Kathleen Madigan on Why She Admires Joan Rivers, Doesn't Fight With Lewis Black, and Could've Predicted the Ferguson Tragedy

Kathleen Madigan is scheduled to perform on Friday, September 19, at Talking Stick Resort.
Kathleen Madigan is scheduled to perform on Friday, September 19, at Talking Stick Resort.
Natalie Brasington

Stand-up comic Kathleen Madigan has never been shy about skewering herself. In fact, she can be both candid and clever when joking about her drinking habits, gambling habits, lack of ambition in the gym, Irish-Catholic upbringing, or perpetual singlehood while onstage or in her most recent special, the hilarious Netflix special from last year, Madigan Again.

The comedienne also gets especially snarky when riffing on pop culture and topical issues, except when it comes to certain current events of a tragic nature.

See also: 13 Must-See Comedy Shows in Metro Phoenix This Fall

Despite comedy's well-known formula of "tragedy plus time," Madigan told us during a recent interview via telephone that she refrains from cracking wise about "things that are just are stupid tragic, like 9/11" when performing.

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"There's some comics who say there's never anything off limits, and I guess that's true, but I try to shy away from stuff that I know was painful for a lot of people," Madigan says. "Like they don't need to be reminded of that at a comedy show. You can't go a comedy show to escape."

In other words, you won't have to worry about shouting out "too soon!" during Madigan's upcoming gig at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale on Friday, September 19.

While Madigan doesn't make light of certain controversies or tragedies in her comedy, she is by no means silent about such things. Her Twitter and Facebook are filled with Madigan's feelings on some of the more prominent topics dominating the news, such as the Ray Rice/NFL debacle, celebrities getting their clouds hacked, or the recent tragedies in Ferguson, Missouri.

The latter issue is something that strikes quite literally close to home for Madigan, considering she grew up in a neighboring town and witnessed the area's racial tension up close. Madigan also wasn't shy about sharing her feelings about Ferguson during our interview, including why she saw the whole situation brewing during her formative years.

Our conservation wasn't entirely of a ponderous nature over social issues, as we also discussed her friendship with fellow comic Lewis Black, her longtime admiration of Joan Rivers, and how she attended the late comedienne's final performance in New York.

How much of an influence was Joan Rivers on you, either personally or in your comedy career? I was always a big fan. Here's why she appealed to me: I liked that Joan Rivers' primary job was just being a comedian, just telling jokes. Yes, she had the fashion thing, the side thing later in life, but there were so many people who go, "How come you don't have a sitcom? How come you're not in movies?" Well, I didn't start comedy to do a sitcom; I never even thought about that, I just liked being a comedian.

I reached my goal, I'm doing my goal. I don't understand why I'm supposed to have another goal. I don't know who started that crap. Not that there's anything wrong with having a sitcom or any of that, I'm just a bigger fan of the people that go [onstage], just because I feel that I relate to that more. There's nothing more fun than telling jokes in front of live people to me.

When was the last time you saw Joan Rivers perform? I just went and saw her. I took two friends in New York because she performs at the place she performed the night before she died [the Laurie Beechman Theatre in Manhattan], it's in the basement of this nice restaurant-bar in New York, right on Times Square. Lewis Black is one of my BFFs and we go there and have drinks and she always works there and gives the money to AIDS [charities] and has a really funny joke about that: No one is actually dying of AIDS, she's just giving money to handsome gay guys. Those were her words, not mine.

I took two friends and I would never take two friends to see an 81-year-old comic unless they were actually still funny. I could skip some, trust me. But she was so relevant and funny and did an hour. She had just flown in from L.A., it was astonishing.

The difference between me and her was with all the money she had which was plenty, she would look at blank calendar, a month off, and go, "Oh my god, that's my nightmare." And in my mind, that's my dream, that's where we part ways. Yeah, I think it was shocking even though she was 81; it shouldn't be shocking that an 81-year-old dies because she didn't seem 81, because she was so relevant. Every day she was on TMZ mouthing off about something. I loved it.

Like you said on Twitter, it's just been a shit year because of all these comedians that are dying. It's a bad year, yeah. I said to my younger brother, "I don't know, whatever it is, it's just not our year." And then I even forgot about some, people that wouldn't be as famous, like people I've known for 20 years, unexpected heart attacks. Gone. Robin [Williams] was a surprise, I didn't see that coming. Joan wasn't sick, so you weren't even expecting it. Too many bad surprises this year.

Is it just the life of a stand-up comedian can sometimes be a hard one? No, I think my uncles who are pipe fitters work a lot harder and they have a job job. I think people go, "All comedians are sad or depressed." No, I don't think that's true. We could go into any corner bar in America and five out of 10 of those people are either alcoholics or depressed. I think because so many people know comedians more that when one dies everybody goes, "Yeah, I knew that person."


Kathleen Madigan and longtime BFF/drinking buddy Lewis Black.
Kathleen Madigan and longtime BFF/drinking buddy Lewis Black.

You mentioned how you and Lewis Black are BFFs. Do any of the fights that y'all ever have get insane? Never, because I just acquiesce every time. He and I got in a fight a long time ago about the baseball strike -- I don't remember even what started it -- where I literally was like, "I've got to get away from you if you really believe that seriously. I'm going to the other end of the bar." We always end up laughing, but I've seen Lou seriously get to the point where -- like, we were in a bar in New York and he got into it with this Yankees fan, because Lew doesn't like the Yankees -- to the point it was so uncomfortable.

I am not a fighter. I am not an arguer. I keep my opinions to myself. I'm just the polar opposite, so I was like, "Hey, I'm a Cardinals fan and I've got nothing to say about any of this." [Laughs] I just leave it, I just walk away. "You start this Lou, I'm not here as your backup. I have no interest in fighting with this guy from New Jersey. No, no, I'm not doing it."

You comment a lot about topical and taboo issues on Twitter and Facebook, but your routines are largely personal. This is just me, this doesn't apply to everybody else, but there's some comics who say there's never anything off limits, and I guess that's true, but I try to shy away from stuff that I know was painful for a lot of people. Like they don't need to be reminded of that at a comedy show. Things that are just are stupid tragic, like 9/11. It just affected too many people and it was a negative thing and a bad thing and I'm not going down that road at a comedy show. I'm sure other people do and everybody gets their choice, but I don't like being uncomfortable with others.

So you're not going to be joking about Ferguson or anything like that? Well, it's tough to say. I'm actually from there, I went to high school there, so there are things that I feel like I can say about that. As soon as it was on the news, my brother calls and says, "How can something like this happen? Blah, blah, blah, blah." I was like, "I could have told you this was going to happen 25 years ago. Everybody in Ferguson could have told you it was going to happen 25 years ago." It just took 25 years, which I didn't think it would take that long.

What do you mean? In my high school, somebody got stabbed in the third floor bathroom and I came home, and I was serious, and I go, "I'm not sure my high school is very safe anymore, a girl got stabbed and murdered in the third floor bathroom." And my dad goes, "Well, don't use that bathroom." Okay, Jack, you're missing the overall point. I don't think the school is safe; I'm not asking you what bathroom to use. But it's just been silly stuff like that.

I could [joke about Ferguson], because I'm part of it, but let's say I wasn't from there. I wouldn't venture there because I don't know anything about it. I think that's where people get in trouble, too, when they start mouthing off about stuff they don't really know about, even making jokes about something they don't know that much about, then you're treading on shaky ground. I think you have a better position if you know what you are talking about.


So you grew up nearby in Florissant, Missouri? Yeah. It's called the Ferguson-Florissant School District. Florissant is right next to Ferguson. We were technically three miles from Ferguson, it's the same except divided schools or population, or whatever.

What do you attribute the whole Ferguson matter to? You said it didn't surprise you. Not at all, because it's always been white cops and there's more black people than white people, but... this is what they will never say on TV, the white cop job is a good job and friends give their friends jobs. So my brother has friends who are cops. My youngest brother is 37, he has friends that are cops in Ferguson. The population is out of percentage sync with police representing racially.

So what happens is, the black people don't like the white cops because they're aggressive, too aggressive, and then the white cops become afraid of the black people because they go, "They're angry." Well, yeah, they are angry because of you guys. It's like a cat chasing its tail. You'd think it would calm down if the police were racially represented the people that they're dealing with everyday.

Probably. And then I heard some black talk show radio guy go crazy saying that's ridiculous. Well, that's saying Obama can't represent the United States because there's only 13 percent of the people in the United States are black so then we can't have a black President. No, no, no. Because I've never met Obama, I have nothing to do with Obama.

The cops in your neighborhood you know and you get to know them, and it's just been a racially tense, tense, tense thing since I was 14, and I'm sure before that, I just wasn't paying attention. When you're little you're not really paying attention to racial makeup. Until they sort that out, and then you'll hear the white cops say, "The black people don't apply to be cops." I don't believe that. I believe you're not giving them the job.

So is saying the South is racist and run by an old boy network like saying water is wet? Yeah, but I do feel because I've spent a ton of time in the South, it feels like the South is some dysfunctional family that's had a giant blowup. Everybody knew how everybody felt about one another and then you proceed on from there. I feel like St. Louis and some parts of Chicago are very, very similar. I feel like we're a dysfunctional family that hasn't blown up yet. Everybody's just walking around angry and afraid and no one's saying why because if you start the conversation at some point somebody's going to sound racist and nobody wants to say it. That's why somebody needs to start saying it. T

here was an old black guy on one of the CNN's town halls and he said it, but he was like 85 so he can get away with saying it. The first step I would say is, let's get some black cops, because if a black cop had shot that black kid the black people wouldn't automatically think it's racist because it's a black cop. They may still think it was wrong or justified but they don't trust the cops. I don't know why they should. I wouldn't. I don't, not there. I'm not saying it's all cops, though.

Do you think there's a certain amount of "outrage fatigue" recently over racial issues, especially with Ferguson happening coming on the heels of Trayvon Martin? Where people can get tired of hearing about something like this, not to downplay it's importance or the tragedy itself. Yes, it's just more icing on the cake, one more thing for the volcano to blow. Yeah, I agree with that, too. But Al Sharpton went to Ferguson and he said something I've been thinking, but if you say this it will sound racist, but Al said it so it can't be, he's telling them, "You guys got to go vote, you got to get city councilmen, you gotta get people." The entire city council in Ferguson is white except a Mexican.

How did he get to St. Louis? We don't even have any Mexicans in St. Louis and somehow he figured out how to get elected and be on the city council. I know from growing up there and having a crap load of black friends, they feel disenfranchised. I understand that but you're going to have to get over that and you're going to have to start voting if you want things to change. If you don't want things to change then remain the same, don't vote, just walk around pissed off. But that's not productive.

Kathleen Madigan will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 19, at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale. Tickets are $30 to $65.

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