'Unforgettable’ comedian returns to South Milwaukee roots 
‘The golden retriever of stand-up’ to entertain March 19

By TOM JOZWIK - TimeOut Post Critic

March 10, 2016


Submitted photo

Jackie Kashian, a South Milwaukee High School graduate, will be at the Performing Arts Center at the school on March 19.

South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center Executive Director Rachel Sorce reminisced recently about one-time schoolmate Jackie Kashian (pronounced KAY-shin).

“She was unforgettable,” Sorce said in a telephone interview. “She was outspoken - she spoke her mind. She knew how to get attention.”

“I’m not particularly easily intimidated,” Kashian conceded during a subsequent interview.

Added Sorce, “I would say she was well-liked. She had a big personality.” And, when she learned years later that Kashian was earning her living as a stand-up comic, Sorce “wasn’t shocked.”

Since the term “really racy” (a term with which the comedian does not take issue) has been employed in describing her onstage humor, some in Kashian’s audience could be taken aback when she returns to her old stomping grounds March 19 to host “An Evening of Comedy” at the SMPAC. They would probably be in the minority, though. Speaking via phone from Los Angeles, her home for more than 15 years, Kashian described herself as “silly and smart, the golden retriever of stand-up comedy.” She went on to explain, “Nobody doesn’t like me. Everybody is on board.”

Entertaining at the SMPAC along with Kashian will be Milwaukee native Tom Clark, an alumnus of “Last Comic Standing”; Madison juggler-comedian Josh Casey; and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh graduate Mary Mack, whose specialty is mandolin sing-alongs.

“It’s gonna be a really fun night,” Kashian predicted, jocularly adding, “Wisconsin creates really good comics. I assume it’s because of the weather.”

Just how did the SMPAC emcee-to-be, the youngest of six children, prepare for the life of a comedian? Kashian recalled watching Johnny Carson along with the sitcoms “Barney Miller,” “Happy Days” and “M*A*S*H” while growing up in South Milwaukee. At South Milwaukee High School, where she and Sorce were a year apart and from which Kashian graduated in 1983, the future comic honed her public speaking and linguistic skills as a debate team member and school newspaper editor. (Kashian was also in the SMHS marching band; “Miss Awe was one of my favorite teachers,” she said of the band’s director.)

While she admittedly “always wanted to perform,” Kashian “never did aspire to” professional comedy as a youngster.

It was in Madison, where she earned a degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin, that Kashian launched her career at a comedy club near the campus. An open-mic appearance led quickly enough to a five-night-a-week gig for Kashian, a novelty as a female stand-up comic in that place and time. The club burned down, but the comedian was on her way.

She moved from Madison to the much more populated Twin Cities, then to L.A. Kashian has appeared on Conan O’Brien’s TV show, has had her own half-hour special on Comedy Central and now has an hour-long stand-up special titled “This Will Make an Excellent Horcrux” available on DVD, CD and digital download. She was a semi-finalist on NBC’s aforementioned “Last Comic Standing” and stars in a weekly podcast, “The Dork Forest.” She’s toured nationally, as well as performing in Australia and Hong Kong and - on Army bases - in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. “There is no comedy club I’d want to play in Saudi Arabia,” Kashian jokingly remarked.

Kashian opens shows for a pair of very different comics: Maria Bamford, whose “dark” humor Kashian said is “not for children- not unless your kids have manic depression” - and Brian Regan, who does family humor. On that same order, Kashian uses her father, Eliot Kashian of West Milwaukee, her siblings and her video game-maker spouse, Andy Ashcraft, as comedy sources.

Kashian knows - and admires the work of - Amy Schumer and will “laugh so hard I cry” at the antics of Melissa McCarthy. And, yes, she certainly wouldn’t mind following those two onto the big screen. However, Kashian said, “I will always do stand-up comedy.”

She said she’d advise would-be Jackie Kashians to “find an open mic and do stand-up comedy. If you do stand-up comedy even once, you will know if you want to do stand-up comedy.”

In a State Street comedy club in Wisconsin’s capital city some 30 years ago, Kashian discovered what she wanted to do. The desire hasn’t changed.

For “An Evening of Comedy” tickets or information, visit or call 414-766-5049.