Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Kathleen Madigan (Variety Playhouse Feb. 28) stays focused on her comedy

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed February 12, 2015

Kathleen Madigan is one of those stand-up comics who comes across so casually and comfortably on stage, she could just as easily be in your living room with a glass of chardonnay after dinner just hanging out.

Her low-key charm is decidedly anti-Kardashian. She isn't all about bolstering her brand. She isn't creating a line of jewelry or coming up with a reality show focused on herself. She isn't gunning for a starring role on a sitcom.

Madigan just loves to stand up on a stage and tell stories.

She will talk to the press to promote her comedy dates, including her upcoming two shows at the Variety Playhouse Feb. 28. (Buy tickets here.) She found Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch's reluctance to speak to media before the Super Bowl grating.

"He was being a big baby," she said. "My Midwestern work ethic has no patience for that. Just answer the questions and be gone."

Madigan has been in the comedy game for a quarter century. She has been able to make a good living spinning jokes. And she likes the freedom of being the boss. But she is big enough that she has folks handling her booking, her books, her publicity, even her online presence. "I don't really want to be a boss but I have to have employees," she said.

She is no Donald Trump. Her firing style tends to be as laid back and real as her stand-up. She said she often remains friends with them. "Usually, they know it's not working out. They end up agreeing with me," she said.

Her best buddy is Lewis Black, the irascible stand-up who is performing at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre May 1. "He has a tour manager, a bus driver, a merchandise guy. I sometimes hang out with him on the road. It's fun but not fun enough for me to deal with all that responsibility."

She is popular enough in Atlanta that she can do two dates at the 1,000-seat capacity Variety, where she performed last in 2013.

"It's kind of raw," Madigan said. "It's kind of clubby. I like the vibe. I'd rather do two shows there than one in a larger theater that feels sterile and uptight. Some of these places, I feel like I should be doing a lecture on dolphins, they're so serious."

Like many comics, she has begun placing comedy specials on Netflix instead of Comedy Central or HBO. "You can watch it any time you want," she said. "There's no BS with them. They pay a reasonable amount. No headaches. No problems. They don't bother you about material. They don't even care. There's a trust there. You do a special. We pay for it! We don't ever have to speak again! They're like the kids in the Genius Bar. The networks are like walking into Macy's."

[By mentioning retailers, I brought up the fact Radio Shack that day had filed for bankruptcy protection: "About 10 years ago, I had a joke about them in my act. I was wondering how they stayed open. But the Radio Shack people didn't seem hip enough to be running a drug ring. The only person I know who goes there is my dad and I have no idea what he'd buy there!"]

She said she uses her comedy specials as marketing tools to get people to buy tickets to shows. She said it works.

Her next Netflix special will be shot out of Milwaukee this October. "I love that city. I love bratwurst. I love beer. They have tons of both!"

She enjoys her life, which includes 200 days on the road but typically one-night stands instead of entire weekends in smaller clubs. Plus, she said she takes the summers off. "I feel like a kid and I have money to spend!"

Madigan is also amazed by older comics who still hit the road, like Bill Cosby, who is still set to be at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre May 2. "Even before the alleged rap charges, he was doing shows at age 77. He clearly has a love of comedy I do not." To her, Cosby must have a "certain level of arrogance to get up on stage after all this. You're living in some weird world of denial. I couldn't do it. I'd be hiding under a blanket!"

She said when networks pitch her sitcom ideas, she sincerely says no. "They then come back with more money or a better arrangement as if I'm bargaining with them," she said. "With the amount of success I've had, I don't have to do it. It doesn't interest me."

When Black had a small role on "The Big Bang Theory," Madigan joined him backstage with another friend. She drank wine and watched Black spend seven hours prepping, then doing about 10 lines. "Life is too short," she said. "He makes 20 times more money for an hour of work on stage. But Lewis likes that stuff. He gets a kick out of it. I'd rather go golfing and lose money. I have no patience for that."

She said she has middle child syndrome. "Just leave me alone. I just want to be by myself. I don't want BS."

Her exposure was greatly enhanced by "Last Comic Standing" 11 years ago. She recently received a royalty check because the repeats apparently aired somewhere overseas. ("I got a weird request for head shots from Prague," she said.) It was enough money - around $1,100 - for her to buy a replacement fountain for her L.A. home. (She also has a place in the Ozarks.)

She isn't totally against TV appearances. She's friends with Comedy Central's new talk show host Larry Wilmore and appeared on his panel last month the second night of his show. "He's smart. He's silly. I've always been a big fan. I'll do it again," she said.

I then asked her a question I don't think I've ever asked a comic: are there cities she simply avoids because they are duds for her? She had two in mind: Miami and New Orleans. "If you ever see me in Miami, I've been kidnapped," she said. "Call my parents! And New Orleans is just not a comedy town. There's too much free entertainment there."

Atlanta has always been rock solid for her, even back in the day when she did the Punchline. "Even in the early days and only half the seats were filled, they were great. It didn't matter."

She said she's saddened the place is going away in April. (Word is they are going to tear down and redevelop the area so the Punchline owner is seeking a new home.)"There's something about the physical design of the club," she said. "It's like a barn in a great way with the hard wood, which keeps all the sound in. I wish they could pick it up and move it somewhere else.

Comedy preview

Kathleen Madigan

7:30 p.m., 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28

$35 in advance, $40 day of show

Variety Playhouse

1099 Euclid Ave., NE, Atlanta









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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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