By George Lenker
March 22, 2014
Comic Kathleen Madigan doesn’t feel it’s particularly difficult for women to make it in comedy if they’re good. But she does have a formula about the subject.
“As far as the audience perception, if you’re a woman, you start off at minus one,” she said. “If you’re a white guy, you’re at a zero, and if you’re a black guy, you’re at plus one. But that also comes with higher expectations. You’d better be good.”
But Madigan’s 25 years in the business probably mean she suffers from no such bias. She will bring her act to the Calvin Theatre on Friday, March 28. She chatted about her career
during a telephone interview last week.
How hard is it to keep coming up with new material after doing this for 25 years?
Because most of my material is stuff that really happens, as long as I’m still doing stuff, I will never run out of material. People say there are really only five jokes – or whatever that old saying is – that’s ridiculous. Because new things happen every day. How can you think that there’s only five basic jokes? If you think that, then you are not at all creative.
Are you surprised you’ve been able to sustain a career in such a tough field for so long?
Well, I still am able to keep making money at it. But it’s like I told my sister, I’m waiting for someone to come knock on my door and say, “Okay Kathleen, here’s the thing. We found out and now it’s time for you to get a real job.” (Laughs.) I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be 40 years old and be stuck in something I didn’t want to do and be crabby. So every year I have to see signs that this is going in the right direction. But every year the gigs get better and the money gets better so I just go okay, I guess I’m supposed to keep going.
You had a special, “Madigan Again,” last year. How long does it take to put together a set for a show like that and how do you go about it?
It’s basically just my act. I mean, by the time we filmed that, I already had more material than I used and that’s just what I picked for that special. There’s some stuff – I called them throwaway jokes –that are just okay, or there’s a time limit on them and they’re fine but they are not going to make the cut. They’re like B-sides. Maybe someday I’ll do a whole thing of B-sides. Jokes I wrote down and maybe did in some clubs but never recorded them in any way.
That’s actually an interesting idea. It might be cool.
Yeah but it also might be weird. (Laughs.)
You’re from St. Louis and started out there, when most big comics seem to start out on one of the coasts. How were there enough clubs to give you a good start?
Here’s the secret, golden key that I had, that really only comics know about: For about 1 billion years, there was a comedy chain called the Funny Bone. They still exist, there still about five of them around I think. But the headquarters, bizarrely enough, was in St. Louis. So once I got in with them, they booked me at all their clubs twice a year. And they had 12 at the time so that was 24 weeks of my year already booked. So all I had to do was fill in the rest with one-nighters or college gigs or whatever. It was the most fortuitous Irish luck-out ever. I say to my parents, “I’d like to thank you for situating us in a city where the biggest comedy club chain was headquartered.”
That is pretty amazing.
But even if I hadn’t got that break, everything is so centrally located. Just get in the car and in 4 1/2 hours I am in Memphis, or Chicago, or Little Rock, or Kansas City. I always feel really bad for comics starting out in Montana or Texas. It takes like 12 hours just to drive out of Texas. I mean, the East Coast comics have it good because they can just go up and down the coast. But if you’re in St. Louis and you have a car, it’s perfect.
Since you studied journalism and actually were a reporter for a while, let me ask you this: If you were interviewing yourself what question would you ask yourself that most people haven’t asked you?
Well, this is only because I think about it often myself: If I quit comedy, what would I want to do? And I think what I would really want to do – and I don’t think I’m smart enough in science (laughs) I don’t know – is be an FBI profiler. But I don’t think I could just do that. I think you have to be a cop first.
Well, you are Irish.
(Laughs.) Yeah but I’m not going to do push-ups.