By Heidi Simmons
What’s so amazing about comedienne Kathleen Madigan is she’s a natural. She is intuitive, observant and incredibly funny! Yet Madigan does not consider herself a “funny” person. But at the same time, she does not separate who she is from her work as a stand-up comic.
For the last 25 years, Madigan has been doing what she loves. “What I can give to the audience is a mental vacation,” said Madigan. “Comedy can transport you. People need to take a break. They get to check out. It’s a healthy escape.”
Madigan does an hour and twenty-minute routine without a gap or even a pause. Relaxed and comfortable on stage, she is a hilarious monologist. At times, Madigan chuckles and giggles amused by the stories she shares with the audience. It’s as if she is hearing the material for the first time. She describes her comedy as cynical, but silly. “There is always cynicism, but it’s also hopeful,” said Madigan. “It’s Irish cynicism.”
Perhaps her gift is a genetic thing. She is the middle child between four bothers and two sisters in an Irish-Catholic family. “Everybody is funny in my family. You had to be,” said Madigan. “It was every man for himself. Nobody in my family thinks I’m more talented than any one of them. I’m just the only one who went to open mic night.”
Born and raised in Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, Madigan began her stand-up career when she was 23. Through high school and college, Madigan worked in restaurants and bars, where she further developed her sense of humor. “You become funny or you end up quitting,” said Madigan. “The food service industry is a horrible way to earn a living, so you have to turn the work into fun. So I worked with a lot of funny people.”
After college, Madigan briefly worked as a journalist for an in-house publication writing humorless profiles about the activities of the rich. At night she did open mic and tended bar. “I realized I could make enough money tending bar and traveling around doing comedy,” said Madigan. “It wasn’t that big of a risk at 23 to quit my day job. I figured if it didn’t work, I could regroup.” Today, Madiagn can’t even imagine what she might be doing other than stand-up.
Year after year, Madigan tours the country doing four or more shows a week. She usually takes the summer off. At least once a month, Madigan makes a television appearance. She is a regular guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Besides the late night talk shows, her daytime appearances range from the The View to ESPN2. She has CDs, DVDs and recently made an HBO special. Madigan has performed stand-up in English speaking countries around the globe and has performed for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When she finishes one tour, she starts another. “I really have to be on stage a lot to generate new material,” said Madigan. “It’s all in my head. Most of it is just about being on stage and doing it. You have to be in front of an audience. For me to get stuff done, I have to be doing it in front of people.” Madigan’s material comes from going about her life and just living. Between gigs, from show to show, being with family or reading a paper, she simply observes the world and takes note.
“It’s worked out so far,” said Madigan. “I’ve been very lucky. I still haven’t had to get a job.” She has been her own boss since her start. She is incorporated and President of her own company. Although Madigan admits she is a little concerned about a country that allows just anyone to walk around saying they are CEO for the relative small expense of incorporation. “I don’t know what it entails, or what the details are, but it’s legitimate.”
What makes Madigan laugh are the stupid things on YouTube and Fred Willard. “I watched a dog attacking a hundred water bottles ten times,” said Madigan. “I watch dumb cat videos with my nieces. Maybe I’m really a five year old.” Her favorite movies are Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.
When Madigan has free time, she likes to watch the History Channel. “When I’m off, I’m not going for funny. I tend to watch more drama,” said Madigan. “I’m around funny all the time. So when I’m not working, I go dark. There is a lot of World War II.”
While working at the St. Louis Funny Bone, Madigan admired Ron White, Lewis Black, Gary Shandling and Brett Butler. They served as mentors. “They weren’t famous then, they were just the people working at the club,” said Madigan. “When I started, they were the ones I saw. And they are still my friends.”
Madigan will be performing at the Spotlight 29, Saturday, January 11. Her tour consists of old, new and favorite material. She can make stuff up in the moment and there is nothing she’d rather be doing. This coming summer, Madigan will take work just for the fun of it. She will do the Cat Laughs festival in Kilkenny, Ireland and the Cottage Festival in Canada. “It’s not about the money,” said Madigan. “It’s just really, really fun.”
Fun and funny are just a part of who Madigan is. It seems the only difference between Madigan the person and Madigan the stand-up comedienne is the volume of laughter.