In Advance of Her Playhouse Square Show, Comedian Kathleen Madigan Talks About Her 'Healthy Amount of Irreverence'

click to enlarge In Advance of Her Playhouse Square Show, Comedian Kathleen Madigan Talks About Her 'Healthy Amount of Irreverence'
Luzena Adams
Veteran comedian Kathleen Madigan, who brings her Boxed Wine and Bigfoot Tour to the Ohio Theater at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1, has been busy lately. She currently has an hour-long special streaming on Netflix.

She also recently appeared on comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Raised Irish-Catholic, Madigan likes to joke about her upbringing and often employs a narrative style when doing standup.

She recently phoned in from a Nashville tour stop where she was driving to Barnes and Noble to get her copy of Fire and Fury. “I’m in Nashville, and a lot of people here don’t like the book, so it’s available,” she joked.

You were more into music than comedy when you were young. What was your favorite band?
My parents had the news on a lot but not comedy. I didn’t know you could be a comedian for a living. I don’t know what I thought. I guess I just thought the people on The Tonight Show were funny people who stopped by. I didn’t realize that Buddy Hackett was in Las Vegas over the weekend making money. I liked '70s music. The great thing about it is that every genre had superstars. It could be Disco Wednesday in our house, and my mom would play Donna Summer all day long. Or, it could be singer-songwriter night and my mom would play Linda Ronstadt. Even with rock, my parents listened to Fleetwood Mac. The '70s was a great range of genres and super-duper stars in those genres. I can’t say the same for the '80s and '90s.

Were you funny as a kid?
Um, just as funny as anybody else in my house, but there was a lot of us. We didn’t think of ourselves as funny people. You have to be around unfunny people to realize you’re funny. For example, my sister dated a guy who just couldn’t get a story together to save his life. He’d be in the middle of a story, and we didn’t know what the story was about. We’d tell him to edit and re-tell it.

To what do you attribute your sense of humor?
I don’t have any idea. There’s a healthy amount of irreverence. I would say that fits into Irish Catholicism. It’s also the downtrodden. We joke that you never see a funny German because they’re winning all the time. It’s not funny when you’re winning. The comedy comes as your last desperate chance to fight off reality. When was the last time you heard of a funny Swedish comic? It doesn’t come down the pike so much.

What was your first standup gig like?
It was at a bar in South St. Louis. I was paid with $50 and a T-bone steak. What’s sad is that I would still accept that as payment today, so nothing’s really changed.

I like your narrative style. Did you start out taking that approach to standup?
That’s just how I talk or would tell you something funny. I worked at a restaurant forever and ever, and when the old guys would come in, they were clearly bored. When they would come, I would try to tell them something funny to get a laugh out of them.

You have a pretty good bit on Muslims and Catholics. It seems more relevant now than when you told it.
I haven’t told that one in a while because it was part of that whole Iraq USO tour, so I phased it out of the act. But there’s a commitment there that is completely foreign to me. In Catholicism, if you’re that committed, you’re a priest or a nun. If you’re all in and not your average Sunday mass-goer, you shouldn’t be that into it.

In that bit you make fun of German soldiers. Don’t you find it ironic that Germany has now become the voice of reason in international affairs?
Yeah, who would have thought that we would have to go, “What do the Germans think about?” and then go, “Well, that’s what we should do.” It’s been a long road to get to that point but good for Angela [Merkel].

If Oprah runs for president, would you vote for her?
No. The last thing we need is another person who is an all-encompassing. I don’t want to be motivated. I don’t want to be my best self. I don’t want to reach for my dreams. After Donald [Trump], I want a president that’s quiet and does their job and that we don’t hear from. Just be quiet and go be a president. [Barack] Obama didn’t talk to us that much. He used to say, “I’m gonna need your help on this.” I would be like, “No, no, no. That’s what you have Joe Biden for. I’m a comedian, and you’re the president. I do me and you do you. I worked to help get you elected but now you have to go do your work quietly."

Do you talk about politics in the current show?
There’s a pretty good chunk of it now. I don’t consider myself a political comedian, but politics has now taken over mainstream everything. Donald dominates. I usually talk about the politics when there’s an election or something happens. Lewis Black always delves into those things. This is too big and too massive to avoid even in your regular life. You can’t turn on the news and not hear something about it. I’ve just gone to watching local news. The panels are out of control and in the morning I’ll watch CNN Headline News because they do all the topics. The panels have got to stop. I want to go back to when some old guy like Walter Cronkite would come on and go, “Tonight, we’re gonna talk about North Korea. If you don’t know where it is, get a map.” It’s just him. That would be great. Let’s do that again.

I saw you got coffee with Jerry Seinfeld for his show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. That must've been fun.
It was a lot of fun. He was trying to recreate what we used to do back in the day when we had no money and lived on the road. He actually did it. You forget you’re on TV because the GoPros are so small, it’s not like you’re doing a TV show. He kept yelling me about dragging my purse around. He kept going, “This is a TV show.” I kept saying, “Not really.” I didn’t want to leave my purse in a car on Santa Monica Blvd. It has everything that makes my world work. I told him, “You can either fire me and get another comedian or let me have my purse.”

What can you tell us about the current show?
What I try to do is what I would want to see if I went to a show. I try to go a third old and a third new and a third from the special that was on Netflix. It’s a big mish-mash of all that.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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