By DAVID J. CRIBLEZ
November 5, 2014
Comedian Kathleen Madigan could be your wisecracking sister-in-law or the entertaining lady at the end of the bar who’s full of sass. Her Midwestern charm takes the audience right in, allowing them to unleash those genuine belly laughs comedians fight so hard for.
Thursday night, Madigan, 49, will test Long Islanders’ sense of humor when she comes to The Paramount in Huntington. Being the middle child in an Irish Catholic family of seven from Missouri, she is determined to be heard.
You are friends with fellow comedian Lewis Black. How do you two mesh?
Lew is a more hopeful person than I am, which offsets my cynicism. My cynicism keeps his hopefulness in check. I tell him, “You grew up in an era where there was hope. My first political memory is Nixon quitting. We’re not coming from the same place.” He has so much hope for Obama and he when feels like Obama isn’t living up to it, I say, “Lew, he’s not a wizard. You think there’s a wizard but, there is no wizard. Bring it all down a level and you’ll be a happier man.”
You guys did a bunch of USO shows together. What did you get out of those experiences?
Those were the greatest shows on Earth. I should always film my specials in Kabul. The troops are just so happy you came and remembered they were there. But my God, Afghanistan makes Tijuana look like Manhattan. It was like going to a whole other world. There are wild camels there! I told Lew, “I think we’ve flown to the Bible.”
You came from a big Irish Catholic family. Was there a lot of comedy in your household?
Yeah, there was, but we didn’t realize that until my sister dated a German guy. He didn’t have our sense of humor and he thought we were being mean. My dad was like, “He needs to get on board!” It took for the antithesis of funny to enter the house for me to realize we had a sense of humor.
You are the middle child of seven kids. Was that a tough spot to be in?
When there are seven kids, nobody is truly paying attention to anything. You are on your own, but I prefer that. There was no hyper focus on me. Ninety percent of the time my parents didn’t know what I was doing and I liked it that way.
Did going to Catholic school help keep you in check?
It made me not cross certain lines. Even if nobody was watching, God was watching. The fear of God helped me not do bad things. Every single day in Catholic school, a nun would write on the board: 1.) God, 2.) Others, 3.) Yourself — then say, “Remember that order. That’s how you live.” When you see that every single day for eight years, it becomes a moral code that’s installed inside of you.
You worked as a journalist as you came up the comedy ranks. How did that affect your stage performance?
It didn’t, but it really enhanced my press kit. If you would have gotten my press kit, you would have thought I was the most accomplished comedian on the planet, and I had only been doing it for a year and a half. I’d even help other comics who couldn’t put a full sentence together.
You did two seasons on “Last Comic Standing.” What kind of impact did that have on your career?
It was torturous. The whole reality thing is crazy because whatever you give them, they can twist any way they want. You have to be conscious of every single word that comes out of your mouth. Coming from a big family and mouthing off the way I do, it wasn’t easy to do. But it brought my comedy to a new audience. People who are not staying up to watch “The Tonight Show” because they are busy with kids could catch you in prime time. It’s a different group.
Your last special, “Madigan Again,” went directly to Netflix. What spurred you to make that move?
The networks promote the premiere date, but then you never know when it’s going to air again. Netflix is a library that’s always there. When I speak to the networks I feel like I’m talking to my grandparents. When I speak to Netflix I feel like I’m talking to that weird, cool 25-year-old boy neighbor who knows a lot and is always in a hoodie drinking coffee. I want to be with him. The networks don’t get it. They need to be more flexible.
This year, we lost a lot of comedians. Did that shake you?
Yeah, all of them were shocking. John Pinette was sober, losing weight and on a good track. Joan Rivers was 81, but she wasn’t sick and had done a show the night before. Robin Williams had a lot of demons, but he had put himself in rehab earlier this year. I didn’t see any of it coming. It makes you go, “Nothing sucks too bad because I’m still here.”
Do you see yourself going into movies or TV?
I don’t particularly like any of it because I don’t have the patience for it. I went with Lew when he did a guest spot on “Big Bang Theory.” We got there at 4 p.m. and didn’t leave until 11 p.m. for him to do a less-than-five-minute scene. You must have to want to be an actor to do that, and clearly I do not. It’s a tedious process. My job takes 90 minutes. Next year you turn 50. Do you have any big plans? I’m taking all of next September off. We are going to have a giant blowout in Missouri. I’m making all my friends get on a plane, rent a car and drive three hours into the Ozark Mountains. But I’ve always felt 50. I’ve been working since I was 13.
Do you want kids?
Noooo! I really enjoy being an aunt. To me, if you are going to have kids, you need to create this environment where that’s the whole deal. I don’t understand people who have kids, get nannies and run around the world. I just enjoy my nieces and nephews.
You seem to stay away from any raunchy material. True?
I would be uncomfortable saying the things I hear people say. It would make me squirm. To me, it’s too public and in front of strangers. Some things are just private. I’d rather talk about Chris Christie losing it.
How has headlining theaters affected you?
It’s less combative. When you are starting out in the clubs, nobody knows who you are. People go to a comedy club to see comedy. Nobody paid a lot to see a specific person. If you saw me in a theater, you paid a certain amount of dollars, you probably already like me and you are excited about the evening. At a comedy club during the second show on Friday, the crowds typically have been up since 6 a.m., they’ve been drinking, they are tired and ally super hammered. Nowadays, I’m not at war anymore. I found the troops that like me, we are going to hang out and have a talk.
Who is in a Madigan crowd?
Middle-class, Catholic, worn out, functioning alcoholics that are a bit old school.