Most often, you’ll find Kathleen Madigan onstage performing her well-crafted brand of stand-up comedy. After all, the road-warrior comic keeps buys playing 250 dates a year across the country, including a date this month at 20 Monroe Live.
But when she’s not touring, Madigan enjoys the quiet life. She spends ample time relaxing at her home nestled in the Missouri Ozarks, or hits the golf course with her close friends Ron White and Lewis Black. But all the while, she’s mining for comedy bits. Sometimes, she doesn’t even realize it.
“I don’t always realize it’s funny right away,” Madigan said. “Not while things are actually happening. It might take 24 hours until I go, ‘Did that really happen? Oh, my God.’”
On other occasions, especially with ridiculous moments involving her close-knit family, she knows it’s instant comedy gold.
“Like, I do that joke about how I took a pill out of my mom’s purse in Target,” she said. “Literally, right after I swallowed it, my Mom went, ‘Ewww!’ I thought, ‘Oh, God. What did you do? Come on Mom, get it together.’ I could literally do an entire album just on my parents.”
In fact, Madigan does have a new LP in the works, and plenty of those classic family stories will be included. Greatest Bits Vol. 1, a new “best of” compilation released last month, mines back to her earliest sets and were selected by the comic herself.
“I thought, ‘Why is nobody doing that?’ I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to do it and beat all of these old guys to the punch and take away their thunder.’” Madigan said. “Also, (fans will often) quote back to me their favorite jokes of mine and I literally don’t remember them. I’ll remember the topic, but that’s it.”
Today, Madigan, 54, has a lengthy IMDB list of credits and sells out shows on the regular, but when she first started making headway on the traveling-comic circuit in the early ’90s, she definitely had to pay her dues driving countless hours to various seedy joints across the country. One show in particular sticks out to her as especially shady.
“Back in 1992 or so, there was a run of one-nighters throughout Kansas — cities like Garden City, Hays and Manhattan,” Madigan recalled. “It was one of those along that run, maybe Hayes. It was just a bar, which is fine. No big deal. But there was chicken wire around the stage. I said to the owner, ‘What’s up with the chicken wire?’ He was like, ‘Somebody got hit by a beer bottle and I don’t want to be insured for all that.’ I was like, ‘People could actually be throwing things at us? Wow.’”
From there, the evening in Kansas didn’t get much better for the then-fledgling stand-up.
“I think there were literally three people in the bar,” she said. And I was like, ‘Are we really doing this?’ And the owner says, ‘Yeah, you’re going to do it for me if for nothing else. I already paid.’ I was thinking, ‘Dude, it’s $75, I’ll give it back.’ But you can’t do that because he’ll call into the guy who books the string of one-nighters and say you were a jackass. You just have to play along.”
In the following decades, things got better as Madigan corralled her perfectly timed jokes into tight sets. Her latest special, Bothering Jesus, is proof of that. And, as it is with most brilliant comedians, she also divulges snippets of her real life along the way.
“Lewis Black, he is my BBF,” Madigan said. “We joke about how comics spend more time talking about ourselves than actually being ourselves. I said, ‘If we were the slightest bit narcissistic, we’d enjoy all of this more. But we’re not.’”
Aside from lacking an ego, Madigan also prefers to stay far away from the limelight as possible. The comic stays in Los Angeles only on a need-to basis for work.
“I hardly ever go to Los Angeles,” she said, “I never did like it, per say. I just really like the Midwest. If I could live fulltime at the lake in the Ozarks, I would. It’s just not close to an airport. It’s over two hours from the Kansas City or St. Louis airport, so I just try to get there when I don’t have a lot of gigs in a row.”
However, these days, Madigan has found she is going back to her driving-all-over-the-damn-place roots. When possible, she hops in her car and heads to the venue, just like she did back in the ’90s.
“Now I want to drive. I hate to fly,” she said. “I hate TSA, the airports are too crowded. I love it when I can drive. Love it, love it, love it. If I start in Missouri, I’m driving to Nashville, I’m driving to Memphis, because I want to. See how it comes full circle?”
Kathleen Madigan: 8 O’clock Happy Hour Tour
20 Monroe Live
11 Ottawa Avenue NW, Grand Rapids
March 21, 6 p.m.