On Saturday night, the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center played host to Jackie Kashian, a now-Los Angeles based comedian and—with all due respect to NBA journeyman power forward Kurt Nimphius—probably the most famous person to hail from the small Milwaukee suburb. Kashian’s return was also a homecoming show of sorts for actor/comedian and Milwaukee native Tom Clark, who also relocated to L.A. to advance his comedy career. Kashian and Clark are only two humorists from a vast and varied crop of comic talents with Wisconsin roots who are working and thriving today. From respected stand-ups, polarizing impressionists, show runners, and directors, here are 11 notable current or former Wisconsinites who have made a name for themselves in comedy.
1. Alia Janine
Admit it. Many of you probably know Alia Janine from her work in dozens of adult films. However, when the Milwaukee-born porn star left the industry a few years ago, she was quick to enter another saturated, ultra-competitive, and dirty industry: stand-up comedy. Since taking the stage for the first time (after a Pauly Shore show at Silk Exotic, of all places), Janine has quickly made strides in the cutthroat New York comedy scene with hilarious thoughts from her pornographic past. The comic Huffington Post called “the funniest porn star on Earth” is also the co-host of the Whormones Podcast, which recorded a live episode as part of last year’s Milwaukee Comedy Festival. Listen to her discuss the parallels between comedy and the adult film industry on our On The Record podcast.
2. Chastity Washington
Though she’s not quite a household name in Milwaukee outside of the comedy community, comedian Chastity Washington has gotten her fair share of attention and accolades from some pretty impressive places. The 20-year stand-up comedy veteran earns a living touring the country, and she’s appeared on HBO Def Jam, BET’s Comic View, and was a finalist for the “Stand Up NBC” comedy diversity showcase. Last June, Washington earned another credit to her undeniable comedy career, as she beat out three other finalists to win the 2015 American Black Film Festival’s Comedy Wings Competition. Winning the third annual “showcase for emerging standup comics”—presented by HBO—earned Washington the grand prize of $2,500 and an HBO audition.
3. Dan Harmon
No, Harmon isn’t a stand-up comedian, but he’s come a long way since his comedic outset as a member of The Dead Alewives improv troupe at Milwaukee’s ComedySportz. The Greenfield native wrote for The Sarah Silverman Program before going on to create Community and Rick And Morty. The outspoken Harmon—whom Chevy Chase once called an “asshole, alcoholic fat shit”—lets his commentary fly freely on his Harmontown podcast; that commentary was on display in the 2014 tour documentary by the same name.
4. Frank Caliendo
Born in Illinois, famed impressionist and, kind of, comedian Frank Caliendo grew up in Waukesha and cut his teeth in Milwaukee’s stand-up circuit. Eventually, he landed a role on MadTV, which served as a springboard for his own short-lived TBS show, and vaunted role of resident “impersonate John Madden and Charles Barkley guy” on NFL pre-game shows. The past two winters have found Caliendo returning to the region to run through his extensive grab bag of impressions before live audiences.
5. Jackie Kashian
Since leaving South Milwaukee, Kashian has sustained a long and successful career in comedy that includes a Comedy Central special, a couple Conan appearances, and being on what could be the most tense episode of Pete Holmes’ You Made It Weird podcast. Speaking of podcasts, the unflinchingly geeky comic has logged close to 350 episodes of her own podcast, The Dork Forest.
6. Jackie Mason
No matter your age, you’re sure to at least know the name of legendary actor and comedian Jackie Mason. Not as many are aware of his early life as Yacov Moshe Maza of Sheboygan. Mason didn’t stay in Wisconsin for long, but the body of work he set into motion on stages in the Catskill Mountains led to a comedy career that should make any Wisconsinite proud.
7. Johnny Beehner
Last January, Johnny Beehner—a 15-plus-year veteran of the stage and certified road comic—performed on the Late Show With David Letterman. Beyond living every comedian’s dream of appearing on a lofty network TV talk show, Beehner also managed to do so just in time to squeak onto the program only months before Letterman’s final episode last May. “I’ve been pursuing this dream for a while, and it all came together so fast here recently,” Beehner told us last year. “I keep feeling like I’m going to wake up any minute now in my bed thinking, ‘Oh, that was an exciting dream.'”
It wasn’t a dream. Following his biggest credit to date, Beehner moved to Los Angles late last year. Though he now calls California home, he still spends a great deal of each year performing at comedy clubs throughout the state. In fact, he’s only a few weeks removed from headlining a weekend of shows at Appleton’s Skyline Comedy Cafe.
8. Mark Proksch
Remember about five years ago when that guy went around unleashing his awkward brilliance on unsuspecting morning news teams throughout the country? Well, K-Strass “The Yo-Yo Man” is actually actor and comedian Mark Proksch from Onalaska, Wisconsin. The hilarious and ballsy stunt apparently served him well, as he’s enjoyed regular parts on The Office and Better Call Saul, and has also amassed credits on beloved comedies like Bob’s Burgers, Portlandia, Adventure Time, Comedy Bang Bang!, New Girl, and a part in oddball Milwaukee-made feature Hamlet A.D.D.
9. Rob Schrab
Harmon’s counterpart in The Dead Alewives at ComedySportz, Schrab (the pride of Mayville) attended MIAD before setting out to Hollywood, where he co-created The Sarah Silverman Program, wrote a bunch of batshit crazy things with Harmon, and directed episodes of Parks And Recreation, Childrens Hospital, and the Harmon-created Community, among other shows. Last year, Schrab was tabbed to direct The Lego Movie sequel.
10. Shane Mauss
Western Wisconsin native Shane Mauss grew up near La Crosse, but actually got his stand-up start in Boston before winding up in Los Angeles and bringing his act to comedy clubs throughout the country. When he wasn’t performing hundreds of show a year, Mauss released a Comedy Central Presents special and two albums, performed on Conan (five times!), and found his material evolving considerably. Learn more about his background, his growth, and his life of a road comic by listening to Mauss’ episode of our On The Record podcast.
11. Tom Clark
Another grizzled road comic and comedy club regular, Clark is fresh off a pair of hometown shows last weekend. In addition to a stand-up career that’s yielded appearances on Conan and Comedy Central, the Milwaukee-born funnyman has done voiceover work on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, wrote for The Man Show, and acted opposite Bob Odenkirk, Denis Leary, and Kyra Sedgwick in small roles.