Standup comedian and comedy writer Jackie Kashian understands obsession. Not creepy stalker obsession, but the hobbyism you find in convention centers and craft fairs seemingly everywhere these days. In 2005, she turned her love of novels, animals, comic books, and of course comedy into a podcast; The Dork Forest is a celebration of life’s leisure-oriented vagaries.
Recorded in her home in Los Angeles (and sometimes in front of an audience), the show dives deep into obsessive distractions, like model trains and birdwatching. Her “dork on dork” dialogues are not only fun to listen to, they speak to compulsions we all entertain in one way or another.
She’s had the usual comedy suspects on her show, including Paul F. Tompkins, Jimmy Pardo, Marc Maron, and Jen Kirkman. But Kashian finds the true dorks—the ventriloquists, the animators, and the sticker collectors that make fan culture so endearing. Last week, she kindly answered some of my dorky questions:
A lot of people claim the “nerd” mantle. It can apply to any kind of quirky obsessive behavior these days. You differentiate with “dork.” What criteria must one meet to be a “dork”?
Well, the origin of the title of the show is a joke I did back in 2003. It was about who I was willing to hang out with and how far into the dork forest you had to go to get to the edge of who I was willing to hang out with. At the time it was war-reenacters.
People ask what I think the difference between dork and nerd and geek is, and there are people that get into it. For me, it is sort of all connected… disenfranchised, separate because of smarts, enthusiasm or activities… dorks, nerds and geeks are just people who know about and love things, almost anything, a lot.
I think you deserve some authenticity props here. You’ve gone pretty deep and talked on several occasions with real deal, hardcore, esoteric enthusiasts. I think the “train dorks” episode was a testament to your devotion. Did you make a conscious decision to touch on aspects that more robust operations, like Nerdist, weren’t covering?
I love Chris and his Nerdist world but TDF started before that, so it never affected my decisions. The only criteria to be on The Dork Forest is the ability to dork out for an hour. Or, I suppose, sustain many topics for an hour. I’ve had a couple guests who have picked three disparate dorkdoms and went off on each, solid, for 20minutes.
I really do love to find someone who loves something that I never think about. Train dork sounds attainable, as train enthusiasts are pretty common; but I hadn’t talked to anyone about trains for a full hour, ever. But a recent episode was with a sticker dork…a grown up lady who still buys and uses stickers. It’s great. And then there are things that millions love, like baseball, that a guy like Greg Proops can talk about-so eloquently. And then, later, on a different episode, he talked ancient history. Michelle McNamara and her sweet sweet obsession with True Crime. Almost every episode is great…for at least ten minutes, which is what podcast listeners need to have them come back. And most of them are great all the way through.
I get better at interviewing and better at letting people just go off on what they love. Because the dorkdom can be anything: knitting, comic books, bees, Elvis, transformers, operating systems for windows. Heh, it’s never boring. It’s really fun for me. Which usually translates into really fun for others.
What are your biggest dork indulgences?
Well. I guess reading (mostly sci-fi and comic books. I also read mysteries-not horror- and old-timey romance novels). I’m always a comedy dork just because standup is a great part of my life. I’ve gotten into board games a bunch in the last couple years and I’ve always enjoyed various video games.
You record the podcast in your living room, correct? Are you finding the intimacy this kind of set up provides is more ammenable to dork-dom confession than studio or live shows?
It’s pretty cozy. I always explain, before we start recording, that we will start talking and it’s over almost immediately. Because people never really DO get to wax on about the stuff they love for an hour with anyone.
Is the podcast an extension of your standup, or does it serve more cathartic needs?
I think it’s been good for my standup but it’s always been cathartic. That’s a good word for it.
How has the podcast impacted your standup?
It brings people out to see me do the standup. I don’t do bits on my podcast, though premises have come up, of course. I save the jokes for the standup shows. The funny on TDF comes from riffing on the topics being discussed.
You’ve had some nerd gods on the show (TV’s Frank from MST3K). Who would be the ultimate Dork Forest get? What guest has left the biggest impression on listeners?
Oh, so many. Dick Cavett, Lily Tomlin. Any number of comedians and actors from Dr. Who, Sherlock and Star Trek. And Firefly. I could keep going forever. Comic book authors (Gail Simone, Mike Carey), book authors. I”ve been doing live podcasts at conventions (sci fi and anime and comic book) and the people I’ve met there are amazing. Plus more regular people that are just really into stuff. I like those shows a great deal if I can find the right people.
Impressions wise, you might start with the top episodes of 2012, or just Google YOUR dorkdom or YOUR favorite comic and the words “the dork forest” and see what comes up. Or cherry pick from this list:
TOP 15 Eps of 2012
- TDF EP#129 – Live with Michelle McNamara (True Crime, married to Patton Oswalt)
- TDF EP#111 – Jim Gaffigan (obscure news personality)
- TDF EP#117 – Corey Olsen (TolkienProf)
- TDF EP#142 – Live with Retta, Rajskub, Kilmartin and Scovel (riffing ep)
- TDF EP#133 – Kira Soltonovich (Korean Spas)
- TDF EP#113 – Jesse Schell and Andy Ashcraft (oh. Video Games)
- TDF EP#139 – Joel Hodgson (ventriloquism)
- TDF EP#93 – Live with Ernie Cline (the 80s and Ready Player One)
- TDF EP#108 – Al Madrigal (Sales and Cartoons)
- TDF EP#148 – Guy Branum – Canada
- TDF EP#95 – Live with Kevin Eastman (ninja turtles)
- TDF EP#110 – Patrick Brady (animation)
- TDF EP#120 – Erin Foley (NY Giants)
- TDF EP#130 – Lois McMaster Bujold (I dork out AT her. She talks writing)
- TDF EP#138 – Michael Everson (coding fonts for obscure languages)
How has podcasting changed since you started (in your opinion)?
I did conference call quality for the first three years. The audio quality is so much better now. The popularity has also created people coming into the genre with standards of what the content should be. Luckily, it’s still a Wild West and anyone can learn as you go and talk about whatever you like and just post it.
More of the same, of course. I REALLY like doing these small cons around the country, so I’m hoping to do more of them as we go along. I’m doing ComiKaze in November. And, of course, I’ll be doing lots and lots of standup. For it is my true dorkdom.