Kathleen Madigan hangs out with Ron White so much, she can do a pretty good impression of him while quoting what he says about her:
“Maddy, you’re 20 times more successful because you made it with nothin’. Just jokes. Every night, got on stage and told jokes and did it with no outside assistance.”
The point is further proven by the fact that White — or Lewis Black, “my true BFF” — would have a harder time doing an impression of Madigan. Maybe they could nail the St. Louis patois, but Madigan doesn’t have a blown-up persona like they do.
Which makes White’s comment ring even more true. Madigan was headlining Las Vegas comedy rooms as far back as 1998 and is now one of the “Aces of Comedy” in the same Mirage theater as Ray Romano, Tim Allen or George Lopez, without TV-sitcom stardom.
“There’s something to be said for luck and timing,” says the 51-year-old stand-up, who returns to The Mirage on Friday. “Each year, it seems like there was something that would jump me one more level. Not a huge level, but enough to keep me climbing up the mountain.
“Each thing, I just got more people, going uphill, gathering more people each step of the way.”
Madigan was maybe in the last wave of comedians whose big goal was to be on Jay Leno or David Letterman’s late-night shows, and the first wave to care more about satellite radio and Netflix specials (her latest is “Bothering Jesus”).
“I never had anyone come up and say, ‘I came because I saw you on Letterman or Leno or Conan. Never,” she says.
“But I’ve had a million people come up and say, ‘I listen to you on Sirius on road trips all the time, or saw you on Netflix or ‘Last Comic Standing’ ” (Madigan lost to John Heffron on the show’s popular second season in 2004).
She and Black will co-headline a Canadian tour in September. While he pulls political humor straight from the headlines, he tells Madigan, “You’re the lady at the end of the bar with a lot of opinions, and not enough information.”
She’s fine with that. “That’s why it’s fun to go to the bar, Lew!”
‘Donald is exhausting’
Comedians who don’t host late-night shows have wrestled with a Donald Trump presidency that generates headlines faster than they can write jokes.
“The normal people, they’re not paying attention anymore. They’ve moved on, so I’ve moved on,” Madigan says. “I don’t want to be the lady who’s watching CNN all day and doing jokes where they go, ‘Who? He hired who?’ … I had to turn all of it off, literally. Because I can get too far sucked in.
“Just in general, Donald is exhausting,” she adds. “He’s exhausting to people that are paying attention, and exhausting to people that aren’t paying attention. I think he wears people down: ‘I just want to get away from you. You’re crazy. You’re driving me crazy.’
“It’s like the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who just won’t go away: ‘Well, fine, what do you want? Here’s 500 dollars, just go away.’ You just want your old life back, where you didn’t have all that going on.”
Kathy Griffin’s possible career suicide — posing for a photo hoisting what looks like Trump’s severed head — brings out “my Midwest work ethic,” Madigan says. She and Griffin were both born to large Irish-Catholic families in neighboring states.
“To each his own, but you will never see me wrapped up in any kind of controversy like that. Is the laugh worth the blowback? I just say, is it funny?” Madigan explains. “That’s my job. We’re supposed to be funny people. If it’s not funny, I don’t get why you did it. Was it worth it?”
“But I also don’t think one mistake should ruin anybody’s career,” she adds. “That’s really harsh.”
The Midwestern pragmatism kicked in again when Madigan heard Jim Carrey proclaim comedians are “the last line of defense (and) the last voice of truth in this whole (Trump) thing.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought it was the Senate,” she says. “Really? It’s up to me and Carrot Top to save democracy? No, it’s not. We’re here to comment on it. We’re here to make people laugh.
“If you really believe that,” she adds, “you should do what Al Franken did (and run for Senate). Do the proper things to try to make a difference. That dude gave up a great, easy, fun career to walk into a snake pit of boredom.”