After spending a few years as a reporter and bartender, Kathleen Madigan dove into comedy and has found consistent work as a comedienne for 25 years. She’s made frequent appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” and earned multiple accolades and much praise for her routines.
Madigan also finished in the top three on the second season of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and performed with Lewis Black, Ron White and Robin Williams on two USO tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Her newest comedy special, “Kathleen Madigan: Madigan Again,” premieres Sept. 11 on Netflix.
The East Valley Tribune had a chance to speak with her over the phone prior to her sold out performance Sept. 7 at Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale.
Q: The one thing I noticed about your routine is you have a weary acceptance for things, in the sense you comment on things about your family or in the news, but you accept things as they are as well.
A: I’m really good friends with Lewis Black, and he still thinks you can change the world. He’s of that hippie generation, Bob Dylan’s going to change the way things are. And that’s absolutely lovely if you believe that. But I’m a child of the ’80s; there’s a new Michael Jackson video on and I’m busy.
There are people in charge, there are people in control, there are people with exceptional drive that might be able to break through that. But the rest of us, eh, not so much. But I don’t have a problem with that; I’m perfectly happy not being the governor or the mayor.
Q: I was looking at your website (KathleenMadigan.com), and I noticed some of the items you have on sale. You have the regular items like T-shirts, but you also have a bottle opener and a beer koozie for sale, and I was wondering if that’s a reflection of your audience? You seem to cross over between hanging out with Lewis Black and hanging out with Ron White.
A: That’s weird, because they’re my two best comedy friends. They’re the two guys I’ve known since I was 23 years old, and they couldn’t be more polar opposites. And I would say I am exactly the middle of them. I have my hillbilly Ozark, Misery, redneck side, but I also have Lewis’ interest in politics and all that, and I hang out with each one of them but not together. I don’t think Lewis understands Ron.
I don’t mix them well. I think a bottle opener and a koozie is a reflection of me, it’s a reflection of the people who like my act. When do you not need a bottle opener? I’m trying to sell something that’s actually usable. There have been many a time when I say ‘hey, I have a bottle opener in my purse,’ and it’s really a happy moment.
I would say that a lot of my fans are educated functioning alcoholics, so it leans to both sides. It leans to the rednecky, or hillbilly I should probably say more than redneck, and the other side. We tried, we tried to get involved. We went and got an education, but then we just decided it would be more fun to drink on the porch in a chair.
Q: I’ve lived in Appalachia, and they’re interesting people.
A: They’re fun. I call them my career friends; they’re not boring, I’ll tell you that. Lewis is always freaked out by rural areas. I say “here’s the great thing of the Ozarks, Lewis. If something goes wrong with this car, and a truck pulls over, they’ll either fix the car or kill us. But there’s nothing in between. So, if they don’t kill us in the first five minutes, they’re going to fix our car, see.”
Q: A lot of your material comes from your family, which is pretty common, but I’m still fascinated by the Kate/Kathleen thing, in that you and your sister have the same name without having the same name.
A: It’s totally the same name, and she was 10 years after me, so I had already had the name for 10 years. And then, to triple make you feel bad, my grandmother’s name is Katherine — I’m Kathleen, they gave her Katherine, so I didn’t even get named after anyone. They just went rogue.
My dad’s explanation is “Katherine and Kathleen are entirely different names in Gaelic.” Well, you know what, we’re not Druids living in Ireland in 1104; we live St. Louis, Mo., and people are going to ask questions about this because it’s like George Foreman naming your kid George a hundred times.
Kate is a cool name; Kathleen, there’s no one under 40 — it’s an old school name. It’s Kaitlin now, or Katie, it’s just gone. Maybe it will make a rebound; it’s popular in Ireland still, but not here.
Q: You have a habit of free-wheeling it on stage; essentially you come up with a topic and just go with it. And you’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century. So how do you keep pulling it off?
A: I don’t know; I just think it’s the way my mind works. I can’t sit down and write jokes. I can for other people, it’s weird. Like if I know their cadence and their perspective, they have to have a strong one, but I could write for Lewis all day, I could write for Ron all day. But I don’t sit around and write jokes for myself; I just go do stuff and talk about it on stage.