She’s Still Standing: An Interview With Comedian Kathleen Madigan

If laughter is a cure for the soul, then Kathleen Madigan holds the cure for the entire country.

The 1987 graduate of SIUE has gained fame through NBC’s hit television show Last Comic Standing. While she did not win the competition, she was one of the finalists and went unchallenged by other contestants throughout the third season.

The phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know” certainly applies to Madigan, as she got her start in comedy by knowing some people who worked at the Funny Bone in St. Louis.

From her first gig at the Funny Bone to recently appearing on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Madigan has been on several shows and performed in all 50 states.

“The best part of doing comedy is getting to see the whole country,” Madigan said. “The worst part is getting to see the whole country. There is a lot out there you could skip. There are some places where there is just nothing there.”

Madigan, who now makes her home in Los Angeles but comes home to visit family often, said she could write a travel guide based on all the places she has been in the country. “I would call it Skip It,” she said.

During her time at SIUE, Madigan said her favorite class was anything that started after 12 p.m. She said her favorite story to write was a feature.

“I hated anything that was complicated,” she said. “I was too cynical for investigative journalism. I didn’t have the passion for it.”

While some comedians such as Dave Chapelle idolized Richard Pryor, Madigan never looked up to any comedian for inspiration. “When I was young, I didn’t really plan on being a comedian,” she said. “I liked Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares. He wasn’t really a comedian, but I always wanted to do something like he did.”

Madigan said she thinks about what she would be doing if she wasn’t in comedy quite often, but has no idea. “Every time comedians get frustrated we think about quitting,” she said. “Then we realize we don’t know what else to do.”

Advice Madigan would give young comics is to not be vulgar. “Don’t write dirty stuff,” she said. “There is no point unless you’re the best at it, like Robert Schimmel.

Some of Madigan’s biggest accomplishments include being voted Best Female Stand-Up at the American Comedy Awards, contributing jokes for Garry Shandling’s 2003/04 Emmy monologue, and making 13 out of 15 free throws to win the Mid-Missouri Hoop Shoot Championship.

“I won the trophy and immediately retired,” she said. “I decided to go out on top like Michael Jordan.”

Sports is a big part of Madigan’s routine, as she has landed a commentary spot on FOX Sports Net’s The Best Damn Sports Show and The List. Madigan admits she probably knows more about sports than the average woman, but still lacks knowledge in a few areas. “’Til the day, I die I won’t understand college football and the way their ranking system works,” she said. “I probably couldn’t tell you a thing about Nascar.” The St. Louis Rams are Madigan’s favorite professional football team, although she is still upset about the Cardinals leaving St. Louis for Arizona.

Madigan said her time on Last Comic Standing was a really bizarre thing to experience. “I really had to watch what came out of my mouth,” she said. “I didn’t give them anything to use, so I didn’t wind up on TV as much. They wanted the show to be like The Real World, and while we were having fun 12 or 13 hours out of the day, the one hour we’re not, they show.”

With it being an election year, Madigan has incorporated political jokes into her routine. She said she tried to keep it even, but it is hard at times. “I am not trying to change anyone’s mind,” she said. “I just try to point out the absurdity.

Madigan said both politicians running for president had their faults. “John Kerry has no personality, but Bush says so much stupid stuff that it’s so much easier to joke about him,” she said. “Bush goes on national television and says something so unbelievable like ‘misunderestimated,’ which isn’t even a word. It’s so easy to joke on Bush that it’s become hacky.”

Coming up with material is no problem for Madigan. “The ideas just kind of fly into my head,” she said. “When I was writing the jokes for Garry Shandling, I thought of a million things.”

Like most journalists, Madigan might experience writer’s block at times, but she said she has the answer if that happens.

“Take a vacation,” she said. “A vacation is always the answer to your problems.”

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