Over the past decade, Kathleen Madigan has quietly become one of the country’s most successful comedians. Although she’s been on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 15 times, Late Show with David Letterman six times, Conan twice, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (and more), it’s not like she’s she has own talk show. And yet, she’s in the midst of criss-crossing the country performing at our nation’s finer theaters– all on the strength of her stand-up skills. It comes on the heels of her newest hour special Madigan Again, taped at the Royal Oak Theater in Detroit this past May. It’s currently available exclusively on Netflix and will be released on iTunes, CD and DVD on Oct. 8. I recently chatted with Kathleen about the new special, about her close friend Lewis Black (who opened for Kathleen for her special), about her early life in a Missouri suburb and much more. Check it out below! And be sure to catch Kathleen when she returns to Late Show with David Letterman this Friday, Sept. 27.
So how’s it going, Kathleen?
It’s going really great, Dylan. The last 10 years have been really good and now it’s really, really good. It gets to that point where you’re like, hey guess what— I don’t care about anything. It’s just a relief to go, ‘I’m good. I have a nice little house; I have a little farm in Missouri. I don’t care anymore, but in a good way. In a healthy way. It’s a positive ‘I don’t care.’
I’m glad to hear that.
All these people are like, ‘Don’t you want a sitcom?’ Why would I want to do that? Tell me one good reason that I would stop this life. I don’t think people understand. This was the goal. I just want to tell jokes and make money and not have to worry. I wasn’t a theatre major; I don’t want to be an actor on TV. This is what I wanted to be when I grew up. And then people ask, ‘Well what’s your next goal?’ ‘Hey, easy. I’m Irish. You’re lucky I came up with one. Just enjoy the ride. ‘What does your vision board say next?’ Uh, nothing.
Last year when the canceled all the soap operas I think it was CBS that called and they said they had an idea for you for a daytime show for me. And I don’t go to meetings anymore, ever. I’m not going to lunch. You can call me for drinks, but I’m otherwise, I’m done. I learned my lesson. And it’s not even that I’m tired. I’d rather just walk around my block. But I said ok, I’ll go. And when I get there, these people were describing their ideas for a daytime show, saying it’s sort of a theme show mixed with The View. It was just a pile of garbage.
But I sat there and I listened and then one of them said something like, ‘Every day you’d do a sketch about…’ and I said, ‘Whoa whoa, every day?’ And she was like, ‘Well, yeah.’ ‘Well, here’s the thing. I am not your lady. I don’t do anything every day except maybe drink one Bud Light Platinum or a nice glass of red wine.’ I said, I’ll make a list of women who would enjoy this; I could think of a lot of people who would be really appropriate but I should not waste anymore of our time and I will steal three bottles of Fiji water on my way out.
People are like, ‘Why not put your name in for The View?’ No, I don’t want to go somewhere every day. I don’t want a job. My dream job would be a thousand dollar-plus-air feature act. But that doesn’t exist anymore. But back in the day you could get $850 plus airfare and be the middle act. Everybody hollers and screams, what’s next? There is no next. This is it.
I guess people assume you’d want that television exposure and the fat paycheck that usually comes along with that.
Right, but that’s the other problem. Once you give an Irish person enough money, you will never see us again. Look at [pro golfer] Rory McIlroy’s career falling apart. Of course it did. You gave him $220 million! Do you think he’s going to the range? No— not unless the range is in a pub. It’s not happening. They wouldn’t even pay me what I would ask— because you’re asking to buy my freedom. That’s what you want. You want my freedom for one year. And now I have bosses and I have people I don’t know saying things to me. So how much would it cost for your freedom for a year? Well, I know what I would ask and I know you wouldn’t give it to me.
Well, comedy fans are happy to have you onstage and touring the country with your laid-back, take-it-as-it-comes type of humor.
There are many times I wish I was a comedian as strange as Maria Bamford; she is one of my all time favorites because she is completely bizarre. But you have to live with what god gave you and I don’t think like that. My brother, who’s in finance, says that at work I’d be described as a “Sally Lunchbox.”
What the hell does that mean?
Let’s say a couple comes in and they’re like 35 years old; he makes 85k, she picks up 35k and they have two kids and they have a car and everything is just middle America and normal. The stockbroker people describe them as Joe and Sally Lunchbox or Joe Sixpack and Sally Lunchbox. And my brother says my act is Sally Lunchbox, because it’s right up the middle. And I say that’s because I am right up the middle.
I love the fact that you and Lewis Black are such good friends and he seems to be so much different than you.
He is my best friend. He’s basically an old hippie socialist. He would live in a commune if he could— but it wouldn’t be fancy enough. I tell him, ‘Lew you’re from the generation of hope. You guys thought you were going to change the world, you thought your music was changing the world.’ I was from the MTV generation and we were told to just sit and wait for the next Michael Jackson video. And I did it and I liked it. He thinks that people could really change things, and god love him, I just don’t. I think there are five families that control the world and I don’t even know who they are. I’m that lady. You just stay out of that shit. Because it’s got nothing to do with us.
That’s why he keeps talking about those things onstage. Not that he thinks he’s going to change them through his comedy but he’s trying to discuss a level of awareness where I would prefer to just talk about my mother being crazy. That to me is tangible and real. The things he talks about, healthcare, Obamacare… Nothing has changed in my lifetime… Except pot got legalized. Potheads got their shit through, Lew. And I don’t know how they did it. I think its fantastic and good for the pothead people. But he has hope. I don’t have hope. I’m just saying, let’s just stay in our little neighborhood and have a good time. Let’s have a block party.
What’s your drink of choice— or did you already answer that when you said you have a Bud Light Platinum every day?
Well, I’m kind of off the Bud Light Platinum now. When I found it and it was new I was really excited about it. I’m a cheap date. Beer or wine. If I was dropped off on an island, I think I’d just want Bud Light versus a bottle of wine, depending on how nice the island was. Red wine or beer. Every once in a while I’ll drink something more crazy.
You have very simple tastes.
I am Sally Lunchbox.
Your mind is Sally Lunchbox, but your profession isn’t exactly traditional. And it’s not like you’re married with a few kids and a white picket fence.
That’s true. My life didn’t take the road of Sally Lunchbox but I think like Sally Lunchbox. I just didn’t want to live Sally Lunchbox’s life. I knew I had to get out of Missouri. How do I do that? I know, let’s go to the airport and I’m going to try to be a flight attendant because I need to go see other places before I commit to a life in Missouri. But I didn’t meet the height requirement.
That requirement wouldn’t stick today, would it?
I don’t know, they may still have the height requirement and they kind of should because honestly I can’t reach those overhead bins. On a plane I’m not that helpful. I’m a dwarf. It used to be 5’2” and not over 6’2” that was the rule. [ed note: Kathleen is 5’1’ and change]
Ok, so that didn’t work out. What did you do after that?
Well, I was always bartending or working in a restaurant. And I was a journalism major in college, but only by default because I couldn’t do science or math and in the Midwest no one bothers to tell you about other jobs. They basically give you five majors and you pick one. I knew I could write a sentence, so I said I’ll go do that. And I did it a couple of years out of college but the money was bad and I didn’t have the passion for it. I just wrote feature stories about nice people and it was fine. But I thought, well this is dumb, I’m making more money bartending. This is absolutely silly. I don’t love it. I don’t mind it. And bartending, apart from having stupid bosses, I enjoyed hanging out with drinking people. I had fun. And then I said I don’t want to be a 50 year-old-bartender, unless it’s my bar and I just stumbled in the Funnybone by accident.
We’d go drink there on Mondays and Tuesdays which was open mic night. You know how many crazy people show up at open mic. Me and this other bartender were like, ’We said funnier things today by accident.’ That’s why when people ask who’s my comedy idol I tell them it’s people you don’t know. People who sucked, because that’s what gave me confidence to go, well I could probably do that. It was a complete accident. When I would see Bill Cosby on Carson, I didn’t think that was his job. I don’t know what I thought. I just thought he was a funny man who sometimes shows up. I was so Midwest. Hollywood was a different planet. California was Mars.
Then I was like, how much can I make? And they said well if you could do 15 minutes as an opening act, you could make $200 at the Funnybone and I thought, well that’s fun. Just extra money. I still have my journalism gig. I really did just think extra money. I still didn’t think of it as a job. Until the Funnybone had a like a 100 clubs and at the time, bizarrely enough, St. Louis was the headquarters and that was the home booking office and the lady was like if you did all of the Funnybones, you’d make $250 a week, you’ll stay at the condo and I thought, sure I’ll go! This sounds fun. And I quit my job and just left. And my dad said, ‘Well what if this doesn’t work out?’ I said, ‘It’s not like I’m a space engineer… if it doesn’t work out, I’ll come back and work at a bar and get freelance journalism gigs and that’s as far as the plan has gotten. I’m 23. Don’t give me all this pressure right now.’
Why did you choose to release your new special on Netflix and not through a network?
Compared to a network, there are no notes, because they have no advertisers. You can do whatever you want. They gave me a really great deal. They offered more than any network. The problem with the networks – for example, my last special was on Showtime — is they tell you the premiere date and you tell your fans to watch it then. Then I say, when are you going to show it again? ‘Oh, we don’t know.’ How many times are you going to show it after that? ‘Can’t tell you.’ When you find out, will you tell me? ‘No.’ So if you don’t see it when I say this is when it’s going to be on, I can’t help you anymore because I don’t know either. So for Netflix, it’s always on. There’s no push; there’s no media frenzy, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s new for the next six months. I’ll go to New York and do Letterman at the end of the month but it’s not like, oh man I should get on these shows before Sept. 10 or Sept. 11 because there’s no rush.
Correct me I’m wrong but with Netflix you’ll also be able to release it through a network in the future, right?
For three months it’s on Netflix exclusively and then it’ll go to iTunes and the DVD. I’m sure you could structure your deal anyway you want and then get it back and then, they call it the second and third runs, of where it’s going to be next. But I don’t even know if I’d be comfortable with that. Like, Comedy Central would cut it down to 40 minutes but you don’t get to approve the edit. Well, I don’t know about that. I’d rather it just be shown in its entirety and I’m 100 percent happy with Netflix and if people don’t have Netflix, then it’ll be on iTunes and you could buy the DVD and audio version on Oct. 8.
Dealing with Netflix has been the easiest thing. It’s finally like, can we all just act like grownups? I have a product, would you like to buy it? Yes we would. Thank you. See how easy that was? I don’t need to have a hundred meetings and I don’t need to hear all of your crap. What’s really pathetic is that all of the networks on some level are so arrogant. Their arrogance is preventing them from seeing the future.
And it’s like, you’re going to go down fighting like this? It seems unbelievable to me that they don’t understand – and I know its their arrogance – because you go to them and say, hey, Netflix is offering me this and they just go, ‘Well we can’t even get close to that.’ Well, you could, you’re choosing not to. Let’s be real. Ok, I’ll just go and work with these people who are nice and where’s there’s no editing. It’s like talking to your grandparents, versus Netflix, which is like talking to your younger, cool friends who knows a lot more than you and is more than willing to help you.