By Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
Low Country Today
January 22, 2015
Although she earned a degree in journalism from Southern Illinois in 1988 and worked in the profession for a short time after college it wasn’t until she got on stage during an open mike night that Kathleen Madigan found her true calling. For over 25 years the St. Louis native and gifted comedian has been making people laugh with her signature brand of laid back comedy.
Working at a newspaper by day Madigan tended bar at night when the light went off. “I didn’t mind my day job, I just wasn’t into it all that much. I could write but it didn’t pay much. Besides I was making more money part time bartending than I ever did writing peoples stories.” The night life fit her better. “I like hanging out with the bar people and having a beer or two. The 9 to 5 grind wasn’t me.”
Often she and her friends would drop by The Funny Bone in St. Louis.
“We were basically going out for a couple of drinks and to have some fun. One night during open mike night I took the stage. I guess I was just young enough or stupid enough to give it a shot. Before I knew it, I was going back every week. I was making people laugh and having a lot of fun.” The national chain of comedy clubs recognized Madigan’s potential contracting her to open for big names all across the country. “I quit my day job and didn’t give it a second thought.”
Raised in a large Irish Catholic family Madigan said her father was cautious but supportive. A self made man he put himself through college working as a pipefitter ultimately becoming a lawyer and a judge. “I don’t think my dad was overly enthusiastic about quitting my day job. He was a classic workaholic but also very supportive of his kids.” Madigan is one of seven siblings.
Throughout the early 1990’s Madigan cut her teeth. “I was slowly making a name for myself opening for fellow comedians who were probably 8 to 10 years older than me and had been doing it that much longer.” Madigan was opening for the likes of Lewis Black, Brett Butler, Richard Jeni, and Ron White. “They were the headliners. Some of them had done TV and I was still honing the craft.”
After a year and a half Madigan was promoted to the feature act, the second comic in the three person rotation. Another two years passed and she became the headliner. For
Madigan it meant she had to keep getting better so she could be a regular on the late night TV circuit. “Every comic wants those Tonight Show gigs.”
In 1996 Madigan won ‘Best Female Stand-Up’ comedian at the American Comedy Awards. “That was a boost for me. It meant better gigs and more money.” Financial gain was one of her early motivators. “I never thought I’d make a career out of comedy. I liked working in bars and clubs and if I could make more money by telling jokes on stage that was a bonus.”
By the time the 2000’s came around Madigan recorded several comedy albums and made numerous appearances on the late night talk shows from Leno to Letterman. Over the
past decade Madigan she has released 2 DVD’s, filmed two HBO Specials and appeared on three Comedy Central Specials. She had hit her stride and now she was a much sought
after headliner and in demand writer for fellow comedians.
Madigan helped kick off the second season (2004) of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Although viewers may have thought the show was all about finding unknowns it quickly came about giving travelling comics exposure. “I was reluctant at first because I had been at it for almost 15 years but some of my friends in the industry said go ahead. I did reach
an audience that maybe didn’t know who I was and it did give me more exposure. So there was an upside.”
John Heffron would win that year which featured some of the best comics still working today, among them Todd Glass, Tammy Pescatelli, and 2005 winner Alonzo Bodden. Madigan would in later years return as a judge. With her star on the rise the networks came calling however Madigan prefers to shy away from sitcoms. “I like doing my own thing, being my own boss. I’m not sure I could show up every day and commit to a regular work schedule.”
Ironically although she’s appeared on The Tonight Show 15 times she says she grew up not watching Johnny Carson or paying attention to comics that came before her. “Growing up in the 70’s I wasn’t old enough to stay up and watch it. By the time I became a teenager I had others things that interested me. When it came to TV we watched more sports than anything else. I definitely come from a sports loving family. My becoming a comedian just sort of happened.”
Fast forward to 2015 and Kathleen Madigan is one of the hardest working and most popular comics touring the comedy circuit. Her girl next door humor resonates with young and old, male and female. “I don’t do the type of comedy where I feed off the crowd or exchange banter. Basically I go out on stage and do my show. I might build off the energy in the room but my main goal is to make them laugh and hopefully forget anything bad happening around them.”
Like many comedians Madigan follows a routine but tries to change it up as topics present. “I have my set material but I change it up from time to time. I adlib on occasion but I pretty much know what I’m going to say when I get out on stage. If there is something topical in the news or something that is really stupid going on I might throw that in. I don’t always follow my own script.” Newer material comes through observation. “I watch people and I watch the news. Stupid and funny happens all around us.”
In an entertainment field primarily dominated by men Madigan is in a league of her own. She has landed at the top of her profession and is well respected by fellow comedians. She performs all over the world, is comfortable in small clubs and Las Vegas casinos and regularly joins the USO entertaining our troops. It is easy to see Madigan has made it on
her own and on her own terms.
A quick look at her website gives visitors a glimpse of what others in the business are saying about her. The likes of Leno, Lewis Black, and Ron White extol her talent. “It’s great when people come up to me and say you’re funny but when my colleagues acknowledge it that means so much more to me. They know what we have to go through to get where we are.”
Where Madigan will be on February 7th 2015 is the historic Charleston Music Hall when she brings her ‘Madigan, Again’ tour to the low country of South Carolina. “Looking forward to coming to your town, maybe I’ll have some time to enjoy what the city has to offer.” Tickets are still available by calling 800-514-3849 or visiting the box office at 37 John Street. Madigan will perform at Harbison Theatre in Columbia, SC one night before she plays Charleston