show with Laurie Kilmartin, and hosting Dork Forest, which is you interviewing other people?
The thing is with the Dork Forest, I’ve been doing it for 13 years and my interviewing skills have gotten much, much better. What I do is I interview somebody about something they like a lot. For example, the Hallmark Christmas Movies. It could be the band Ween. It could be anything. So, when I interview somebody, I’m essentially letting them talk about what they love a lot, and then I’m learning stuff about it. There are some anecdotes, but it’s almost never any discussion of stand-up comedy.
The podcast I do with Laurie Kilmartin, we discuss being stand-up comics. There are innumerable podcasts where middle-aged white guys talk about what it’s like to be a stand-up comic, [but] very few with middle-aged white ladies. So it’s not really a step forward. It’s more of a lateral move. Essentially we celebrate and bitch about stand-up comedy for an hour. I want to talk more than I do on the Dork Forest because I don’t know anything about Jay Z. But, with stand-up, I’m literally dipped in it 24-7. When we start talking, the biggest thing I had to learn with Kilmartin is not to interrupt, to let her talk.
Even though you two started around the same time, you and Laurie never really met until recently, correct?
[Laurie] started in ’89. I started in ’84 and we had never met each other until 2006. I did Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, which was her first writing job. We met super briefly on that. And then I think in 2008 she came on Dork Forest with Kathleen Madigan, and they both talked extensively about the Kennedys. Which is an American political family that I don’t know a great deal about.
We had never met each other because we were going up the same rungs of the ladder. We were both featuring when we were featuring, which was in my opinion far too long, and then moved up and were headlining. We just never ran into other women comics. When I moved to Los Angeles, that’s where I ended up meeting the other women comics. It’s been really cool getting to know her over these last three years. We’re building a friendship. She doesn’t know it yet, but we’re going to be friends.
Do you find yourself to be more of a performer or more of a writer?
Both. What I can tell of my reception is most people come up to me after the show and they say, You remind me …, and it used to be of their daughter or their college roommate, and now it’s their aunt or their mom. And that’s fine. The aging process isn’t execrable. My stand-up comedy persona tends to be something that feels super likable. In stand-up comedy, you write your own material, and nobody has the experiences that I had. I hate to say this, it’s almost impossible to steal my material because it’s so personal, but I don’t want to dare anyone out there to try.
Mitch Hedberg said, “When you’re in Hollywood, and you’re a comedian, they want you to do everything but comedy. They want me to do things related to comedy, but not comedy.” Have you experienced this?
Kilmartin writes for Conan, and a lot of my friends write for TV shows and stuff. I’ve never wanted to be at a writer’s room. I’ve never sought that opportunity. I’ve sought the opportunity of acting and have not really been taken up on it. I had a manager once tell me, You got a face for radio, you should definitely try for the writer’s room. But I was like, Oh, you can stop being my manager. … I mine my life for my stand-up, so I never want to give up my stories to other people.
You may be the most prominent, if not the first, female voice in media to talk about video games. When and how did you get so involved with video games?
I always played uprights. I always played arcade games because when I went to college in 1984, it was the first time I had any money. I got student loans, and I spent 75 bucks a week on video games for the first month I was there. Then I heard about a guy who had to drop out of college because he spent all of his money on video games.
I don’t know if you know anything about it, but 1984 was a hell of a year for video games. They were just getting into laser disc, like Dragon’s Lair and all that stuff. It was the heyday of Q Bert, Donkey Kong, and Mario Bros. I played Tempest and Joust, and I was living in a Ready Player One world. It was not ready. Ernie Cline literally was writing a love letter to my youth, to my college years.
Are there any video games you’re playing now?
The only video game I’m playing right now is on my phone, and it is Marvel Puzzle Quest. It’s the first game that I’ve done in-game purchasing.
Has there ever been a question you’ve always hoped to be asked in an interview but never have?
No. But there’s always a question that they don’t ask that I’m usually pretty happy about. So I appreciate you not asking that question.
THE JACKIE AND LAURIE SHOW W/ JACKIE KASHIAN AND LAURIE KILMARTIN. SAT 1.19 AT SONIA. CENTRAL SQUARE, CAMBRIDGE. LISTEN TO THE FULL CONVERSATION AT DEADAIRDENNIS.COM/PODCAST.