By BJ Lisko
May 7, 2014
Comedian Kathleen Madigan sits at her computer in her Los Angeles home recalling some of her fondest memories of performing in Cleveland. Having worked at The Improv, Hilarities and Playhouse Square Center, there’s plenty to choose from, but one experience sticks out above the rest.
“There used to be a bar in the Flats,” she said. “I think it was called Harbor Inn, and they had like 1,000 beers. It’s the kind of place you could’ve lived for the rest of your life. I’m gonna Google it. Yep, there it is. 1219 Main Ave., Cleveland. It’s like and old-time fisherman bar. I’m making that up, but it feels like someone is gonna come in and tell you a boat went down and all our husbands are dead.”
Madigan has spent 25 successful years in the stand-up game and has performed on every network late night show in addition to guesting on countless others. She’s garnered numerous accolades along the way and performed on two USO shows. She will make a Cleveland tour stop May 16 at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. Right now, however, the beer enthusiast in Madigan is pondering how to fit Harbor Inn into her schedule, just as long as no one serves her suds with fruit in it.
“I love Fat Tire right now,” she said. “But I’m a St. Louis Budweiser girl at the end of the day. Really just don’t give me anything you throw fruit in. Why is there fruit in my beer? Yeah, you know what I need with my beer? Some fruit.”
Madigan has toured practically non-stop, 300 nights a year. She took a brief respite to reflect back on her start, success, and to explain why she’s perfectly content with life on the road.
Q. When did you realize that stand-up was something you really wanted to do for a career?
A. “I just kept going to open mic nights, and I realized that you could make some money doing this. Then it became a question of, ‘how long can I keep this going?’ ”
Q. Did you envision that nearly three decades later you’d still successfully be touring the world with your act?
A. “I never thought past maybe a year. I would think in the next year I need to get on these certain TV shows, then try to get a raise. I didn’t think, ‘What’s the end of all of this?’ or “What’s the greatest case scenario?’ All I ever saw were the headline guys, and I knew what they were making in clubs. It was a fine living doing what you want to do.”
Q. A lot of comics talk about how difficult life on the road can be, but obviously you enjoy what you’re doing or you wouldn’t tour so much. What’s your take?
A. “I love the road. But I think you just gotta be one of those people that want to keep going. Some people prefer predictability and stability, and I just get bored with all that. I’m one of those people who chose a more chaotic life, but it’s an organized chaos.”
Q. Who were some of your mentors?
A. “Lewis Black and Ron White especially. Lewis taught me I’m old enough and far enough along to realize none of this really matters. Any problem is a good problem, and it’s fine. He just needs to remind me sometimes. Ron White was big on the power of ‘no.’ I always said yes to everything, and sometimes see the results and wonder, ‘Why didn’t I just say no?’ ”
Q. Has your comedy evolved over the years? Do you approach it the same way as when you began?
A. “It’s eerily the way it was when I started. Nothing has really changed other than I don’t get nervous anymore. What’s the worst that can happen? I hope I get a good crowd, but I can’t control that. The delivery is the same. The jokes are different, but I have the same interests, and my show usually is gonna come from those areas. People like Jim Gaffigan and Louis are the same, too. If you’re not really doing an act and just being you, not that much will change.”
Q. What do you enjoy most about your career?
A. “The freedom is the best. There’s no question about that. There’s no way I could have a real job anymore. Since I’ve been 23, I’ve been my own boss. I’ll make the decisions where I go and when I go.”
Q. Any advice for up-and-comers in the stand-up world?
A. “Not every set is gonna be as good as every other set. I tell comics, you can’t change the world in five minutes. Even if you suck, at least it’s quick. There’s always another chance.