Jackie Kashian: From Drunk Driver to Hero of This Story

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Jackie Kashian: From Drunk Driver to Hero of This Story

By Rebecca Rush 07/30/18

I would love to just check out with booze. But whatever I want to check out from will still be there when I sober up – plus whatever drunken stealing, screwing or hitting I did while I was drunk will have to be fixed.

Image: 
Jackie Kashian
When I stopped drinking I was mostly scared of not being funny anymore. It turns out that life is, actually, more absurd stone cold sober.

Last summer, I had a 12-step sponsor who counted performing as a relapse: weed, alcohol, stand-up comedy. Those were the things I needed to stay away from. She promised I was building a foundation for a life "more profound than pussy jokes." But that’s not a life I want. Without comedy, and before comedy, I never cared about my life enough to even want to stop drinking. This summer, my sponsor is a fellow comedian, but one who started comedy in sobriety. So I’m asking all my favorite sober stand-ups how they do comedy and stay sober. AT THE SAME TIME.

On Jackie Kashian’s website, there is a page of the advice she was given in 1986 as a new comic. It ends with: “You are a sweet, intelligent, powerful, exuberant comic.” Watching her perform at the Portland Maine Comedy festival a few weeks ago, I couldn’t come up with a more fitting description, other than to add on what she’s gained through the years: powerhouse. And one she rarely mentions: sober. 

I first came across Jackie when I moved to NYC three years ago and began listening to her second podcast, "The Jackie and Laurie Show." Jackie and her cohost Laurie Kilmartin had been there, done that, and sold the t-shirts. They are authentic, wise, and most importantly, hilarious. I spent my first year in the city feeling invisible, drinking intermittently (I bombed at an open mic! Time to throw away seven months and GET WASTED!) and waiting for their next episode to come out.

Her latest album may be called I Am Not the Hero of This Story, but she’s certainly a hero of mine. 

The Fix: How did you get sober and continue to do comedy?

Jackie Kashian: I stopped drinking and “got sober” after I got my second DUI. One in Minnesota and one in California. So they both counted as “first DUI’s” because different states and we do not—still to this day and counting—have a national ID card. I couldn’t go on the road for three months which helped me get a solid block of time of me not drinking at comedy clubs in town. I would go do sets, get a Diet Coke and last as long as I could after the show. It wasn’t that long because watching people you like get drunk is not attractive. And not getting drunk was not fun. 

Note: no one else was psyched when I got drunk… just me. 

When I first went back on the road I was terrified. I was doing a run of one-nighters in Illinois and ended up featuring the week with this guy (I can’t remember his name but it was a city and a name, like Boston Bill but it was Charleston Chuck). He was a real road dog guy in the fact that he only worked the road. His stand-up was good for the one-nighters and I was worried he was going to be one of those guys that encouraged shots and tried to get laid. Turns out… that guy? He was 15 years offa the booze juice. And he was super supportive. So he didn’t get drunk. He didn’t cheat on his wife after the show and we had a couple brunches that week. It made me realize that it could be done. It was an awesome coincidence that helped a lot. And a friend of mine who’s sober also sent me on the road (it was a three week run) with 21 envelopes, one to be opened each day. Inside was the name of a famous writer, comic or whatever person who was sober. That was inspiring too.

What is the hardest thing about being sober in showbiz?

The hardest thing about being sober around comics and showbidness is that I have a constant committee meeting in my head telling me I’d be further along if I partied with so and so. I’m sure if I wanted to sleep around, the meeting minutes would be about how I’d get more work if I slept with more random dudes. It’s not true by the way. When I stopped drinking I was mostly scared of not being funny anymore. It turns out that life is, actually, more absurd stone cold sober. 

What is the best?

The best thing about being sober is not being in jail for driving drunk. I’m sober so the things I get from not being drunk all stem from the fact that I drove drunk every night I drank. I never did have one shot and a beer. See how I didn’t just type one beer? I needed to add the shot. And I did stand-up at least four times a week and stand-up is most often in places with booze. So at least four nights a week I was drunk driving. The best results of not doing that… hell… let’s list them after not being arrested. I wake up without a hangover at a reasonable hour (let’s go with 9am because I’m a comic). Even if I screw around much of the day I can still be awake and writing and sending avails and asking for jobs and shows for two hours a day. That bare minimum of a work ethic gets me 40 weeks of work a year. 

How do/did you deal with hanging around/with other comics?

I don’t do late hangs and have recently just been organizing brunch hangs with comics. I love hanging with comics and comics love an 11am something. So I invite comics to meet me at a diner around 11am every week and we riff and bust each other and talk shop and eat eggs. It’s the best. 

Advice for the chronically relapsing comic?

Comics (and people, but comics a lot) are certain, because they’re so smart, that they can practice, think or work around the problems. I tried to stop drinking for a couple years before it took this time. I used to “practice” turning down drinks. Some woman once said to me a couple things: “Who’s offering you drinks in your mind?” She was right, because I was buying my own drinks. And “No is a complete sentence." You don’t need to practice it. “No thank you” if you’re feeling polite.

How do you feel about selling booze (part of the job of a comedy show) as a former heavy drinker?

I am so interested in what everyone else is drinking. Saw a guy the other night at a comedy show – he had five glasses of wine. How do I know? I don’t remember counting them but hot damn, I was. I’m not a prohibitionist if that’s what you mean. I say, drink as long as you can. You’ll know if it’s screwing up your life. You know. I tell my nieces and nephews “if you treat it with the right amount of wariness you might last longer than me.” Unsaid is, “cuz yer probably a crummy drinker like me and will have to quit eventually.” Ah well.

Anything else?

Other than that… it’s a simple idea to not drink. But things that are simple are not easy, right? It’s like you’re banging your head against a door. It’s the right door but that doesn’t mean that your head doesn’t hurt. I don’t know if that analogy works. But maybe you get it. It’s a simple idea… but I have to remind myself all the time that I don’t drink. Because I would dearly love to check the fuck out and booze is really good at making that happen. But whatever I want to check out from will still be there when I sober up – plus whatever drunken stealing, screwing or hitting I did while I was drunk will have to be fixed. So I’ll have double the nonsense to fix. Sober is preferable to fixing double the nonsense. Best not have the drink.

***

I spent some time last spring after my winter relapse (like an old familiar scarf that you’re also allergic to) introducing a joke about alcoholism by saying, “If you’re thinking of buying me a drink after the show, don’t!” But when I read Jackie's answers to my questions, I realized that scenario was only happening in my mind. Nobody was thinking of buying me a drink after the show. Except for me, trying to put the responsibility on the audience.

Recovery is not about running from all you love so you can hide away in a safe space with no triggers. That former sponsor who told me to stay away from comedy was a would-be photographer with almost ten years clean - and still not feeling ready to pursue that dream. Recovery is about taking away the thing that is slowing you down - the active addiction- so that all is left is to run towards what you love.

 

Jackie is fond of saying: “Tonight I get to do my favorite thing in the world, stand-up comedy.” If you’re still searching for your passion, check out Jackie’s original podcast, Dork Forest. It’s 476 episodes of people talking about their favorite things in the world. 

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Rebecca Rush is a stand up comic and writer from Connecticut. Her work has appeared in Broke Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website, Bantergirl, The New Haven Advocate, and MiamiBeach411.com. She resides in NYC’s West Village with her dog. Find her on Twitter and Insta and at her blog http://rebeccarushcomedy.tumblr.com.

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