Interview: Kathleen Madigan on the bankability of jokes

Kathleen Madigan - Madigan Again - Photo Credit - Natalie Brasington

The wonderful comedian Karthleen Madigan will be performing at the State Theater on June 17th. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to chat with her about fame, getting coffee in a car with Jerry Seinfeld, and the bankability of jokes. 

You can see Madigan’s recent appearance on Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee here. 

Have you ever spent any time in Portland?

I have been, but only in the Winter. I am excited to get there in the Summer and hear what all the hoopla is about.

You spend so much time on the road—you’re out for a majority of every year—so I am curious to know what you feel you’ve learned about the country in doing so.

We’re all kind of the same at the end of the day. The suburbs, sadly, have become these homogenized things where every city looks alike. That’s why when my agent calls and says, “Do you want to go to Deadwood, South Dakota?”, I say, “Yes, I do!” Just so I can see something different. I’m so tired of seeing Applebee’s, T.J. Maxx, Target, Applebees, Starbucks, Gap, Target, Home Depot. They’re nice things but you can only see them so many times. There are a lot of places where they’ve built a fake city outside of the real city and so the real city is empty. I can’t wait until this era is over.

Do you get more or less cynical about people the more time you spend on the road?

I’d say I’m about the same. For the most part I like people. I don’t like them in big giant groups. But everybody is pretty nice and helpful. I’d say the same as I always felt, which is 70/30. 70 great… I’d say 70/30. [Laughs]

That is entirely resonant with my experience. You were recently on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Can you tell me a bit about what that process was like?

I’ve been around Seinfeld in the past, sitting and eating with him at the Improv, but it’s weird to see peoples’ reactions to someone who is super, duper famous. I’m friends with Lewis Black and Ron White and they’re famous but Jerry’s in a stratosphere that is just different. It almost feels like when you’re with him, he’s this animal that has escaped from the zoo and people are looking at you like, “Why are you with this escaped animal?” I get why. He’s very famous. But everybody behaves. To me he’s just Jerry but when we left the paparazzi had been notified. People are on the roof next door trying to take pictures. But when they’re your friend, you forget that this is how people see them.

You have a decades long career and so you have proximity to all of these people you’ve been around for years, so I imagine it’s fascinating to watch each career take different shapes, sizes, and forms.

Exactly. Ron White lived in a van. I just went to his house in Atlanta and crashed there when I was seeing Dolly in concert. He lives on this golf course and it’s this beautiful summer home. I tell my brother, “Just jokes.” That’s what Jay Leno used to say. He’d have the young riders out to his house and say, “You can have this too! Just jokes! It’s jokes! It’s so easy! It’s jokes!” And we’d all laugh but it’s true. When you watch your friends go from living in vans to becoming really wealthy and famous, it’s been a really weird life.

What advice do you have regarding career longevity?

Without sounding like a mall poster, you have to do what you’d do for free. It has to be something you’d ultimately do whether or not you get paid. I really like talking in a bar and I knew that when I was 16 and working out at a restaurant. I really like talking to people at a bar, even if I wasn’t drinking. I just like talking to people. I am just in a bigger bar. The bars keep getting bigger. It’s still conversations and goofing off. I did a show in Nashville last night and I literally forgot to get paid because I was having a good time and then I was going to see music after that. If you don’t love it, it’s an extreme life in every way and you’ll turn to hate it. For comedy, anyway, you’ve got to really like it and you’ve got to really like traveling. Otherwise you’ll want to kill yourself.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.