Decades before Florissant Avenue and the city of Ferguson drew national attention, and long before she was a comedic star in L.A., Kathleen Madigan was a student at McCluer North High School — and keenly aware of the tension that permeated the area.
“I can’t believe we kept the lid on this for this long," she tells Riverfront Times
. "When I was in high school, a girl got stabbed in the third-floor bathroom. … When I told my dad, he said, ‘So just use a different bathroom.’”
A 25-year comedy veteran, Madigan is making her return to Peabody Opera House with a show this Saturday at 7 p.m. Her roots in the area are real: Not only was she born in Florissant, one of seven kids in a big, Irish Catholic family, but she also worked after college at the Suburban Journals, a newspaper chain later snapped up by the owners of the Post-Dispatch
She remembers her St. Louis girlhood without sentimentality. Nowadays, she knows people who ask their children’s advice on family matters, but that was never the case for her growing up. “There were just announcements,” she said. “We’re moving.” “Why?” “None of your business.”
Her parents wanted her to do what made her happy — “within the law” — but she says they did not play a role in convincing her to start doing standup, though she does often draw on their antics for material. With seven kids to worry about, no one got much in the way of special attention.
“There was no hyperfocus on anybody, unless you’re injured or something,” Madigan said. “Like, if you require the emergency room, you’re getting some extra attention today.”
Madigan got her B.A. in journalism — “It was better than trying to do math at NASA” — from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) in 1988. While working at the Suburban Journals after graduation, she began participating in open mic nights at various comedy clubs in the area.
After about a year of open-mic performances, she was offered a paying gig with The Funny Bone, a national comedy club chain, and she rotated between locations, working upwards of 40 weeks a year. In 1996, Madigan was named “Funniest Female Stand-Up Comic” at the American Comedy Awards. She thinks that distinction probably sounds better to people who are not a part of the industry.
“[Winning the award] wasn’t that hard. There were only like 10 of us back then. That year it was my turn to win, but we knew that all of us were going to get a turn. … We’re all going to get a trophy. As long as you don’t quit. Even if you do quit, they’ll probably just mail you one.”
Other winners of the award include Lily Tomlin (twice), Rita Rudner, Ellen DeGeneres and Margaret Cho, among others.
Madigan has made countless appearances on late-night television, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
, Late Show with David Letterman
and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson
. She describes doing Leno’s show as like “being on The Price is Right
” with the bright lights and the visible audience. Ferguson’s show, however, was more like doing a set at a bar. “You look around, it’s dark and it’s like people could just start smoking at any minute.”
She was a panel member on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore
on Tuesday. She talked about next year’s election
, jabbing GOP candidate Sen. Marco Rubio for implying that summertime campaigning is not serious, and saying she liked Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders because "he always looks like he may have just been in a car accident." "Somebody, please, help the guy. Like get him a comb."
Madigan has starred in two HBO specials, three Comedy Central specials, a Showtime special and four CMT Salute to the Troops specials with Ron White. Her most recent release, Madigan Again
, is available on Netflix. Madigan’s comedy is down-to-earth and relatable, and her Midwestern charm helps her stick the landing with every delivery. She covers everything from her parents
, to her USO shows in Afghanistan
, to dealing with overenthusiastic gym trainers
“I don’t go looking for jokes. It’s just stuff happens. It’s everyday things,” she said. “I’m like the lady at the bar who’s easy to talk to but might go on talking for an hour.”
Madigan is active on social media, which she enjoys using to connect with her fans. She prefers Twitter
to Facebook because of the character limit and the immediacy of the information. She loves tweeting about sports, especially the Cardinals.
Her love of the live-streaming app Periscope stems from a joke she used to tell when cable TV first began expanding from dozens of channels to hundreds of channels. Eventually, she would say, we will get to the point where everyone would have their own channels. You could get up in the morning and say, “Hey, let’s turn on ‘me’ and see what’s happening.” Periscope is essentially the culmination of that idea.
She has a smartphone, but it is never the current model. To her, the people she interacts with are more important than the gadget. And while she appreciates technology — despite recognizing a troubling over-dependence on it — she is unsatisfied with the progress we have made so far.
“My phone is great, but it’s no jetpack. Where’s my hovercraft? … I had big plans for that, but nothing. Big disappointment.”
For tickets to Madigan's show at the Peabody Opera House this Friday, check out her website.