While stand-up comedy is a stepping-stone for others, comic Kathleen Madigan is exactly where she wants to be. As far as she is concerned, she’s made it and there are no greater heights to be reached.
“I don’t really have any other goals,” she admits during an interview in advance of her August 17 performance at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater. Her sister told her to stop saying that out loud, because people will think she’s lazy.
“I work 300 nights a year—I’m not lazy,” Madigan says. “It’s just, this was the goal and now I’m living it. Why do I have to have another one? Who decided that you should keep setting more goals for yourself, Oprah? I mean, who’s telling people this? I don’t understand where these messages are coming from. If you’re happy doing what you do, keep doing it.”
The American Comedy Award winner for Best Female Stand-Up never set out to be on a sitcom or in a movie, though many have encouraged her to go out for roles.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t pick me, pick a real actor,’” Madigan says. “I’m not an actor. I can’t explain this enough. It’s like asking me to fill your cavity—I am not a dentist.”
Acting is a different craft than stand-up, and she doesn’t have the patience for it. She prefers to work for an hour and call it quits for the night.
“I’m just a comic,” she says. “It’s all I ever wanted to be. I’m being it.”
She’s very happy, and wants to carry on until she’s too tired to go on the road anymore.
Madigan is well traveled. With her close friend Lewis Black, she’s gone with the USO to Afghanistan and Iraq to perform for NATO and U.S. troops. She’d like to do more entertainment for the troops, but she has no plans to return to the Middle East anytime soon. Some of the places they visited have fallen into ISIS hands since then. “I would be terrified to go back to that region right now, but it wasn’t that terrifying three years ago,” Madigan says. “It’s amazing what ISIS has done in three years.”
She touches on her time there in her act, and offers her observations on how things have changed. When it comes to hot-button topics such as the Middle East and politics, she typically doesn’t take sides. Instead, she seeks to point out the absurdity.
One hot-button topic she feels comfortable expounding on is the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where the first anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown was August 8. Authorities declared a state of emergency this week in the St. Louis area, where she grew up.
“I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable talking about it if I wasn’t from there, but it’s sort of like a Get Out of Jail Free Card—you can talk about it,” she says. She drove every day on highways that are now being shut down by protestors and she worked for years at a restaurant on West Florissant Avenue, where looting is being reported.
Madigan doesn’t write out her jokes and observations. Instead, her purse is full of bar napkins with words on them. Empty out her bag and one might find “Ferguson,” “Afghanistan,” “Trump” and “UPS” scribbled on crumpled paper. They may seem like the writings of a mad person, she acknowledges, but those napkins are the basis for her clever jokes and artful storytelling.
Kathleen Madigan performs Monday, August 17, at 8 p.m. at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. Tony Deyo opens. Tickets are $70. Call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.