Where: Yoshi's San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore Street, San Francisco
Tickets:$45. Visit www.yoshis.com or call 415-655-5600
Kathleen Madigan's website: visit www.kathleenmadigan.com
Read more stories about music, DVDs and books by Paul Freeman at Pop Culture Classics.
Jay Leno has referred to Kathleen Madigan as "one of America's funniest female comics." Why the qualifier? She's one of America's funniest comics. Full stop.
Whether she's talking about looking up medical advice online or her experiences on a cruise, Madigan sparks hilarity borne of honesty.
Madigan has won The American Comedy Award and the Phyllis Diller Award. She was a finalist in Season 2 of "Last Comic Standing" and a judge on Season 5. She's been seen on Comedy Central, HBO, VH1 and MTV, on ESPN 2 as a commentator, and on "The Dr. Phil Show" as a correspondent. On late night, she has generated laughs with Dave, Conan, Leno and Craig. She's a listener favorite on SIRIUS-XM radio.
Madigan's first special, "In Other Words," was issued on DVD in 2006, followed by the Showtime special "Gone Madigan," which hit DVD in 2011.
Her new hour-long special, "Madigan Again," was released on September 11, 2013, exclusively through Netflix.
She's at Yoshi's San Francisco tonight, at The Mirage in Las Vegas, Nevada, on September 21, 2013; at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut on September 27, 2013; and ... lots of other places coming up. Visit her schedule for more.
PAUL FREEMAN: At your sets coming up at Yoshi's in San Francisco, what are some of the topics you're going to be exploring?
KATHLEEN MADIGAN: I'll be talking about Afghanistan. I went there, so I'll talk about that for a while. I usually talk about my family ... a lot. And politics and sports. And that usually rounds it out [Laughs]. Those are the same four topics I've been sticking with for 25 years. That seems to definitely be my area. I'm not real good with celebrity gossip. I leave that up to Kathy Griffin. She can handle all that very well. I do topical stuff, but I don't know who the Kardashians are. I don't know any of that.
FREEMAN: Which is, in itself, refreshing. ... You have another upcoming comedy special? Do you feel that you're in competition with yourself, having to top the previous specials?
MADIGAN: No. You just go, "Here's what I have right now. I hope you guys like it." [Laughs] It goes the way it goes. I never want to think of it as competing with myself. I think musicians get tied into that, where it's "That was the greatest album ever. Now what are you going to do?" So what am I going to do? Uh, keep talking ... and hopefully it's as funny as the last ones.
FREEMAN: It's going to debut on Netflix?
MADIGAN: Yes, I'm so excited. The network game, seriously, they don't get it. It's like dealing with your great-grandparents. My last special was on Showtime, and they were very nice, but they said, "The premiere will be on October 12th at 9 o'clock." And I say, "Okay, then when else will it be on?" "Ah, we don't know." "How many times you gonna show it?" "Hmmm, don't know that either." "Well, will you let me know, when you decide?" "Nah, we don't really do that." [Laughs] So I can't guide anyone. Once it becomes a DVD, I can say, "Well, you can go buy the DVD," but they buy the rights to it for X-amount of time. And people go, "Oh, where I can see your special?" "I don't know." "When can I see it?" "Don't know that either. Hope you find it." With Netflix, you just say, "Oh, go to Netflix. It's on right now!"
FREEMAN: Is that the wave of the future?
MADIGAN: It really is the wave of the future. And they don't have to worry about advertisers. I don't get notes from Netflix, "Oh, can you please not do that joke about Crest toothpaste? We do a lot of advertising with that company." "Okay, fine. Fine." If you're a writer or a comedian, you just turn in work and they take it. It's literally a miracle. It's like, "Here, I did my homework. I did it well. And this is my paper." And they go, "Thank you. And here's some money." "Great! Now we're done. See how easy that was?"
I've watched "Orange Is The New Black." I haven't watched "House of Cards" yet. But they're letting people be weird and creative without all these restraints and considerations. People ask me why I don't have a sitcom. Because I don't want to deal with that. I don't want to have 20 network executives deciding, if I say, "Where's the butter?" if that's funny or not. Too many chiefs, not enough Indians. Netflix, it's just been a relief. They say, "We'll tell you when the premiere date is, we'll do our part of the press, we'll get with your publicist. It's all covered." Great!
FREEMAN: It must be great to get to the point where you've now built up this huge audience, enough where you can do your own thing and not worry about finding your niche.
MADIGAN: It's awesome, yeah, to finally go, "Oh, okay, I can just go, basically, and do whatever I want." And they're happy with it. Great. You know what you're buying. If you don't, go look at my last two specials. That's what you're buying. You're buying more of that.
FREEMAN: Over the course of those first two decades, did you view that as adventure? How challenging was it to get to this point?
MADIGAN: It was a big, giant road trip [laughs]. Most people go, "How long are you on tour?' "Ah, so far, 25 years." I'm not Metallica and take a year off and stay home and go into a studio. Literally, I've not been anywhere in the same place for more than two weeks, in 23 years. And I love it.
My sister's like, "Do you understand what a weird statement that is?" Ah, I think it's weird to say I stay home 30 weeks in a year. Oh, my God! I got in my car, when I was 23, in a Mercury Tracer, and I left and I just kept driving. And I've just never looked back. It's awesome. But I like the road. I may be one of the weird ones, like Ron White, Lewis Black, there's some of us left that just really enjoy stand-up comedy for what it is. It is not a stepping stone. It is the goal. I mean, Ron's in a Billy Bob Thornton movie and he's really good in it. It was fun. But he doesn't want to be a movie actor. He just did it because it sounded fun.
FREEMAN: The stand-up offers you a unique kind of reward?
MADIGAN: It's awesome. I'm my own boss. I have tons of free time. I can do whatever I want. It's just complete freedom. It's like, when the networks canceled all their soap operas, they started having all these meetings with people, because they had to think of something for the day. And I went to a meeting, I think it was at CBS, and they were talking about what they wanted to do during the day, and they were describing this show to me and they were like, "Yeah, it'll be like a game show and a talk show." And it was just this hybrid of garbage.
And then she goes, "And then I figured every day, we would have this sketch, where we ... " And I go, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Every day? I shouldn't even be at this meeting. I'm sorry. I don't know who set this up, but I won't do anything every day." I said, "Even when I was 23, this isn't just because I'm making a good living now, it's just not for me. I know women that have kids and would love a gig in town every day and I would be glad to give you that list and their contacts. But I'm not your lady. No, no, no, no. What is the price of freedom? I guarantee you, my price is money you will not give me. So the meeting should just be over." [Laughs] And it was over! But I mean, I'm like, "Let's not waste anyone's time. I could sit here and B.S. you with ideas for hours. But what is the point?"
FREEMAN: Now you have nicer venues, nicer travel. But in the early days, playing tough gigs, did you keep your eye on the prize?
MADIGAN: No, because I never thought there was a prize. That's the difference between some of us comics and other comics. I literally did it for every day. I mean, you're in the business, so you go, "Oh, I should probably get a tape together, so I can send it to Leno or Letterman." I did things like that. But I never thought there was a prize, like an end, like, "Once I get there, I'm done." There is no done.
That's what I tell all these young comics, who are like, "Well, you know, I've got to have a moment, where I blah-blah-blah." You better get that crap out of your head. You have no idea, if any of that can happen. If don't enjoy the trip, then don't do it. It's really about the trip. It's not about where the car ends up.
FREEMAN: So even in the nightmare gig days, you could take something positive from each situation?
MADIGAN: Oh, yeah, I was still having fun. And those first 10 years on the road in my car, I was getting to know the comics who are my best friends now, to this day. Ron White was a headliner. Lewis Black was a headliner. All those people, they're older than me, but they were the headliners, when I was the opening act. And we were in crappy clubs for a week. And we lived in a condo together. I mean, talk about getting too know someone. You're my new roommate for the week! And Bill Engvall, all those guys. I don't miss the condos, but I do miss, I don't know, it was like we were all on a road trip together.
And you'd run into the same people. Three weeks later, I'd be booked with Ron again somewhere, just by accident, at another club. It was just raw, pure fun. Nobody had a goal [laughs], nobody. The goal was, write another joke that kills and be a better comic. And get paid. And make more money. We all wanted to make more money, because we weren't making any money. So making more money would be nice. We wanted to sell some tickets. But there weren't these other goals of "Well, I want to get a development deal with a network and I want to have a sitcom and I want to be a YouTube sensation and my podcast ... " I mean, really?
FREEMAN: Did there tend to be more camaraderie than competition among the comics?
MADIGAN: There was complete camaraderie. None of us felt competitive. If we auditioned for like "HBO Young Comedians" special, there's a few jackasses, that we all would go, "Echhhh." Like any kind of group, there's a few that you're stuck with that either are hacks and they steal material, or they're just assholes. But most of us, if you didn't get it, you'd be disappointed, like,"Dang!" But then you'd hear Ron White got it and you'd be happy, like, "Yeah!" We really liked one another. And we still do. There was no weird competition.
FREEMAN: Now that you're in posh theatres, instead of seedy bars or wherever the earliest gigs were, is there any adjustment in your approach?
MADIGAN: No, it's exactly the same, really. Except, in a club, I would have been more free to talk to people. I don't do that a lot. But I would never do that in a theatre, because you can't hear what the person's saying. But like, if it was a group of like 50, on a Tuesday night, at the Columbus, Ohio, Funnybone, I would be open to, if somebody clapped really loudly, if I said, "Florida," then I might say, "Are you from there?" Or something. Just for fun. But you can't do that in a theatre. You do lose the intimacy, which sucks. And I don't think comedy is necessarily more than a 1,000-seat venue sport. Maybe 2,000 seats. But I've done those things where there's like 5,000 and 10,000 people at festivals. And it just is ridiculous. It's for a band. It's not for comedy.
FREEMAN: Growing up in St. Louis, in a big family, going to Catholic school, was comedy a defense mechanism, or maybe a way of getting attention? How did that start?
MADIGAN: Oh, no, it wasn't a way of getting attention. I went to Catholic school and I said nothing. I was never the funny kid. I may have thought some things. But never said anything. There was just too much discipline. I would have never said anything out loud. No, no.
My family is pretty quick. I never thought that till my sister started dating a German guy. He was real nice, but he didn't get a joke. Like if we were teasing him or being sarcastic, he literally didn't get it. And then he'd try to tell us stories. And like halfway through the story, I'm like, "Do you remember what this story is about?" And he's like, "No." I go, "Well, nobody else does either. So why don't you regroup?" [Laughs]
My youngest brother is really funny. I think it's just the house, that's the way we talked. Nobody in my house is kind. Everyone is generous. And everyone is nice. But there's a level of kind and sweet that we would never be. You're never going to get a serious Christmas card or birthday card, that says, "You're the greatest brother ... " Oh, my God! [Laughs]
I had a friend, Tammy, in high school, her mom was really sweet. My Mom locked us out for the summer. "I don't want you kids in here. Just get out." And it's just a different ... I think when I talk about my family, there are people that grew up the exact same way. And they laugh and laugh and laugh. And then there are other people who are like appalled. [Laughs]. They're like, "Oh, my God!"
FREEMAN: And I guess your family takes it all in good fun. They're not offended?
MADIGAN: Oh, no. They could care less. If I promise them one fabulous trip a year, literally, that is my golden pass to say anything. And I would never say anything that would embarrass them or that was super personal or private. I know the line. They know the line. It's fine.
FREEMAN: Didn't show biz seem like another world entirely, when you were growing up in St. Louis?
MADIGAN: Oh, yeah, when I would watch "The Tonight Show" and stuff, I thought those people lived like on Mars. I didn't know anything. You're in the Midwest. You're given no information. Nothing. I didn't know how you became an actor. I just thought you lived in California and they called you or something. I don't know. California was like Mars.
FREEMAN: Were there other comics you were watching on TV who became influences, inspirations?
MADIGAN: No. Because I never thought about being a comedian. It's weird. A lot of people I know that are very successful, it was the same thing. Lewis Black was a playwright. He wasn't a comedian. He didn't want to be a comedian. But then he started emceeing at a club in New York. It was more for theatre people. And then he realized he was funny and then he just kind of went with it. Ron just showed up one night at an open-mic night in Texas, by accident, to meet his friend. It's all kind of accidental.
When Roseanne Barr would be on "The Tonight Show," I would laugh. But I didn't understand that was a job. [Laughs]. I was just like, "Oh, here is this funny lady." My Dad used to watch Buddy Hackett with Johnny Carson and I'd be like, "Oh, that's what he does." But I never even thought, "That's a comedian." It's a very weird profession to begin with. I didn't know you could make money. I didn't know how they got paid. Or even if they got paid. I just thought Buddy Hackett was this fat, funny guy telling stories.
FREEMAN: So when you're preparing for a career in journalism, how do you find the guts to go out and try standup at an open mic?
MADIGAN: Oh, I think it was really because I bartended so much. And we just went next door, which was a comedy club, on our off-nights, to have drinks. Or if we got off early, we'd go. And usually it was open-mic night. And we'd just sit there. And I'm like, "There's a lot of unfunny, crazy people that show up at open mic nights." I don't know if there's a the same amount that show up at open music nights. But stand-up comedy, I mean, seriously crazy people. Like, oh, my God, really crazy! So, if you sit there and watch it, you go, "Well, I said something funnier than that today." Because they're not funny.
So me and Mike, the other bartender, we were like, "We should try this. We should have like three beers and see if we can do it, literally just for fun, because we're bored. There's nothing else to do. Let's do that." And then, I had fun. And I was pretty good at it. And Mike was like, "Nah, I got too nervous. I didn't like the feeling up there." I go, "I didn't mind it. I didn't love it, but I didn't mind it." I thought, "Well, maybe I can do this for extra cash." I asked around, "What can I make, if I have like 10 funny minutes?" They said, "Ah, probably 75 bucks." I'm like, "What?! That's what I make bartending on a Thursday." [Laughs]
It was just a total accident. I'm such a bad comic. If you say this out loud, I'd be crucified by other comics, but I've never listened to a Richard Pryor album. Never. I've never listened to a Bill Cosby album. Ever. There's just too many other things I'm interested in.
FREEMAN: So maybe that's why you have such an original voice?
MADIGAN: I don't know. Sometimes I think the less you watch, the better, because you're less influenced. But you should know what's going on. I absolutely know what's going on in the clubs, because I don't want to become one of those comedians who just does the fancy places and then you aren't aware of what's happening in your thing. I call it being in the bubble. I don't ever want to be in the bubble. I don't want to get in the bubble. I've seen it. It's not go.
But yeah, for the most part, I'm not really influenced ... The influences I have are people that are working now. When I was an opening act, Ron White was a headliner. Lewis Black was a headliner. Brett Butler was a headliner. Those were the headliners in clubs when I was an opening act in clubs, and I watched them eight or nine shows a week. That's where I learned. And I might have been influenced. But I don't know, I just think I always had my own point of view. There's stuff I liked about people, stuff I didn't like about people. I've heard people say, "Well, you seem like a female mix between a Ron White and a Lewis Black." It's funny, because they're my two best friends. And they're polar opposites. I am the middle of them. I have enough redneck in me, and enough Ozark, Missouri, hillbilly to totally hang and get everything about Ron. But I also have politics and an education and all that, where Lew is right up my alley, too. So those are my influences, people that are still working today.
FREEMAN: Did it take a long time to get your set to where it was clicking? Or did that come quickly and naturally?
MADIGAN: Quickly and naturally till it was working. But not really good, I would say, until seven years in, where I felt 100 percent in control, nothing can go wrong here. I mean, the crowd could be crappy, but the bottom's not going to fall out. There's no nerves at all. Now I'm just happy to go to work. I don't worry about it. I don't even think about it anymore. At all.
FREEMAN: Is it still tougher out there for a woman comic? Or has that changed over the years?
MADIGAN: I don't think it's tougher. And I don't really think it has been. Network TV, if you're a woman, it's going to be more difficult to get a sitcom in this era. They've just been handing them out to guys, left and right. And that's what they seem to like. But in the clubs, if you're funny, and if you sell tickets, you will get paid.
I don't understand, you see people on the road, crabbing, and it's like, "Well, do the work! If you're funny, that guy will pay you." Even in the South I never had a problem. I was on the road every day. Brett Butler did it. Margaret Cho did it. I did it. Wanda did it. It's totally doable. I think a lot of people don't want to do the work. And the work is the road. There's no way avoid the road. And, if you hate the road, then you should just do it as a hobby, in your town. There's nothing wrong with that.
FREEMAN: With all the accomplishments, things like "Last Comic Standing," the American Comedy Award, late night appearances, SIRIUS, cable shows, did you feel any one of those was especially significant in terms of your breaking through?
MADIGAN: No, they were all just another stepping stone. If I had to give credit to any of them, I would have to give credit to "Last Comic Standing," because it was prime-time network. People who knew comedy already knew who I was, people who watched Comedy Central or HBO or late night TV. They were like, "Oh, that's that lady." But there are a lot of people with kids and jobs and early wake-ups that do not stay up and watch Comedy Central. They watch prime-time TV. And it exposed me to different people. I still have people who come up and say, "I didn't know who you were until 'Last Comic Standing' and now I come see you, blah-blah-blah." So it just opened a new portal to more people. But none of that stuff is going to make you famous. People get way too excited about that. Even on "Idol" now. Really? You know what I mean?
FREEMAN: Touring Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain the troops, was that particularly gratifying, to bring a little light into their lives?
MADIGAN: That was an awesome experience, going and doing those shows. Those are the best crowds ever, because they can't believe you showed up. I mean, what are the odds someone will show up in Kabul? [Laughs] All the overseas trips were just great. I will not go back to Afghanistan again, though. If you go and see my show or get the thing on Netflix, you can hear why I will never go back there. I just can't. I'll do USO stuff. But not in these places. Not like that. No, no. I've done mine. They can get somebody younger to go next time.
FREEMAN: I guess it can get awfully hairy, in those situations.
MADIGAN: Yeah. I was on stage in Kandahar and we were getting mortared and the alarms were going off and there just comes a point, where you go, "This is ... Okay, I'm good. I'm good."
FREEMAN: Are you constantly writing down observations, things you hear that might work their way into bits? Do you keep a journal?
MADIGAN: I don't know what this says about my life, but most of my ideas are on bar napkins at the bottom of my purse. And then, when I clean out my purse, I go, "Oh, right! I forgot that thing about the lady in the Norfolk airport." [Laughs] Because I don't like write jokes. I just really am talking and say what happened, wherever I've been.
FREEMAN: So is it a whole different challenge, when you're writing for someone like Garry Shandling or Lewis Black?
MADIGAN: No, I find it very easy, writing for them. I don't know why I can't do it for myself. But I can like hear their voices and their perspective, their point of view. And I don't know, I can do that. It's weird. I can paint a picture, but I can't draw. Why is that? I don't know. I don't give it much thought [Laughs].
But I certainly can't write jokes. If you just tell me go to write 10 jokes about golf, I can't do it. That's not one of my skills. I can tell you five stories about golf that are funny. But not a joke. I can get up and talk about stuff that happened. Everything in my act is true.
FREEMAN: You're based in L.A., but spend a lot of time with your family in the Midwest?
MADIGAN: Yeah. But I'm never anywhere for long. I have a house in L.A., but usually I'm in Missouri, where most of my family is.
FREEMAN: I guess getting out of L.A. helps keep you sane?
MADIGAN: Yeah, normal. It keeps you from going into the bubble, which is always the goal, to not go in the bubble.
FREEMAN: And, as far as other goals, do you think about where do you want the career to take you ultimately? Or is it just step by step?
MADIGAN: Yeah, this is it! Like when Oprah's show was on and she'd be like, "Oh, you have to have a vision board and a goal list." I'm like, "Not really! Why don't you just enjoy today?" I have tiny, little goals. Letterman's people called and said, "Can you get a set together?" So I went and did it and sent it. But I don't want to be in a movie, not enough to go do the work. I don't care about a sitcom. I really just like my life.
When did everybody get to be so Type-A? Can't you have a goal and reach it and then just enjoy that? You watch "Oprah" and when you reach your goals, you have to set new goals. What?! Why? Why? Why!? I laugh so hard. It also is probably part of the Irish in me. There's not many Irish doctors and surgeons. It's just not our thing. We're not going to work that hard. We're going to work hard at what we like, but that's about it.
You know, Rory McIlroy, the golfer, he was number one and he was going to be the next big celebrity, the next Tiger Woods. And they give him $220 million. He's got the hottest girlfriend on Earth. And then his golf game falls apart. They're like, "What's wrong with him?" I'm like, "Nothing! Nothing is wrong with him. The question is, what's wrong with you? If somebody gave me $220 million, do you think I'm going to go to the range for 10 hours? No! I'm going to show up with the game I have and enjoy the day. And I hope I play well, but ... " I always call it "the six-pack ab" theory. Everybody wants six-pack abs. But do you want it bad enough to do that work and give up the things you enjoy, whether it's a taco or a beer or a glass of wine or dessert? My answer's no. And I don't understand the people that say yes. And I'm sure they don't understand me. How can you walk around five or 10 pounds overweight? I don't know. I do it every day. I'm good. I'm fine with it.
FREEMAN: [Laughs] Wanting to enjoy life, what a concept!
MADIGAN: Yeah, I know. People have no idea ... especially comics. I think, because of our lifestyle and stuff, I know comics, every month, somebody else is dead. Dead. And you're like, "Okay. Well, everybody needs to think about that." And we're still young. I'm still talking about people in their 40s. But you've really only got another good 25 years. Probably. So what do you want to do with that? Until your health starts getting weird. You know, my Mom's got a fake knee now, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn't [chuckles]. Things start to get weird. My Dad had a heart attack and didn't know it. Whatever. [Laughs]
You can't be healthy forever. So you better have fun now. Now, especially. Now I want to take more time off, because I'm young and I think, "Well I'll just work more when I'm old, because I won't care."
FREEMAN: [Laughs] A well-adjusted comic how does that happen?
MADIGAN: [Laughs] I said, "It was released on TMZ that John Pinette went to rehab." My friend, the comedian. And my sister, Kate, goes, "Are there any comedians that are just normal?" I said, "Me, Lew and Bill Engvall." That's about the three that are pretty well balanced. [Laughs] I'm sure there's more, but in my circle ... Everybody's got a problem or a thing or I don't know.
I think sometimes, I'm really too much of a Catholic girl, even though I don't go to church, and I disagree with a lot of things they say, I, at the end of the day, am a rule follower. If the flight attendant says, "Turn off your phone," I do it, because that's the person in authority and I've been trained like a dog, I do that. Lew is a rule follower. Ron is not. Ron White doesn't even consider them. He's impulsive. I'm not. Everything is in control. I would never go shoot heroin tomorrow. I would not do cocaine tomorrow. No, no, no, no, no ... No. It's two beers. Maybe three, if it's Friday. It's two glasses of wine, we'll go home. We're done now. There's no limo coming to take us to Tijuana. It's not happening.
FREEMAN: You have nothing to escape from.
MADIGAN: [Laughs] I guess not. Everything is okay. Golf is on in 20 minutes and I think Phil Mickelson shot a 59. What else do you need to do with your day?
FREEMAN: Well, thanks for making our day brighter. And we'll look forward to your new special.
MADIGAN: I appreciate it. And I'll see you guys soon!