By: Donna Isbell Walker,
February 23, 2015
Comic Kathleen Madigan won’t celebrate her 50th birthday for another seven months, but the prospect of the big 5-0 doesn’t faze her.
“I’ve always felt 50,” Madigan said in a recent phone interview from New York. “I think because I’ve always had a job. I’ve had a job since I was 12. Finally, I feel like the age I’ve always felt I was, so it’s not even traumatic.”
And don’t expect another birthday to bring about changes in her work. Madigan’s style of comedy blends wry stories about her large Catholic family with sharply observed takes on politics and culture.
The St. Louis native is one of seven children, and her parents and siblings are a cornerstone of her act. And off-stage, she can always count on her brothers and sisters to offer an honest opinion.
“My dad is highly critical, and he goes, ‘Well, if your family can’t criticize you, who can?’” said Madigan, who performs in Clemson on Sunday. “And I’m like, ‘How about strangers? how about people I don’t have to hear from every time I see you?’ And he says, ‘Do you just want a yes man?’ And I say, ‘How about a say-nothing man?’ … You don’t need to tell me I’m great; just say nothing.”
While her siblings are often the first to offer criticism, “I’m glad they do because there are way too many people who are lying to you 90 percent of the time. If you’re a sane person, I think it’s good to have somebody (giving an honest opinion). Like Lewis Black is one of my best friends; he’d tell me the truth, but he won’t deliver it quite as bluntly as
my family will, where they’ll go, ‘Oh my God, that show was awful.”
More recent comedic fodder has come from the controversy surrounding NBC News anchor Brian Williams, suspended for exaggerating about his role in news coverage.
Madigan, who majored in journalism at Southern Illinois University, said Williams’ behavior, even before the scandal broke, blurred the line between celebrity and journalist a little too much.
“If you’re going to be doing segments in Letterman, which is what I should be doing, if you want to be a celebrity, then why not just let celebrities do the news, and we’ll all take turns? Lewis (Black) can do it Monday, Ron White can do it Tuesday, Seinfeld can do it Wednesday. The news should be the one thing that’s serious. And I’m not even a serious person. But you need to be telling the truth. You have two jobs: Go get the news and report the news correctly. You did neither. I would have fired him,” she said.
Politics and current events are important parts of Madigan’s act, and she’s something of a rarity in the world of comedy because she stays away from crude humor and graphic talk about sex. She said that’s because she wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing those subjects with random strangers.
“The things that I’m interested in in real life that I talk about all day are the things in my act: my family, politics, sports, current events. … I wouldn’t just run around talking about my sex life to strangers,” she said.
While comics often say that their stage persona is just a persona, Madigan disagrees. “I think what you see on stage from people, 90 percent is what they really are. … I think the adjectives you could use to describe somebody in their act is also how you would use the adjectives to describe them off-stage.”
Her fellow comic and pal Lewis Black is an example of that. Black, who comes to the Peace Center in April, has honed a curmudgeonly stage persona, but Madigan said that’s just one facet of Black’s personality.
“He actually very sweet,” Madigan said. “He probably wouldn’t want me telling people that. He is what he is on stage, but he’s also more than that. That’s part of him, and it’s real, but he also is one of the nicest guys that you would ever run into.”