The Accidental Comic

Kathleen Madigan wasn't looking for a career, but that was 20 years ago

October 12, 2006|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

Kathleen Madigan took up comedy as a way to make money until she landed a better day job.

Waiting tables and working as a journalist in St. Louis, Madigan started telling jokes for a living in her mid-20s. Now, two decades later, she looks back in disbelief at her successful comedy career.

"I feel like I've skated through 20 years," Madigan said in a recent phone interview. She comes to the Recher Theatre for two shows tomorrow night.

"I keep waiting for somebody to go, `OK, we've found out, and you have to get a real job now," she said.

Growing up the Midwest, Madigan, who has six brothers and sisters, questioned her family's choice of hometown. She wanted to see the country before planting herself in Missouri, she said. She eventually did, as a byproduct of a profession she didn't expect to keep permanently.

"I had my backup plans," Madigan said. "I just thought, well let's see. I never in a million years would have thought I'd be on The Tonight Show 14 times, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Nor was it really a goal. I just wanted to see what would happen."

Madigan has also appeared on the second and third seasons of NBC's Last Comic Standing. She regularly contributes to VH1 and E! pop culture shows such as The List, I Love the 90s, and 100 Most Outrageous Celebrity Moments.

But Madigan has released only three CDs - something she regrets. She was too busy to record a good portion of her jokes, which later became outdated and therefore unusable.

"I do tell younger comics when they're like, `What do you think,' I'm like, `Well, as soon as you get good, and you know you're good, start recording it all,'" Madigan said. "Not when you're at an open mike, or you'll be horrified. But once you get good."

Madigan's most recent album is In Other Words, which was released by Warner Bros. in March. But the material on it is about a year and a half old, and she's thinking about cutting a new DVD in the coming months.

If Madigan is writing for herself, she does it in her head. She has no problem writing for other people on paper, but it's almost impossible for her to come up with a joke for her own routine on a computer, she said.

"I see it, I think of it, and I say it on stage, and I think, `Is everybody in agreement with me here?'" she said. "`Is the premise at least right?' Then I'll figure out the punch line later."

And if the only response is a cough coming from the rear of the crowd, Madigan knows it's no good.

"I just go, `Well, I guess I'm the only one here. But I do have the microphone, and I'm in charge. Oh, let's move on.'"

Madigan is also working with a writer on a sitcom she hopes to sell. But as with most things in her life, she views it in a cynical light. She calls her point of view "biting sarcasm with a smile."

"I always assume the whole thing's going to fall apart at any moment, no matter what I'm speaking of," Madigan said. "Anything that looks promising, I'm like, `Well, something's wrong with that picture.' Except about the paranormal. Then I'm just a total sucker, and I go right along with it. Which is odd."

Kathleen Madigan performs standup shows at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. tomorrow night at the Recher Theatre. Tickets are $25. The venue is at 512 York Road in Towson. Call 410-337-7178 or go to rechertheatre.com.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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