In terms of contemporary female comedians, Kathleen Madigan is hotter than Lindsay Lohan trying to upstage Paris Hilton at a local jewelry store. The Detroit Free Press just listed Kathleen as one of the ‘9 Funniest Women on the Planet’ alongside Tina Fey and Amy Poehler; and such luminaries as Lewis Black and Jay Leno both cite her at the top of their own lists of top comedic talents.
In December Kathleen premiered an hour-long Showtime special entitled Gone Madigan, which was released on DVD in January and last December she performed on her second Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s USO Holiday Tour of |rag and Afghanistan, where she shared the stage with the likes of Robin Williams and Lance Armstrong.
In her 22-year career, Kathleen has appeared numerous times on the late night talk show circuit with Leno, Letterman, and Conan, and in addition to her stand-up appearances, she’s served as a correspondent on ESPN 2 and provided commentary on VH1, CNN, CMT and The Dr. Phil Show, in addition to winning the American Comedy Award and Phyllis Diller Award for ‘Best Female Comedian.
She also remains the only comedian in the history of NBC’s Last Comic Standing to go unchallenged by any other comedian – meaning no other comic would say they were funnier than her. As a finalist in season two of the series, she appeared as a judge on season 5, but says she will refrain from such exercises in the future. “It was fun to judge it once, but never again. I can’t think of 2000 ways to tell someone they’re not funny without turning into a full blown alcoholic.”
Born in St. Louis she now lives in Los Angeles, but spends, as she puts it, “an inordinate amount of time with six siblings and my parents who live in the Midwest”, where she hangs out on her farm and on a raft in a lake. After 300 nights on the road her goal remains to “move to Ireland and drink Guinness while feeding my sheep herding dogs.”
In advance of her September 18th appearance at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre, I had the good-fortune to engage in a spirited exchange with America’s premier funny-girl, beginning with how she first become interested in comedy and at what point did she decide to pursue stand-up comedy professionally?
“I still haven’t decided I want to do this professionally,” she smiles. “I’m constantly looking for easier work. So far, I think Jack Cafferty on CNN has the only job easier than mine – read emails out loud and then grumble. OK. I could totally do that.”
Obviously, there are different styles of comedy, ranging from The Three Stooges variety of slapstick to gutter philosophers like Andrew Dice Clay and comics like George Carlin, who employ circular logic where laws of physics bend to create a new reality, not unlike dropping acid on a roller coaster ride. How does Kathleen define her type or style of comedy?
“I’d say it’s Midwest logic with sarcasm mixed with resignation that it’s all out of our control at the end of the day, so just have a drink.”
Fair enough, but what about significant comedic skills such as timing? They say timing is everything in comedy, as well as life, so does Kathleen feel her talent is natural and intuitive, or did it take practice & experimentation in front of live audiences to hone her abilities?
“I think timing comes easy for me, but repetition makes everyone better,” she reflects. “My delivery and timing is very close to the same as when I started. No drastic changes, just more confidence.”
What about the ultimate comedic nightmare of ‘bombing’ before a live audience? Has that ever happened to her before and does Kathleen feel audiences and material work differently depending upon what part of the country one is working?
“Yeah, I bombed in front of some drunk fishing guys on some island one time,” she laughs, “but they were fist fighting each other during my act, so I just did my act and watched the fights. My material is basically the same wherever I go, but I have local stuff that I usually will work into the act.”
A few years ago this publication had the privilege of interviewing Steven Wright and asked if he ever experienced stage fright. Typically, he answered with an even tougher question that I’ve been pondering since: What happens if you get scared half to death twice?
“See, this is why I can only listen to one Steven Wright joke at a time,” asserts Kathleen. “I’m totally confused. Listening to his act – and I think he’s very talented – is like sitting in math class for me. Much too hard and my mind doesn’t work like that.”
As for controversy, does Kathleen feel there is any topical material that is ‘off-limits’ when it comes to comedy, or is it all linked to the manner the material is handled? For example, having completed some USO shows recently, is it possible to make jokes about the wars we are involved in – or the people that got us there – when the repercussions of that involvement are so serious?
“I think if it’s a major tragedy, I probably won’t joke about it, just out of respect for people who knew people who died or were injured,” she reflects. “If the circumstances around it are ridiculous, I might make fun of that part, but not the actual tragedy. At the USO shows I pointed out a lot of the ridiculous parts of the war, like we have 150 Hummers on base but not one port-a-pottie? How did that happen? Call the Missouri State Fair because they know where you rent them. And the soldiers laugh. They know parts of the war are crazy.”
As one who believes a huge component of successful comedy centers upon how well it helps us understand the insanity around us, what are three things about contemporary culture that drive Kathleen most insane?
“First, the outsourcing of all customer service. We don’t make any products anymore and now we can’t even answer our own phones. It’s extra annoying if you’re half deaf, as I am. I can’t understand anyone answering a phone at any U.S. airline.”
“Second, kids wanting to be ‘celebrities’. Just ‘celebrities’. That is now an actual occupation. At least pick what kind of a ‘celebrity’ so there’s an effort involved, you know? Dancer – singer – actor – even a mime – anything, something!”
“The third thing that bothers me about contemporary culture is the endless election cycles we have. Who in their right mind would want to participate? No one. In other countries their presidential races are six weeks. That’s it. Ready, set, go. You have six weeks to state your case. That’s plenty of time.”
In terms of the biggest challenge a comic faces professionally, Kathleen sites the notion of anyone taking them seriously. “We don’t take ourselves seriously, so maybe we’re the problem,” she opines.
“I know it’s a crappy economy and I appreciate people who spend money to come and see me. I want people to know that as a performer, I’m aware of the ticket prices and what a night out with babysitters, drinks, and parking can cost, so I’m thankful to all the fans that come out to support me.”
Finally, I just have to ask, what is her favorite joke of all time?
“Ron White’s line after being arrested: “I had the right to remain silent, but as it turns out, I did not have the ability.”
Kathleen Madigan will be performing at The Temple Theatre on September 18th at 7:00 PM. Tickets are $29.00 reserved seating and $50.00 for premier seating, which includes light hors d’ouerves and a reception prior to the show, meet & greet, private bar & premier seating. For tickets call 877-754-SHOW or go to www.templetheatre.com
I've seen her 4 times; each has been great. You guys are really getting a treat in having her in town at the Temple. Go see her - you'll be glad you did! Check out some of her performances on her website: http://www.kathleenmadigan.com/live-performances/.
Love the Ron White joke!