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A Friend of Tim’s: Kathleen Madigan Talks TV, Tim and Getting Heckled

Few comics enjoy the level of decoration Kathleen Madigan has achieved. Four CDs, three DVDs, and a 25 year career that has manifested both being named one of iTunes Best Comedy Albums of 2013 and a nomination for 2014 American Comedy Award nomination (Best Concert Critic). She’s performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. On top of that, Madigan’s produced three Comedy Central specials, two HBO specials, and three CMT Salute to the Troops. Ron White has said she’s “easily one of the best comics alive.”

Now a part of the Wild West Comedy Festival, Nashville’s first city-spanning event, and helmed by Vince Vaughn, Madigan’s May 14 show at TPAC may be one of the most emotional shows to date: a benefit honoring a late friend.

Murfreesboro Pulse: Now, you’re coming to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center for an event listed in the Wild West’s Comedy Fest; the Friends of Tim Wilson Benefit. Let’s ask first: Who was Tim Wilson?
Madigan: He was just one of the good guys. Nice. Super smart. Super well-read. I liked that I could have conversations with Tim about anything and I would learn something from him. I mean, he’s funny and all that, but all my friends are pretty funny. He just took it to another level. I felt like I was with a really safe, older, fun, smart brother when I was with him. Just one of the good guys. And it’s just awful. Not that you want the bad guys to die, but let’s just say that there are some comedians that if I heard they died I would go “Oh” [laughs]. Not to be mean, but I would just not be nearly as upset. There are some that will remain nameless, but all you have to do is Google “hack mean comic” and all their names will come up, I’m sure. You just hate to lose the good ones.

How did you come to meet Tim?
The first time I worked with him, he was headlining and I was the opening act. It was at the Davenport, Iowa, Funny Bone. And he was talkin’ so fast. And he said “Man, I jutdon’tthinkthepeoplikemeItalktalktalk” (Madigan goes into sound-barrier-breaking “hillbilly speak”) and I go, “Tim, it’s not that they don’t like you. You gotta slow down, dude. I spend six months of my year in the South, and I can’t understand you. You’re talking too fast.” And then he just killed all week long. Not that I am the one who is “The Bearer of All Wisdom,” but he was just on a big Southern run and was just used to being able to talk like that. But we had a great week. It was when riverboat gambling first came out. We went riverboat gambling. Like just silly, stupid fun stuff. That was the first week that I worked with him.

Did your experiences with Tim segue into your involvement with SiriusXM’s “Blue Collar Radio”?
Uh, no. That just came through . . . I mean, I know some of the people at Sirius, but I think they were just lookin’ for women, or any comics really, who could kind of fit into Blue Collar, because they’ve got the mainstays: Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy. But you can’t just play Larry and Jeff all day. And I think that they think my stuff is “borderline, that it could fit,” so they play it a lot. That’s all. Which is great. I’m very happy they do.

Not to pigeonhole you, but would say that your Irish Catholic, working-class background bridges the gap in standards for “blue collar” comedy in a way?
Well, it qualifies enough for that station. Blue collar is blue collar, whether you’re Southern, or Midwestern, or whatever. So I think they said “Yeah, that works for us.” I think because they play so much of Jeff that people think “blue collar” and they mean “redneck,” and that’s not what they meant. Know what I mean?

The term simply refers to “working-class” folks.
Yeah.

In previous interviews, you’ve talked about the comedians that have influenced you. But what comedians have you influenced?
Oh, I have no idea. I mean, there’s comics that come up and say, “I really think you’re funny,” or “I really like your work.” But I have no idea who I have influenced. I’m sure that when I’m dead, somebody will tell . . . well, they’ll tell somebody at my wake. But I have no idea.

It’ll be one of the hack comedians. They’ll do it to get back at you.
Exactly.

Speaking of “getting back,” you shared on Twitter that you were heckled by senior citizens?
It was like two years ago in Florida, in some theater. No, it was probably three years ago. I did a joke about Sarah Palin that was completely innocuous. There was nothing even . . . it was a silly joke, and it doesn’t even matter what the joke is, because I hadn’t even started the joke. And this, like, I don’t know she had to be 75 or 80, but I think she was half in the bag, but yeah, she [the woman] just went crazy and said “Don’t talk bad about Sarah Palin! I love you and I love Sarah Palin!” I let her talk. It was more of a plea for me to not ruin her idea of who I was, I guess, ’cause she’s like, so how could I possibly say something bad about this other person she admires? And I’m like, “Ma’am, you’re putting me and Sarah Palin in the same bucket? I’m completely perplexed by that. I feel like I have nothing in common with Sarah Palin, but clearly you like us both.” And she said, “I do!” She was just this old lady who was just kinda hammered, and she was harmless. It was inappropriate, though. And there’s a thousand people there, and nine hundred and ninety-nine other people paid, and they didn’t pay to listen to this lady. So at some point you gotta go, “Okay, ma’am, I am gonna do this joke about Sarah Palin. Or we could skip it.” Then the audience is like, “No, we wanna hear it!” It was fine. I don’t ever have a heckler I can’t handle, but it was weird to get heckled by someone who was my mom’s age. Like I wanted to call her “Missus Something” instead of “Hey Lady” because I just thought that was kind of disrespectful.’Cause she was so much older. But I didn’t get that far.

Looking at some of the other comments on this Twitter thread, many fans have shared that they can’t really see you getting heckled all that much. Other than that seemingly isolated incident, have you had a generally positive, heckler-free experience?
No, it’s really, really super-rare. That’s why when it happens, I’m more perplexed. It’s fine, I can handle it. But my act doesn’t really call for it. I don’t really say anything controversial . . . I guess, except for my joke about Sarah Palin being a game warden, I guess that was the one that drove that lady crazy [laughs]. Yeah, it doesn’t really happen at my shows. Usually everyone is having a really nice time.

You’re always on the road, and much of your material comes from personal relationships with family and friends. Having such a large following, do you feel that as a  stand-up comic that you have a reasonable expectation of having a normal, private life? Or do you sacrifice that for stardom?
Oh, yeah. Most people who say that, “Well, I don’t have any privacy,” they’re full of crap. They’re the ones calling the press and saying “Oh, I’m gonna be at this bar tonight. Come take my picture.” If you want to live a normal life, it’s really not a problem. Jay Leno leads a normal life. He goes to Burger King. He even has his “Whopper Card” in his wallet. I mean, there’s a million—Jay Leno drives around in weird cars and pays cash for gas. Know what I mean? Seinfeld has three kids. Yes, you can still go to a baseball game. Go do whatever you want. I don’t know about rock stars and I don’t know about movie actors and stuff, but there’s a lot of really . . . Lewis Black is pretty famous. He’s on The Daily Show. Lew and I walk around 24 hours a day like normal people. So somebody may stop you and say “Hey, I like your work,” and it’s like, “Well, that’s nice. Thank you” and you maybe take a picture and keep walkin’. I think a lot of people complain about the wrong things. If somebody’s gonna stop you and ask you to get a picture, absolutely you can get a picture. Not a problem.

So you’d say, at least in terms of the comedy side of entertainment, it would be an embellishment if people make the claims that they don’t have privacy?
Yeah. I think especially of stand-up comedians. I don’t even know what they mean by that. “I don’t have privacy.” I’m with some of the most famous comedians alive, and we do totally normal things. I just don’t know what they’re talking about. Now, I’m sure my life does not apply to somebody on a Madonna-level. That can get out of hand. Rock people, I don’t know what those people do. But stand-ups, we’re all just running around a normal life.

Have your jokes about your personal life affected or changed any of your personal relationships with your friends or family?
No, everybody is completely supportive and knows we’re all just having a good time. It’s all good.

You travel extensively. What do you do to maintain a healthy outlook? Any favorite authors, musicians? What about podcasters?
No, I’ve never listened to a podcast in my life. That wouldn’t be on the table. Most of the time I have friends in these cities that I go to now, so I’m usually hanging out doing something. But, I have music I work out to. It’s not like a passion. It’s just there so I’m not bored. I’m usually runnin’ around doing stuff. I’m usually out.

Madigan (2)

You’ve expressed in the past what you feel to be the “splintered nature” of media. With Jay Leno, David Letterman, and now Craig Ferguson all soon to be gone from the late-night show scene, do you feel that the “Golden Age of Discovery” for comedy is passing? Or do you think that that’s a tradition that will continue?
I think late-night, I mean, I think these guys will do the shows. I think being “discovered” on late-night, that that went away years ago. Really, after Carson. And it has nothing to do with Letterman or Leno, it had to do with cable. When Johnny Carson was on, there were three channels. Period. Available in the nation. And two-thirds of America watched Johnny Carson. So if you went on Johnny Carson, two-thirds of the country saw you. You couldn’t get that kind of focus anymore unless maybe you were a mass murderer. And I’m not even joking. And even then, it would only be for about half a day and a news cycle anymore. It’s not because of the men involved. It’s because of the amount of entertainment options. And now, I meet people . . . anyone who checks me out in the store under the age of 30 I ask, “Do you have cable?” And they’re like (doing a Jeff Spicoli impression) “No.” People don’t even have cable. They watch everything on their phone. They watch Hulu, they watch Netflix. They can still watch those shows, but when they feel like it. And they don’t have to pay a cable bill of a hundred and sixty-eight dollars, or whatever nonsense I pay. Now I’ve switched to DirecTV. It’s like a hundred and fifty bucks, which that’s a lot if you’re a young person. It’s just becoming so splintered that it’s good, but it’s also difficult to get national focus.

Let’s take a moment and appreciate what may have just been one of the most epic plugs for DirecTV.
I did switch, really, because I wanted football. But then I got so mad at cable for having that big fight with Showtime. And I was watching Dexter! And I couldn’t even watch it on my iPad. I was like “What? They blocked me on the iPad?! Oh my God, this is ridiculous!” I really liked that show, so I said “Forget this crap. Just because you and Showtime are fighting, I’m the child that is now penalized because Mom and Dad can’t get along? This is bullshit.” So I went and got DirecTV. And then they got in a fight with The Weather Channel, which really upset me ’cause I love The Weather Channel, but now they’ve made up again and now I have The Weather Channel back. So now, all is well in TV-land.

Did you get to finish Dexter?
Yeah, I finished all of it.

Were you upset with the ending? Were you pleased with the ending?
I liked it. I know a lot of people got upset. I’m fine with it. Except my Libra, logical side . . . I was like “Wait a minute, that storm looks really bad. How did he survive that storm?” But I don’t know, I know a lot of people did not like it. I mean, I don’t like The Sopranos where you give me no ending. I don’t care what the ending is, just give me a ending. And they ended it. They said he got away, and he’s still alive. And he’s doing it again. Okay. That’s an ending. I’ll accept it.

What other shows are you watching currently?
I like a lot of the stuff on HBO. I love Game of Thrones. I love these things where I can binge-watch. I love The Tudors. I’m watching one too that nobody’s watching, which is actually very good, called Turn on AMC. It’s America’s “first CIA.” So it’s us against the British, and who turned on the British and became spies. It’s actually really well done. I got so suckered into The Following with Kevin Bacon and it’s gotten beyond, it has jumped so many sharks. But now I gotta watch it until the end because I’m already in this far. It’s like a bad mechanic. I do love Kevin Bacon and I’m sure even he’s like “Really, guys? You really expect people to believe this?” Well, I’m suckered in, so I’m going along with that.

A good question to always ask guests of Music City: Any impressions of Nashville you’d like to share?
I love Nashville. I’ve been coming there forever. I really do. I was a little disappointed in the moving of the Hatch [Show] Print. I liked the old store better, I gotta say. I know they had to move all that stuff and so there’s a big, giant tourist place. I thought “Oh, poo.” I loved going in there and hanging out and looking at all the posters. I like the people. I’m a big fan of Tennessee, big fan of Kentucky. I’m all in. Missouri girl could live there in a minute. I really, really have a good time.

Last question: You have a section of Madigan Again titled “Real Scares.” You addressed teenagers paying to be scared as a concept that was somewhat foreign to you. Do you feel that that’s limited to just teenagers? Or that other people just don’t have an appreciation for their own safety?
No, I was really just talking about the movie genre thing, ’cause it was really fascinating to me. One of my friends, he works for a big distributing company for movies. I don’t know how many times you’ll see just a fast ad for some bizarre possession movie, or a haunted, crazy-place movie. And they’re not even major ad campaigns. It’s not like it’s somebody from Disney or Miramax, or they’re billboards. But those are the movies that make the most money. And my distributor guy said, “Kathleen, you can’t believe that horror is the No. 1 genre.” And I haven’t seen a horror movie literally since The Exorcist, I guess. And that was enough. I don’t need to see another horror movie. I don’t enjoy feeling more anxious. That’s not up my alley. But teenagers, if you think about it . . . who goes to movies on Friday nights? Them! They’re in charge. Them and then little kids for the Disney stuff. Frozen and that kinda stuff. I just think it’s funny that they get excited about getting scared. I really just think that’s interesting. We could go make a horror movie that wasn’t even that good and would still make money. Wow! Who knew? I should have gone into that. Who are those actors? They’re probably making a good living, I should have done that.

To purchase tickets to the May 14 show featuring Madigan, Ralphie May, Ron White, Billy Gardell, James Gregory and Killer Beaz check out TPAC’s website for the event. Alternately, you can check out the website for the Wild West Comedy Festival. Be sure to follow Kathleen Madigan on Facebook and Twitter as well.

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About the Author

I'm a contributing writer for the Murfreesboro Pulse. I'm also a filmmaker and a founding member of the MTSU Film Guild. My interests include screenwriting, producing, coffee, beer and philosophy. I'm a huge fan of films, particularly horror, action, science fiction and crime.

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