KATHLEEN MADIGAN, the diminutive Midwestern standup comic is a veteran of ten Tonight Show appearances. She's performed at Just For Laughs in Montreal and at the Chicago Comedy Festival. And in 1996, she was the American Comedy Awards choice for best female comic, chosen from a field of perennial nominees (Wendy Leibman, Judy Gold, Diane Ford and Kathy Buckley). In this interview, she answers our questions about TV appearances, the loss of a dear friend and her weight. (Seriously!)
What made you go onstage for the very first time?
I don't know what made me go onstage the first time. I often wonder that
myself and I search my brain for some sort of logical answer and nothing
pops up. Maybe I was just plain young and stupid.
The first time I went on stage is a very, very, distant memory. I think this is where Shirley MacLaine gets confused with having other lives and just not being able to remember details of this one.
Do you ever watch tapes from your first year in comedy? Have you changed fundamentally or did you have a good idea early on what you wanted to do?
I don't have any tapes of my first year in comedy--thank god. God only knows what my hair looked like then. I hope I've changed fundamentally and no, I had no idea early on what I wanted to do and I still don't which is probably evident by the level of retardation in my act.
What early words of encouragement meant the most to you?
I can't remember early words of encouragement... if I do I'll be sure to let you know. Maybe "Oh good, you're here, we need at least one woman."
Do you remember the first joke you did on The Tonight Show? Did it get a good response?
I don't remember the first joke on the Tonight Show... I'm taking Wellbutrin right now to quit smoking and I'm going to check and see if it affects memory because the more I answer these questions the more I realize I really have no memory of anything.
It is a well known fact that the folks at The Tonight Show scrutinize every inch of a comic's set before doing the show. What do they make you do in the weeks leading up to your appearance?
Before doing The Tonight Show they like to go over your jokes and discuss them with you. I have had problems with this process and I've also done better a few times because of it but the bottom line is there's nothing a comic can do about it so just hear them out and try to argue anything you might be passionate about because sometimes they concede things here and there.
How many times have you been on The Tonight Show? What would you tell a comic who just got "the call" that he's been booked?
I have been on The Tonight Show ten times. I would tell a comic who just got booked to not take the whole thing toooo seriously because if you do great you're still going on the road and if you suck you're still going on the road so really, what the hell's the difference? Have fun and hope you are on with cool people.
You won the American Comedy Award in 1996 after having lost the previous four years. Honestly, is it really "just a thrill to be nominated" or is winning much more thrilling?
The comedy award thing... Hmmm... I didn't really have any feelings about being nominated because, at the time, I didn't even know what they were. I did have fun bringing my parents out for the whole thing. Winning is much better for your wallet.
Did your career change much after winning the award?
My career didn't really change, but my road money went up because I got more press and then more people come to the club and so on and so forth.
How important has management been to your career? Is representation crucial to a comic's success?
Management is very important. You have to talk to them everyday so you should make sure you like them. This is a very complicated question and the Go Go's Behind The Music is coming on in ten minutes so I'll pass and let a smarter, more successful comic answer this one.
Do you like doing the festivals?
I like the festivals where the industry isn't really involved, like the one in Ireland and the one in Scotland. Industry tends to make everyone behave poorly and in a bizarre manner.
Do you still enjoy the road?
Yes, I still enjoy the road. Although my back has taken a toll from the seats in coach but that's really probably a complaint for my massage therapist and not a complaint for this awesome publication.
Are you currently working on any non-standup projects?
Yes, I have non-standup projects. I'm trying to be able to surf a wave over 4 foot high. I'm writing jokes for a puppet and getting very sick of it so will probably quit and no, I won't tell you which puppet, you'll have to go see every ventriliquist and see which puppet has my sense of humor. Many more projects, all very very secretive.
Ultimately, what would you want to do if given the chance?
Given a chance, I wouldn't work except every once in awhile and then give the money (assuming I had a huge stash) to poor people.
We know that you recently lost your very good friend and fellow comic Diane Bean and for that we are very sorry. Did your sorrow affect the way you felt onstage or did performing become an escape for you?
Okay, this one, about Diane: Thanks for the condolences and no, performing is not an escape for me, and also nothing in my real life affects my performances. Work is work. I don't however, work if something in my personal life is more important or needs more of my attention which probably is why things don't affect my work. I wait until I'm ready and try not to push the issue.
Has this loss changed the way you look at your life and your career?
Losing Diane made me think about some really deep stuff for quite some time and now. I think she'd be happy to see, I'm back to my shallow, retarded and self absorbed self. Seriously, well I am serious about what I just said, but I miss her everyday and I don't know when that stops, if ever.
Oh yeah, how much do you weigh?
I weigh too much to be a jockey, which is too bad because I'm the perfect height and look very good in green and white satin, checked shirts and love animals. I often described my body to Diane as "fairylike," at which point she'd choke on whatever she was drinking.
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