Kathleen Madigan is eager to celebrate her 51st birthday on stage in Kalamazoo.
A veteran of standup, Madigan already knows about the area’s great beer selection, asking fans to tweet bar recommendations for her post-Mermaid Lady Tour performance birthday festivities.
For anyone who’s seen her act, that should come as no surprise. Madigan has gladly embraced the road life with an average of 300 shows per year for more than 15 years. After nearly every one of those, she loves to connect with fans — and drinks — out on the town.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Madigan has an extra special place in her heart for the Midwest. After all, Detroit was the first city outside of her hometown where she began selling out shows. Whenever she returns to the area, there’s just a sense of familiarity she doesn’t get elsewhere.
Her own humble, Midwestern charm made Madigan a hit on the NBC reality series Last Comic Standing, where she broke out nationally as a finalist on the show’s second season back in 2004, returning as a judge three seasons later.
To this day, Madigan is respected and admired as one of the best comics of her generation by fellow comedians, ranging from her good friends Lewis Black and Ron White to late-night legends like David Letterman and Jay Leno.
When she’s not on the road, Madigan now splits her time between Los Angeles and her family’s farm back in Missouri, where she spends part of summer fishing and relaxing with her many nieces and nephews.
The Mermaid Lady Tour
Kalamazoo State Theatre
404 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo
Sept. 30, 7 p.m., $35
kazoostate.com, (269) 345-6500
“It’s great,” she said. “Your brain just needs to turn off sometimes. Other comedians are like, ‘Aren’t you afraid you’re not writing jokes that whole time?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not afraid of that at all. I don’t even know where my joke book is.’
“There’s always new material to be had,” she added. “I have six siblings who have jobs and dogs and kids and houses, and normal lives, which is not what I’m living. It’s like their life is what most people are doing, so it’s nice to experience that for a while. I don’t know if I would want that, but it’s nice to jump in it for a while.”
Madigan has also returned to the Midwest for her last two comedy specials, taping her 2013 Netflix special, Madigan Again, in Detroit.
“I’ve never had anything bad happen to me in Detroit, and I’ve been all over Detroit,” Madigan said, adding that she had to drag her L.A.-based crew along with her for the taping. “I do this joke onstage, but I mean it, when I go out in Detroit, I may have a really great evening with a nice steak, or I might be murdered. But you know what, there’s something about the sketchiness that I like. It adds a little excitement.”
No stranger to real danger and excitement, Madigan has done two USO tours overseas, performing for troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Those are really, really great to do,” Madigan said. “They’re the best crowds ever. They’re so excited and so appreciative, and you can joke about anything. I don’t do it anymore, but I did ten minutes on Iraq and Afghanistan, and I wrote those jokes there. And they’re more than happy to hear about that. You’re kind of saying what they can’t say. They can appreciate it, and they can laugh at it, and it wasn’t political. It was just the absurdity of the whole situation.”
When asked what she learned about herself by heading into a war zone, Madigan quickly answered that she and Lewis Black found out they could never be soldiers.
“We couldn’t even fit the equipment properly,” she added. “Which is why we have to keep entertaining these people. If they will agree to do this, then we will agree to keep entertaining them, because after this they’d run out of people and start calling us. And there’s no way. I’d run away.”
Back home, she and Black are more comfortable drinking and commiserating on the golf course. Together they’ve also hosted Periscope parties during this year’s presidential debates, expressing their frustration for the whole process with their fans.
“I’m kind of a political junkie because my dad made us watch all of it,” Madigan said, describing this year’s election as being like a bad reality show. She’ll often live-tweet her reactions to political events, like the recent party conventions, and has gone so far as to suggest that writing in a chimp as a new candidate might be the best option.
As for leading a new generation of women comedians, Madigan doesn’t look at herself as a glass-ceiling breaker — even after winning both the American Comedy Award and Phyllis Diller Award for Best Female Comedian.
“I just go with blinders on and I think a lot more people should do that, instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing,” she said. “Especially in comedy, because it’s like the game of golf. You’re just playing against yourself. There’s no actual competition. I don’t think about, ‘Oh, I’m a woman in a mostly male-dominated game.’ I just like to tell jokes, and it all worked out. If people just concentrated on the road that they’re on, and not look at other highways, their drive would be a lot smoother.”