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On the road again: Comedian Kathleen Madigan’s got a few stories to tell

Bill DeYoung



Comedian Kathleen Madigan during a 2018 appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." CBS/Screen grab.

Here it is November already, and Kathleen Madigan is thinking, of all things, about a news item she read back in August.  

“I’m still obsessed with the fact that there’s a cobra loose in Grand Prairie, Texas and nobody cares,” says America’s best-known woman standup comedian. “I can’t believe that’s just fine with everybody. I’d f–kin’ move! I mean, what?”

Madigan, who has two shows Sunday at the Capitol Theatre, is calling from the road … and she’s on a roll. “And the guy’s in no trouble. How do you not get in trouble for that? If I was president my first agenda would be exotic animal laws. It’s gettin’ out of hand.

“The owner said ‘Well, it’s probably dead.’ Well, how do you know? No one’s found the carcass of a cobra to my knowledge.”

Madigan, the recipient of the American Comedy Award for “Best Female Comedian” and other honors, has done five standup specials, the last three for Netflix.

Her usual itinerary is 250 performing nights every year. Covid-19, of course, put a dent in that.

St. Pete Catalyst: When a comedian is off the road for such a long period, are they chomping at the bit to get back out? Do you store up material? Do you have a garage full of great stories to tell, that you couldn’t?

Kathleen Madigan: “I don’t, because I only usually write when I’m working. If I’m not working, my brain’s just somewhere else. But it’s good for your brain to be off for a while. My comedian friends that are closest to me, like Lewis Black or Ron White, if we’re not workin,’ we’re not writin.’ Things occur to me, and I might write ‘em down, but when I’m off my ability to slide into retirement is way too easy. It is way too clean of a smooth transition.”

While the pandemic kept her from live audiences, Madison began a weekly podcast, Madigan’s Pubcast, from her home outside Nashville. Like her standup, the hour-long show is middle-class observational – it’s not overly political, it’s not angry, it’s not blue or rude. It’s just funny.

But, the comedian insists, the podcast is a decidedly different beast.

“It’s like the stuff I would talk to my brother about on the phone – but my brother has a job,” Madigan laughs. “All my siblings have jobs or kids and they don’t want to listen to my bullshit. Like when I find what I think is a crazy story – ‘hey, man, there’s a bunch of zebras loose in Maryland,’ and my brother’s like ‘Yeah, I have a meeting and a job,’ and then hangs up. And I thought, I’ll talk about that stuff on the Pubcast. If somebody listens, they listen.”

The cobra-in-Texas thing, not surprisingly, took up a good part of a recent episode of Madigan’s Pubcast.

St. Pete Catalyst: Now that you’re back on the road, will the podcast continue?

Kathleen Madigan: “I’m gonna keep doing it because it got more popular than I thought it would. In a good way. It is difficult – like this month I’m out every week with a Monday and Tuesday at home. You could drag all that crap on the road, but then that takes away all your freedom of traveling without luggage. I’m going to keep doing it though, come hell or high water.”

So, no gear set up in the hotel room then?

“No, no, no. I mean, the fact that it works at all, with my technology … I had a kid come out and help, but I don’t know that I could duplicate what I have upstairs in my house in a hotel room. I guess I could fly Anthony to Florida! I know there are simple ways to do it – I’ve been told by everybody under 30 – but I’m just not comfortable with it.”

Madigan comes from a large family that set down roots just outside St. Louis, Missouri. In her 2016 Netflix special Bothering Jesus (also a chart-topping comedy album), she talked about The Villages, the 350,000-strong retirement “community” in North Central Florida. Her parents lived there, briefly, before settling into their current home in Sarasota.

In the bit, Madigan describes her mother saying she’s welcome to visit, but Villages rules say no one under 55 can stay overnight.

“Mom, how are they going to know I’m there? Does an old man come in a golf cart and do bed check every night? She goes ‘Yes, that’s what I’ve heard. That’s what I think happens.’” The joke goes on for several minutes, getting stranger – and funnier – at every turn.

Fast-forward to this Thursday (Nov. 4): There it is, right on Madigan’s tour itinerary. She’s doing a show at The Villages.

Madigan admits asking several comedian friends, before she booked the performance, if they’d played the retirement community. They all assured here it was a fine gig, nice audience.

What will she say onstage? She hasn’t made up her mind.

“I don’t know if The Villages has heard that joke or not,” she laughs. “And since my dad was a lawyer, he always taught us ‘never snitch on yourself.’ I’m not gonna bring that up!”

She thinks for a moment, and reconsiders. “Maybe I’ll do that joke. I don’t think it’s offensive. It’s their rules.”

St. Pete Catalyst: You were one of seven kids in a big Irish Catholic family. Is being funny a defense mechanism so your brothers wouldn’t beat you up?

Kathleen Madigan: “I think everybody has that capability, and it’s just how we function. I didn’t even think we were funny until my sister dated this German guy who wasn’t funny at all. We were like ‘what’s wrong with him?’

“I think when there’s a lot of people you just have to speak up or you’re not gonna be heard. You have to not be afraid to just say what you’re thinking, or say what you want to say, because you will get drowned out.”

Information and tickets here.





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