Q&A: Kathleen Madigan talks comedy business, weather channel

By Kira Scammell

With 22 years of experience in the business, Kathleen Madigan is a veteran stand-up comic…. With 22 years of experience in the business, Kathleen Madigan is a veteran stand-up comic. She’s had her own specials on HBO and Comedy Central and has won both the American Comedy Award and Phyllis Diller Award for Best Female Comedian. The Pitt News was able to chat with her over the phone about her career and the comedy business. As the conversation started, Madigan explained that she was with her young niece: “There’s a kid in the car. If you hear someone screaming, I haven’t abducted a child.”

Madigan will perform on Friday at 8 p.m. at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

TPN: How has the job of being a comedian changed since you got into the business?

KM: I mean …with the people before [me], if you got on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson — there were only three channels at the time, so 2/3 of the country watched Johnny Carson — so overnight, 2/3 of the country would have seen you.

And now the media is so splintered and fractured, you can go do “The Tonight Show” and it’s fun, but it doesn’t really change anything. There’s no major thing anymore. You know, now there’s Sirius radio, there’s podcasts, there’s web interviews, there’s blog things, it’s never ending, trying to get everybody to pay attention for five seconds.

There’s so much stuff going on. Like, I’m friends with Lewis Black and we always joke around that we spend more time promoting ourselves than being ourselves.

TPN: Have you faced any challenges being a female comedian? I know comedy is very male-dominated.

KM: No, I think as far as comedy goes, it’s pretty fair if you’re funny. The advantage is there’s so few funny women, we’re more memorable. I mean there’s a million funny white guys. A million of them. Now when it comes to getting a sitcom, you have a better advantage if you’re a man.

I mean, because Marcy Carsey was part of Carsey-Werner and they used to produce sitcoms, they gave Brett Butler a sitcom, Roseanne a sitcom and Ellen [DeGeneres] a sitcom, because Marcy Carsey believed women could lead a sitcom.

TPN: Do you have a good relationship with your fanbase?

KM: I would say so, yeah, especially through Twitter. Twitter has been a big help and a lot of fun … It’s really a way to talk quickly and just answer questions and respond to stuff. Twitter is fun to me. Facebook is fine, but there’s too much going on on Facebook to just really be able to do it quickly, I like Twitter way better.

Some guy tweeted me yesterday … If a celebrity called [ESPN] on your behalf, you’d win tickets to the World Series game tonight in St. Louis. So he’s from St. Louis and he went to my high school. I don’t know the guy but I thought, “Why not?” if I can make somebody be totally excited. I don’t know if I’m enough of a celebrity to win or if he won — but I texted Lewis Black and told him to call.

It’s just fun. How cool is that, just making a phone call can help a guy win tickets? And I don’t think he thought I would do it, cause I said “What’s the phone number?” and he was like “I didn’t think you’d really do it” and I’m like “Yeah, tell me when to do it and I’ll do it.” I hope he won.

TPN: If you weren’t traveling so much and weren’t a comedian, what would you do instead?

KM: God, I don’t know. My cousin Mike is a disaster-assessment guy for State Farm, I think that would be kind of cool — hand out checks after a disaster, making people happy and see all the wreckage. In a weird way that always fascinates me.

If I could understand science I would work at the hurricane center on The Weather Channel. I love weather. I’m a freak. I love The Weather Channel. But I don’t understand science, so that kind of cuts that out.

I’d love to be a profiler for the FBI, but again I think you have to be able to understand some kind of science, so I don’t know. No one told me about these kinds of jobs when I was in college.

TPN: You started off as a journalist, didn’t you?

KM: Yes, I did, because the only thing I could do was write. That didn’t involve math or science. I hated it and in the Midwest — I was at the University of Missouri — you were either a business major, an engineering person, or [in] theater and I didn’t really want to be an actor or write plays. I just couldn’t find anything where I was like, “Yeah!”

TPN: If you were to give advice to someone who’s going into comedy, what would you tell them?

KM: I’d say you better plan on really doing it forever because it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I mean it’s not like get a good 15 minutes and make it through Johnny Carson. I mean I’m doing “The Tonight Show” next week. I think it’s my 15th time and I’ll still have people go, “Oh, I’ve never heard of you.” And it’s like, oh my God, really? How many will it take?

You’ve got to just love it for what it is, and not want it to be any more than what it is. It’s telling jokes every night in front of people live and if that’s not enough … You know, sometimes I travel 20 hours for one hour on stage. And that’s got to be enough.

And as far as how they go about getting publicity, if you’re a young comedian, I have no idea. Because you have to have a website, you have to have a Facebook, you have to have a YouTube channel, you have to be on Twitter — it’s endless.

I just say, don’t quit. I’ve had so many friends that are funny, that somewhere along the line quit to go take a writing job or this job or that just because they got frustrated. And as long as you don’t quit and you’re funny, you’ll end up making it. And by making it, I mean selling tickets on your own and paying your bills and being able to save a little money on the side.

TPN: You sound like you’re really happy.

KM: I totally am. But I’ll go to these meetings and they’ll say, “We have this show, we’d like you to be on it.” And I’m not going to be on some show that’s every day — no. I like my life so much, in order for someone to trick me out of it, there really has to be a good offer on the table, which most of them don’t because most of the networks are so splintered and stuff. No one has the money they used to have and stuff. So it’s just kind of crazy.