Jackie Kashian admits that family foibles have provided a rich and abundant source of material throughout her nearly 30-year history as a working comedienne. “I tell a lot of stories about my family,” she says in a recent phone interview, prior to her Nov. 14 appearance at Scruffy City Comedy Festival in Scruffy City Hall.
“It’s observational. It’s not political humor, but it is socio-political. It’s just looking at my family, at their life choices, and at how those things relate to the rest of the world.”
At once genial and plain-spoken, Kashian comes off a bit like a friendlier — and funnier — comedic cousin of Rosie O’Donnell. Her demeanor, both onstage and off, is charmingly brazen, post-feminist with a soft edge.
And as Kashian delves into bits about her family of origin, the anecdotes reveal a good deal about her own life choices. Her father, she says, was a successful salesman, and something of a Lothario. “My dad could really work a room,” Kashian says. “He enjoys the ladies, and he enjoys making the sale.
“He’s a savant-level genius. Eighty-five percent of the time, the things he says are spot-on. The other 15 percent is batshit crazy. When we were kids, he used to tell us, ‘You can do anything you want in life,’ which is a beautiful thing to say to a child. But then he would add, ‘As long as you don’t get caught.’
“He would say something that was so true, and then the next thing he said would remove all sense of reality.”
It was from that slightly daft family milieu that Kashian entered the world of stand-up comedy in 1986, just three years after her graduation from South Milwaukee High School in Wisconsin. Her rise through the comedic ranks has been gradual, but steady.
She cut her teeth playing a club in Madison, Wis. that was owned by Bill Kinison, brother of the late shock-and-awe screamer Sam Kinison. She met Sam Kinison a handful of times, she says, though she confesses, “If we was alive today, he probably would not remember me.”
Kasha characterizes herself as a working-(wo)man’s performer, a hard-touring road warrior who continued to hone her chops in small venues all over the country, even after marrying and moving to the comedy-friendly climate of Los Angeles in 1997.
“I’ve always worked the road,” she says. “That way, you get to do more sets in front of more people, people who know comedy differently.”
Indeed, it wasn’t until the 2000s that Kashian broke through from workaday touring comic to the next level of recognition. She has recorded all three of her comedy albums in the new millennium, including her 2014 release This Will Make an Excellent Horcrux.
Most of her TV, film and radio appearances have come since 2000, including her half-hour special on Comedy Central, and her semi-finals appearance on Last Comic Standing. And in 2005, she began the podcast The Dork Forest, which stands as perhaps the best expression of Kashian’s quirky comedic muse.
“The podcast is based on a joke I did in my special,” Kashian explains. “The idea was, ‘How far into the ‘Dork Forest’ will I go?’ Who won’t I hang out with? Because I’ll hang out with just about anyone.”
On Dork Forest, Kashian interviews people — celebrities, fellow comics, and unknowns alike — about their passions. This results in a sprawling and frequently surprising roster of topics: Cats. Comic book super villains. Banjos. Bird-watching. Bad TV shows.
“It turns out, there is one class of people whom I don’t want to hang out with,” she says with a chuckle. “That’s war reenactors. I did a podcast on that, and they got a little intense for me.
“But the whole idea is just for me to talk to people about stuff they love. And I’ve had some amazing episodes — some of them with the standard sorts of dork-stuff, like anime or science fiction. But also with weird stuff you wouldn’t expect, like the history of baseball, or bees, or perfume.
“I talked to this one lady about bee-keeping. And I mean she really loves bees, man. Myself, I don’t even like honey that much.”
She mentions a couple other recent favorites, including her early November segment with former Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton — “Wil is a sort of Dork luminary” — about brewing craft beer. And also her interview with an aficionado of Victorian-era English cuisine. “Which, I’ve come to the conclusion, means ‘food that stares back at you from the plate,'” Kashian says.
But left-of-center podcast topics notwithstanding, Kashian says her brand of comedy is grounded in traditional notions of humor — colored though those notions may be by her cheerfully loopy sensibilities.
“My stuff is still very accessible,” Kashian says. “I don’t do much of what you’d call ‘existential comedy’ — though sometimes I might like to. But always feel like I need to have a punchline. I’m a huge believer in the punchline.”