How does a degree in journalism lead to a standout career as a comedian? Just ask Kathleen Madigan.
“Journalism was too much work for too little money,” Ms. Madigan explained candidly in an online interview, “and I don’t do anything well before 11 a.m.—aside from smoke and drink coffee—so I needed a nighttime job.”
It seems she’s found her calling. And she probably gets free coffee now, too. Ms. Madigan, who will be appearing at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on August 29, has become one of America’s most in-demand comedians, delivering irreverent, often edgy observations on everyday life that appeal to a wide range of audiences. And it all started when she decided to kill time on her nights off by taking in a few comedy shows.
“My inspiration was people at open mics who sucked,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I saw so many bad people; had I seen good headliners, I may not have thought I could do it.”
Fortunately for comedy fans, those open mic performers were consistently subpar, so Ms. Madigan stepped up and decided to do something about this shortage of good stand-up comedy, especially as performed by women.
No politician, television figure, or media pundit would be safe; Ms. Madigan’s everywoman-like, neighborly outer exterior camouflaged her quick wit and cynical skewering of everyone from George W. Bush to Oprah. She also, less caustically, dished about the funny things her parents did (“they don’t care, as long as they continue to get free trips to see me in any venue that has a casino,” she explained.)
Before long, she was making stand-up appearances on Comedy Central and the Jay Leno and David Letterman late-night shows, and was given the comic stamp of approval by Mr. Leno himself, as well as by fellow comic Lewis Black, who called her “the funniest woman in America.”
“He’s one of my best friends, so he’d better say that!” Ms. Madigan quipped.
As far as Ms. Madigan’s taste in comedy, she’s got plenty of respect for her peers, especially for her own top three “funniest women in America.”
“I’d say my top three are Joan Rivers, Wanda Sykes, and Kathy Griffin,” Ms. Madigan wrote. “I don’t follow pop culture as closely as Kathy, but I think she does what she does really well. I also recently saw Joan at the West Bank Café downstairs theater in NYC, and she was brilliant—soooo funny. And Wanda’s delivery is to die for.”
So if she could go toe-to-toe with one other comedian, living or dead, who would Ms. Madigan choose to challenge on the comedy stage?
“Hmmm, maybe Jerry Lewis,” she wrote, “if you count him as a comedian. He said at the Aspen Comedy Festival that there are ‘no funny women. Ever.’ I think I’m funnier than him. I think my mother is funnier than him.”
“Funny” is career enough for Ms. Madigan, who hasn’t really dabbled in acting as some of her fellow comedians have, nor does she have any aspirations to work out her political complaints by taking public office. Being a stand-up comic, and collaborating with her many friends in the industry on various shows and sketches, is plenty.
“I don’t think comedy is anything more than a fun night out,” she wrote. “If I had a serious point about anything, I’d be a politician or something less idiotic. And I mean idiotic in a good way.”
She does believe in taking comedy where it’s seriously needed, namely overseas to U.S. soldiers. Ms. Madigan did a USO tour in 2008, and plans to return this December. It was a rewarding experience, even for this self-proclaimed “Irish slacker” who enjoys her time in the Hamptons because of its slow pace, free festivals, and “moronic fun,” as she puts it.
“The best thing about the USO tour was seeing how happy the troops are to see anybody come and entertain them,” she wrote. “The worst was wearing the flak jacket. God almighty, it’s so heavy and uncomfortable—I’d lay on the ground and cry if I had to wear that every day. I wonder if you get kicked out for laying on the ground and crying.”
Kathleen Madigan will be performing at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on August 29 at 8:30 p.m. Mature content, adults only. Tickets are $30, $45, or $60, available online at whbpac.org, in person at the Arts Center at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach, or by calling 631-288-1500.