Veteran Comic Kathleen Madigan Discovers Netflix, Continues to be Perplexed by Snooki and German Storytellers
Twenty-two-year road comic Kathleen Madigan has finally gotten around to releasing her first Netflix special, Madigan Again! It's sort of a whole new world for her, or at least a new form of media. But she isn't straying far from her roots, which is why she'll be performing in S.F. at Yoshi's on Saturday. Her intelligence and sardonic perspective has helped her keep it fresh all these years, even though she admits she hasn't much strayed from the same four topics: family, politics, traveling, and sports. She was so over the Kardashians before they were even a thing, and she's neutral about Snooki scoring late-night talk show spots over hard-working comedians. Celebrity culture is a fine topic for Kathy Griffin, she says, but Madigan likes to stick to the basics.
SF Weekly: When did you first realize you were funny?
Kathleen Madigan: I still don't know. I know people are paying me, so I guess I am. I just did stand-up as a lark in college. I was bartending, and we just did it next door for fun, me and another bartender. I never thought my family was funny until my sister dated this German guy, and he started coming around, and I was like, Wow, I mean, he doesn't get anything. We're teasing him, and he doesn't even -- he's very literal. And I think my family just talks that way.
I don't think anyone would've thought we were particularly funny, but I guess compared to other people... maybe we are? He couldn't tell a story. He would start a story, and in the middle of it, I'd be like, Do you remember the story anymore? And he'd be like, No. Let's just give up, huh? You're a terrible storyteller, I'm terrible at math, we all just have to accept what we are. What are you going to do.
You've been in the business for quite a while now, how has your comedy evolved?
I think I've reached, it's become more confident the more I go on stage, night after night, year after year. It becomes more fun rather than nerve-wracking. I think I've done Leno 18 times. After the probably fifth time, you're excited rather than nervous. Instead of, I hope this goes well, now I know it's going to go well, or at least it's going to be acceptable. I can't help it if the crowd isn't great, but I can make sure it's okay. The bottom's not going to fall out. I don't have to prove anything to anyone else, there's no pressure anymore, which is great.
I've been talking about the same four topics, maybe five -- family, traveling, sports, and politics -- that's what I'm interested in, those are the things that envelop my days and nights. When I see Kathy Griffin, I like Kathy and I know she's good at what she does, but I don't get some of the jokes, because I don't know anything about celebrity culture. I don't know who the Kardashians are, I mean I know they're on TV at the gym. It doesn't interest me to know. I've never Googled it. I don't care. It's just irrelevant to me. I don't find them interesting, entertaining. ... I'm really weak in that area. Most of the time, I just don't have enough information to be funny about it. I watched and tweeted about the VMAs, but I was just waiting in a hotel room for my friend, so...
Do you feel like you're missing out on something?
No, it's fine. Every comic's got their thing. I used to watch Joan Rivers do it, but she was talking about major stars: Elizabeth Taylor, yeah I know who that is. And it's not because I'm getting older, it's just I've never cared. Even Entertainment Tonight, I don't understand how people watch that for half an hour, who cares? I don't care. Even going back to the '50s when they'd show a Hollywood gossip reel before movies, like Liberace got married to a lady today, Okay, whatever. Maybe he's gay, I just don't care.
Has celebrity culture changed the comedy scene at all?
No -- here's what it has done. It has taken away a lot of our spots on late-night TV. Now, a reality star who becomes a quote-celebrity can be a lead guest on Leno, Letterman; if not a lead they can be a secondary guest, depending on what the show is. So those were spots that we used to get. And now, if you're a new comic, you have to go to the late-late-night shows. Actor was a job, comedian was a job, now you hardly even see music on the late-night TV shows anymore, but Snooki is on Leno, as a person. It is mind-blowing to me; I don't care either way but it's just like, Wow.
Kathleen Madigan on The View:
Do you prefer doing televised stand-up or would you rather just perform for a room?
I always prefer just the room, because when it's televised, there's cameras, there's lights, people always act a little differently. If we're in a bar or a basement, I imagine music might be the same way, I think TV suits the actors well. On late-night shows and stuff. Because you get to see a side of them you never see, they're not doing what they do. Cate Blanchett doesn't come on Leno and act out a scene. It helps them to be entertaining.
What do you love most about performing?
It's instant. I have two brothers, they're engineers, they work on projects, but they never see the end. And I'm like, So for two years you work on something, and you never see what's going to happen? And they're like Yeah. And I'm like, I write a joke, I tell it that night, it's instant. Not instant gratification, but instant results. And I actually really do enjoy people, and I really enjoy the road, I don't know, people are like, How can you stand the road? I don't know, How can you stand staying at home? I'm just built for the road. I'm curious. I want to know what's going on out there. And I'll get on a plane and go find out.
What do you like least about touring?
The actual act of the airport. There's too many idiots, too many rules, TSA. ... Flying used to be kinda fun. Now it's no fun. It's better if I splurge and get upgraded, but it's still crazy. I have a friend who has their own private jet -- wow, I could never get my own private jet. That's the only bad thing. I just read they're starting to do families-only flights, in like, Singapore, or something.
What's exciting for you about your new special, and tour, Madigan Again?
This one came out on Netflix on Sept. 11. We were considering whether to do on network or Netflix, and I was like, Huh. So I did all this research, and I was like, Okay, I think I'm going to pick Netflix. I asked everyone on my Twitter feed and my Facebook, When you saw my last special, where'd you see it first? Eighty-five percent said Netflix. And I'm like, Well, when you start to work with them, they are awesome. There's no network notes, there's no negotiating for days about trivial crap, they really are -- and I'm not saying this because it's going to be on there -- the greatest thing about it is, HBO and Showtime, when I would do a special on there, they'd say, "The premiere date is...whenever." So I would tell everybody, Hey if you've got nothing else to do, watch my special. But then I'd ask HBO or Showtime, Do you know when it'll run again? And they'd be like, No. Could you tell me? No, we don't do that. How many times will it air? We don't know, we can't tell you that. My mom would call and go, You're on Showtime right now. I'm like, Oh that's nice. But I couldn't tell anyone beforehand because I wouldn't know.
Netflix, it's just there. You can watch wherever, whenever you want, there's no program director basing decisions off god-knows-what. It's really I think the way things are going. And I have Netflix, and I bought it for my parents because they live in the middle of nowhere and can't rent movies. They're so old, I mean they're not that old. My dad was like, I don't think we need the Netflix subscription anymore. I was like, Why? He was like, We've seen everything. What are you talking about? He's like, There's no more movies left. I don't need to see another movie about Abraham Lincoln. Your mother and I are done with it. I said, You know what? I'd be glad to keep paying the $9.99 a month for you to keep your choices open. Maybe something will come along. What about my special? He's like, Isn't it the same as your act? Well, yeah. So he's like, We don't need to see it. We'll see you in September at the Mirage.
You're coming to SF this month. Have you ever performed here at Yoshi's before?
No, I'm really excited.
What else is planned for the near future?
This is what I'll be doing the rest of my life. I don't have other goals. I'm finally okay saying that out loud. I always felt like I was being a lazy loser. But I don't want to be in a sitcom. I don't like to act. I don't want to do any of that crap. I just like what I do. It's so weird, who started all this stuff in this culture, that once you meet your goal you have to set another one? Why? I had a goal, I've reached it, and now I'm enjoying it. Basically Joan Rivers has been on the road forever, and she does her little fashion shows, but that will be my life, telling jokes on the road. It's pretty simple. I'm going to keep it real simple.
Kathleen Madigan performs Saturday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Yoshi's, 1350 Fillmore St., S.F. Tickets are $45. 655-5600 or yoshis.com. Her latest special, Madigan Again, is available now for streaming on Netflix.