It’s surprising how many careers Oprah Winfrey has impacted.
Curiously, one of them was Kathleen Madigan’s. Madigan has reigned for many years as the top female comedian after winning both the American Comedy Award and Phyllis Diller Award for Best Female Comedian and remains the only comic unchallenged in NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.”
That’s a lot to brag about for the 46-year-old Madigan. But she humbly notes that she might have stayed at her bar job if she hadn’t heard Oprah railing about goals one day.
“Oprah said ‘You have to set goals.’ I thought, ‘Not really, I can stumble through life not finding anything I’m good at.’”
But Madigan found her voice at an open mic in the bar where she worked and her course was set. Twenty-two years later, she is still standing in front of a crowd, criticizing false advertising at “the happiest place on earth — Disneyland,” where she couldn’t find a beer, or discussing Season 5 of “Last Comic Standing” when she was a judge and couldn’t “think of 2,000 ways to tell someone they’re not funny without turning into a full-blown alcoholic.”
Madigan is making her Billings debut at the Alberta Bair Theater on Saturday night. Tickets are $29.
Since it’s her first time to town, Madigan plans to turn on her 75-year-old man persona and “go online to get some goofiness, maybe look for maps and crap.”
Madigan’s skill is finding that point of humor in every ridiculous situation around her. We don’t always see the humor in our lives, but when I listen to Madigan talk, it’s there hiding behind the flat tire on my bike.
When we spoke by phone, the Republican and Democratic conventions were still a hot topic. Madigan called them “awesome entertainment” and she said she was fascinated with them.
“The Clint Eastwood thing — this is why improv
is difficult — it can get real weird. You have this great idea, but it’s not working. As a comedian, all I kept thinking was, ‘Did they give him this much time or did he go long?’ There is nothing more frustrating than when the opening act goes long.”
Watching the Democratic convention was just as crazy because the Democrats also picked the wrong opener, she said.
“You can’t follow Clinton,” Madigan said. “Clinton always goes long. He can’t even shut up in print. And he is a more dynamic speaker than Obama. People always say Obama is good, but Clinton makes you laugh, makes you cry, and makes you think. Obama makes me drift out. I feel like I’m in college.”
Growing up with four brothers helped her adjust to competing in a career dominated by men, Madigan said.
“If you are funny, you’ll get hired. In network television, though, it’s harder to get your own TV show. NBC loves white guys.”
Some of those white guys — like Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” — often host Madigan because she can tell a joke. She has also written for other comedians, including Lewis Black and Garry Shandling.
Madigan said she goes round and round with Black, whom she considers one of her best friends. Unlike Black’s show where he urges people to act on something, Madigan said her act has no point. Madigan is just as blunt and smart as Black is. The difference is that Madigan just wants her audience to kick back and have fun while Black wants them to think.
They also argue about sources. Black believes in rewarding the press for fact checking. Madigan said she doesn’t care.
“I do enjoy Twitter. It’s so instant. CNN.com, really? I read this stuff on Twitter a week ago. So what if I thought Jon Bon Jovi was dead for a day. I was so happy when I found out he wasn’t,” Madigan said.
When Madigan learned that 25 percent of the U.S. is on some kind of antidepressant, she realized that people think they should be happy 24-7.
“Maybe life is supposed to be a bunch of garbage and you are lucky to be happy at all,” Madigan said. “Maybe we should all lower the bar and have more fun.”