Performing back-to-back shows on May 4th at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, which will be recorded for her next television special, Kathleen Madigan proves that women can be successful comedians. She was the only comedian in the history of NBC’s Last Comic Standing to go unchallenged; with specials on Showtime and HBO, multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Late Show with David Letterman, she was the winner of the “Best Female Stand-Up Comedian” at the American Comedy Awards. She hosts a show on the Blue Collar Comedy XM channel, has written for Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil, was a host writer for the Emmys and appeared on “CBS’s NFL Comedy Jam.”
Author Marisa Williams: St. Louis is listed as your home town, but is that where you live now?
Kathleen Madigan: That’s where my family is, and I have a place in LA, but I live on the road.
Marisa: What made you decide to switch from journalism to stand-up comedy, and what were your biggest influences?
Kathleen Madigan: Well I didn’t really switch. I worked as a journalist, writing feature stories, but only for a year. I didn’t intentionally switch. I worked in a bar next to a comedy club. We did open mic night for fun at the club, and I just kept doing it.
Marisa: How do you go about writing comedy and putting together an act, and has the process changed for you over the years at all?
Kathleen Madigan: No, I don’t really write jokes. I wait for stuff to happen in life, and then I tell it on stage. That’s how it’s happened the whole time.
Marisa: How did you decide on Royal Oak as a location for filming your next hour long television stand-up special, and when do you think it will be out?
Kathleen Madigan: It should be out in the fall. It’s been a city that I’ve had the most fun in. I did the best there, even better than my home town. It’s hard to explain to people who’ve never been to Detroit, because they only see the stuff on the news. The crowds are fun and smart. I sat at the Comedy Castle for 20 years, drinking after the shows, and I like the people. Everybody comes out, even when the economy sucks, they still find a way.
Marisa: What was your worst heckler like?
Kathleen Madigan: I don’t get a lot of hecklers, because of the nature of my act. I had an old lady go crazy over a Sarah Palin joke. I can deal with any heckler, but it’s weird when it’s somebody’s drunk grandma. It’s uncomfortable and odd. Maybe because I talk fast, I don’t give the opportunity for too many hecklers. Sarah Palin people have one or two screws loose, but for someone to yell out that’s like 75 and totally hammered, it’s weird.
Marisa: What was is like writing and producing for Lewis Black’s Root of All Evil, versus writing for the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards?
Kathleen Madiagn: Well, it’s totally different. With the Emmys, it was just me and Gary, writing his monologue. With Root of All Evil, there’s a writer’s room, and a whole bunch of people in show. I’m way better one on one. I’m not into all things being approved by committees. There was Louis Black, his friend John Bowman, and lots of people involved that should not have been, so it made it weird.
Marisa: What is the scariest thing about being on the road?
Kathleen Madigan: There’s nothing scary per say, but it’s stressful with airlines, and now, I leave a day early at least, because I don’t trust anyone any more. It cuts the stress, but it keeps me on road 50 days longer than I need to be. Even if have a three hour flight, I don’t trust that I’ll be there, just because there are things that can do wrong, delays happen. If I do a theatre show, it’s just me. They bought tickets to see me, so I gotta be there. I can’t just not show up, because American didn’t leave on time.
Marisa: What’s your favorite way to travel and why?
Kathleen Madigan: The train on the East Coast, I love it. I love it, I wish the whole country would get on board the train. I went from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, turned back to go to Philadelphia, then to Atlantic City. I had a theatre show in Harrisburg. There’s no security, tons of seats, a desk if you want, snacks, beer, I can sleep to rhythm of the train… It’s unfortunate that it’s only on the East Coast. I grew up in Missouri. I don’t even know if we have trains. I didn’t take the train in Missouri. I had to go to Illinois to catch the train. We don’t get it. I tried to get from St. Louis to Chicago, but the train ticket cost more than the plane – but on the East Coast, it’s totally reasonable. It’s great; you never hear hardly ever about them being late or breaking down. There’s always another train a half hour later, and you don’t have to take off shoes or stand through the pat down of security lines. It’s like 20 years ago.
Marisa: Yeah, I remember when I was doing my Master’s at Johns Hopkins, I would take the train each day to go from Baltimore to Washington D.C.. I could just pick up a vodka from the liquor store right inside Union Station, and drink it on the commute home; it was great. Getting back to it, what’s your favorite place to travel to, and is there anywhere you have not been to that you would like to go to?
Kathleen Madigan: I’ve never been up to the North – North East corner, like Maine and Vermont. They sent me an offer, but it was like the middle of winter, at a ski resort down roads that are closed from the heavy snow, but I can’t get there effectively. I would’ve gone to Burlington, Vermont. I would have to go from L.A., to New York, to Vermont, then rent car… It’s like 24 hours to get there. I need a summer festival. I have a lot of kinship with Wisconsin. I’m friends with Louis Black, and he and I joke that when we’re old, we’re going to retire in the summer to Traverse City, Michigan, or Wisconsin for bratwurst. I’m 100 percent Irish, but someone musta slept with a German, because I love their food. They serve Schlitz on tap; who does that? It’s like time traveling with grandpa on a Saturday. I love old dark bars. I don’t want to dance at a club, I just want a bar. I’m doing Madison soon, and they’re wild; it’s fun.
Marisa: Yeah, I remember, when I toured on Ozzfest, Wisconsin people were always a great crowd. They really know how to party and have a good time. Now, this next question, my friend, who is an aspiring female comedian, wanted me to ask. She had been watching a special on female comedians, and most claimed that any female comedians who actually make it do not sleep with people after shows. Would you agree with that?
Kathleen Madigan: Yes, I would agree; it’s ridiculous for a woman, compared to a man. It’s dangerous. Haven’t we seen enough Dateline? I always view it like let’s say… I may, but I didn’t really do it in my 20’s, but let’s say I go somewhere with a guy. With his bare hands, he could kill me, but I can’t kill him. Guy comics, when they pick up girls, take them back to the comedy suite, and there’s no danger element like that. I just think it’s crazy. Forget the morality. Just watch the ID channel for 7 hours; you won’t want to even talk to a stranger.
Marisa: What’s your biggest comedy fantasy?
Kathleen Madigan: I never have goals or dreams. My sister says it’s pathetic and lazy, but I had a goal, to tell jokes to pay bills and not have to live in a trailer. So, I think I’m living my fantasy. I don’t have another. I’ve had so many fun things happen that I never thought would. Time will tell me my next fantasy, because I can’t think of it.
Marisa: If you were an unicorn, and you could be any color but white, what color would you be and would you have any special powers?
Kathleen Madigan: I’d be blue, and I’d have green eyes. I’d have a magical wish horn.
Marisa: If you were yogurt, would you be mixed fruit, fruit on the bottom, what flavor and why?
Kathleen Madigan: Black cherry, mixed in. I hate fruit on bottom; it doesn’t work for me.
Marisa: Describe yourself as either a dog, a cat or a cartoon.
Kathleen Madigan: A Beagle.
Marisa: Do you collect anything?
Kathleen Madigan: No.
Marisa: Do you have any hidden talents or special skills?
Kathleen Madigan: Yes, I can fold my tongue in half; it’s really something to see. I’m a pretty good golfer.
Marisa: What’s the most important thing to remember?
Kathleen Madigan: To put my contacts in – if I don’t do that, I can’t see all day. That’s a problem; I’m legally blind.
Marisa: What’s your best aha! Moment?
Kathleen Madigan: When I realized I have to stop watching Oprah, because she’s using the phrase aha! I’m done watching Oprah forever.
Marisa: If you were not doing comedy, what would you be doing?
Kathleen Madigan: I would like to be an FBI profiler. I’m fascinated with psychology, but I wouldn’t want to deal with people and their problems in my office. I like to figure them out from afar, narrow a case down, figure it out, but it sounds like a lot of science.
Marisa: Actually, my undergrad degree is a Bachelor of Science in Forensics, but I changed gears after I had my cliff diving accident, where doctors told me I’d never walk again at 19. Even though I can walk now, that changed my life’s focus, which led to me going back for my Master’s in Writing, but yes, it is a lot of science. Anyhow, what are three things you must have with you when you are on the road?
Kathleen Madigan: I gotta have my Ipad. I go crazy without that. I quit smoking, so I need Tootsie Pops – not a fake one from gas station – then glasses or contacts, some form of assisted eye wear. I couldn’t get to a gate without that, I would need help.
Marisa: Any advice for comedians starting out?
Kathleen Madigan: Well, no, because it’s so hard today. There’s so many mediums and outlets. You better make sure you like it. Plan on it being a marathon, not a sprint, because 90 percent isn’t going to work. You gotta love it and have a passion, or else the road will bother you. The business will get to you too much.
Marisa: Closing thoughts and additional comments?
Kathleen Madigan: Follow me on twitter. People entertain me more than I entertain them. I’m not serious or into politics. When I’m in an airport, the general public is far funnier than they think they are; they write things, and I answer back. If you get a giant bag of Tootsie Pops, they have a new flavor, pomegranate, but there’s only 2 in bag. I’m thinking, what, do I have to buy a hundred bags?Somebody sent me a link. I enjoy the general public. Some people are mean, and when you look at their page, they only write mean things, but I have a great time with a twitter person. It’s not even to promote myself, just to entertain me.
For more on Kathleen Madigan, visit www.facebook.com/KathleenMadigan, www.kathleenmadigan.com, http://www.last.fm/music/Kathleen+Madigan, and www.twitter.com/kathleenmadigan. The author of 100 books, Marisa Williams earned her Master’s in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University. For more on Marisa, visit www.lulu.com/spotlight/thorisaz and www.wix.com/thorisaz/photography.