Corporate, private gigs, TV and stage performances keeping comedian Kathleen Madigan busy

The life of comedian Kathleen Madigan is bizarre enough to be turned into an HBO comedy co-starring her friends Lewis Black, Carrot Top, Ron White, Dr. Phil and Larry the Cable Guy.

So HBO, consider the following story lines from my interview with her.

Madigan, 44, and her successful comedian friends commiserate about their low self-esteem after performing secretive, private gigs for "craploads of money."

"This weekend," Madigan tells me, "I had a great corporate gig in Hawaii. I had three days off and then I did a show for Mercedes, and they were lovely, and the whole thing was first class."

But in two weeks, she’ll be getting paid to tell jokes at a rich woman’s birthday party, because Madigan is the woman’s favorite comedian.

"Just when you think you’re cool and, ‘Hey, I sold out this theater of 2,000 people …’ the next thing you know I’m in somebody’s backyard in Phoenix with kids jumping on a trampoline behind me, and I’m some lady’s birthday present.

"You’re no better than the court jester," she jokes.

She’s grateful for the fans and gigs. Backyard parties are just a little challenging:

"You still have the possibility of eating it" onstage. "It’s enough to keep you grounded and normal."

She talks about that weirdness with her good friend and ex-lover, comedian Lewis Black, who experiences the same thing.

"Lew said yes to some guy’s 80th birthday party in Florida somewhere, and it’s 40 80- to 100-year-olds in a giant ballroom. And Lew’s this guy’s birthday present."

Even though Madigan knows how surreal it is to play fans’ birthday parties, she would hire Stevie Nicks to sing at her own birthday.

"I really like Stevie Nicks," she says. "I’d say, ‘Look, I know this probably really feels like it’s gonna suck, and it will for you, but it’s my birthday, and here’s 150 grand, please sing "Landslide" twice.’ "

Madigan also hangs with prop comic Carrot Top. Despite rumors, they’ve never been lovers.

"I’ve always had a problem with people bashing Carrot Top. He has stuff in his act that I think is pretty clever. And you know what? If you gave me $500 to go to Wal-Mart and build an act, I can’t do it."

She’s friends with Dan Whitney, aka Larry the Cable Guy. Some comedians bash Whitney, too. She defends him as goofy and clever.

"I would say to his face, ‘Half your act, Dan, oh my God.’ But there are some things he says that are so incredibly stupid that I laugh." (She means "stupid" in a good way.)

As you can see, Madigan sometimes feels like she must stand up for friends who get criticized by fellow comedians. (Comedians are a tough crowd.) Madigan herself tries not to carp about comedians’ acts, but mostly because it takes effort.

"It’s not like I’m some high level Buddhist. Sure, some things piss me off. But," she says, "I don’t have that much free time, and the free time I do have … I’m gonna be sitting at home watching the whores in ‘Big Love.’ "

She appears on TV now and then, doing comedy for the shows of Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, David Letterman and Joy Behar. She once was part of "Last Comic Standing." Here’s her flashback:

"I judged that one year, and I was, like: ‘I cannot sit through, again, 2,000 people and maybe 100 are actually funny. I can’t think of 1,900 ways to say, ‘You suck,’ without being a jackass at some point. It’s no wonder Paula (Abdul) ended up crazy."

Lately, Madigan has been on "Dr. Phil," doing man-on-the-street interviews. (Dr. Phil, his wife and son are fantastic people, she says exuberantly.)

She fell into the Dr. Phil job by drinking with two dudes — her friend and ex-lover, comedian Ron White, and White’s buddy Jay.

"Ron doesn’t tell you who anyone is. He just says, ‘Let’s go drinkin’ with my friend Jay.’ "

The third time they went drinking, Jay told Madigan, "My dad really likes your comedy. … Would you ever do something for my dad’s show that’s light or silly?"

Madigan goes, "What does your dad do?"

Jay goes, "My dad is Dr. Phil."

She was booked on the show within a week. Afterward, Madigan explained to Black:

"I’m sitting there in the studio audience. It was like a dream, like I had taken Percocet after a medical procedure, and then I was like, ‘Oh my God, I just dreamed this crazy dream that I was in this really conservative suit, and I was on "Dr. Phil," and these people were talking about their sex lives being nonexistent.’ "

So there you go, HBO. I’d call Madigan’s show "Mad Again." But she’s clever. She can come up with a better title, in between rounds of singing "Happy Birthday" to rich strangers.

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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