After years of constant climbing, the very funny Kathleen Madigan is finally one of the biggest names in stand-up comedy, packing houses nationwide, and putting up pure mileage numbers that'd make a trucker blink. She's also a constant presence on TV. She has had her own stand-up specials, roasts, been a panelist on Dr. Phil, both a contestant and judge on Last Comic Standing, and a regular on Lewis Black's Root of All Evil on Comedy Central, along with countless panel appearances and talk show guest spots. And though she's now big enough to pack theaters, she has remained loyal to a handful of lucky clubs, like Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle, a favorite haunt she's always happy to rock.
Metro Times: It seems like you are in town so often you could buy a condo in Royal Oak.
Kathleen Madigan: It's crazy! It's consistently the best city for me for ticket sales outside my hometown. You'd think with the economy it would be a struggle. I don't know, I guess there are just a lot of Irish Catholic goofballs up there.
MT: You're from St. Louis, which is not such a stretch.
Madigan: They're almost identical cities. Detroit's a little bigger, but as far the neighborhoods, the people, the working-class attitude is pretty similar. We [St. Louis] are a company town with the brewery, which is kind of like the auto industry.
MT: Hey, come on, we used to have Stroh's.
Madigan: Hey, beer is all we have! At least you had the car companies for a while.
MT: Why is the Midwest such a rich source of comedy?
Madigan: I think it's because we didn't grow up in a "cool" place like Miami, or somewhere fabulous like San Diego. I think there's something funny about those of us who live somewhere cold or landlocked, like, "Why are we living here?"
MT: You went to school in southern Illinois, which is even more frightening. ...
Madigan: Southern Illinois, Evansville, I swear to God, on their brochure, one of their selling points is ample parking. You do gigs at places like Princeton and they say like "Albert Einstein taught here." Southern Illinois? Ample parking, and right underneath? "Asparagus capital of the world."
MT: We have plenty of parking here. We're busy converting much of downtown into parking lots.
Madigan: And a farm apparently!
MT: We're just going to start planting rutabagas.
Madigan: When I read that faming could bring 4,000 jobs, I thought, "What are they going to do? Take a 55-year-old autoworker and go, 'Here, Bob, I know your thing is brakes, but here's a pitchfork, and here's a tractor.'"
MT: I don't think we've thought it all out yet.
Madigan: I just don't think of Detroiters as farmers. You're going to need a hotline to Iowa to figure out when to plant.
MT: They don't have a lot going on in Iowa; they probably have a guy waiting by the phone.
Madigan: It's such a retro idea; it would be kind of cool if you could pull it off.
MT: We'll try anything around here. Comedy is one of the few boom businesses we have.
Madigan: Hey, you have movies shooting there now.
MT: They shot Red Dawn. It was great; they rolled tanks downtown and nobody noticed.
Madigan: [Laughs] Somebody thought a gang member got really lucky in an auction! That's a helluva ride, Chico!
MT: What is it about the Comedy Castle that brings people who play theaters, like you and Lewis Black, coming back?
Madigan: Yeah, the only clubs left that I work are the ones I want to work. It's Mark [Ridley], he's big-time, and the staff is so great there, like my friends now. Just too nice over too many years. And they finally remodeled! I can't leave now.
MT: There are new couches and mixed nuts in the green room now.
Madigan: It's so fancy! I have to enjoy that for a few years after sitting in squalor in the green room for 12 years. I gotta to get my money's worth.
MT: You're on TV a lot, on all kinds of different shows across the dial. Do you have a strategy?
Madigan: I wouldn't go on something that I thought was horrible, or go on with a host I really didn't like or want to help. There is one show I won't mention that calls every month that just makes me cringe.
MT: You used to do Dennis Miller's show before he went to the Fox pocket universe. What happened to him?
Madigan: I disagree with Dennis on a lot of things, but I will say that when I was on his show the conversations were smart, they were not yelling. It wasn't just yelling over one another, he listened. It was enjoyable and he was nice to me. He's capable of having an actual conversation versus the shows where it's just a yelling match. I have no interest in going on and shouting at people.
MT: Did you pick a side during the NBC late-night feud? Did you stay agnostic?
Madigan: I was agnostic, but Leno, in person and show-wise, has used me more, put me on more, and been more accessible offstage. I am a creature of loyalty, I like Conan and Letterman, I've done both shows and they were fine, but I have a deeper relationship with Leno. I really don't see how it was Jay's fault, he basically got fired. Conan got screwed for sure, but it was by Jeff Zucker. These guys at NBC, are they in the Illuminati? How did they not get fired?
Thursday through Saturday, May 6-8, at the Comedy Castle, 269 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-542-9900.Corey Hall is a weekly contributor to Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]