Kathleen Madigan does a lot of falling—her clumsiness, she confesses, is the root of some of her most embarrassing moments—but not all of it is humiliating. Her fall into comedy was pure happenstance; at the time, she was working at a bar and, one fateful night, wandered into the bar next door, which happened to be a comedy club. She and another bartender decided to try open mic night just for fun, and her innate sense of humor must have won her a lot of laughs that evening because she hasn’t stopped telling jokes since.
Though Madigan considers her start in comedy to be a fortunate accident, her 25-year career suggests something else. She has performed on nearly every late night show and in 2014 was nominated for an American Comedy Award for Best Concert Comic. She remains the only comedian in the history of NBC‘s Last Comic Standing to go unchallenged by any other contestant—meaning no comedian would claim to be funnier than she is—and she has starred in three Comedy Central specials.
Madigan is set to tape a new special this March. Here she talks embarrassing moments, sense of humor, and downtime.
How will this taping special be different from your others?
I’m really excited that it’s in Milwaukee, because I really love that city. It’s a really fun, welcoming, friendly, fun town and, jokingly, I say when I’m up there, “Who knew Germans could be this much fun?” I don’t know about the other comics, [but] I pick where I tape these, and it’s just one of the cities I’ve had a blast in every time I’ve gone. … So I’m excited about where it is, and I’m producing this one, versus hiring an outside production company, so I’ve hired people that I know can do a great job. I think it’ll turn out really well.
You’ve been counted among the top 10 funniest women on the planet. Where do you think you get your sense of humor?
I don’t know [laughs]. It’s funny, because I was watching one of the news channels yesterday, and George Bush introduced Jeb Bush at [an event], and I was saying to my brother, “George gets it—as far as speaking in front of people and being funny.” … Whether you agree with George Bush or not, he killed it in his little speech. He’s self-deprecating, he’s goofy, he’s silly, he’s smart—he’s got a million things in one speech. When Jeb tries to be funny, it’s awkward, it doesn’t work, and sometimes it’s just creepy. He shouldn’t even try. I can’t sing, I really can’t dance, so I don’t even try, because I know I can’t. I have tried, and I can’t. You can either dance or you can’t. It’s sort of the same way with humor. … Be what you’re comfortable with.
Have you ever had a moment where you bombed or froze on stage?
It’s honestly never completely happened in a normal show. Sometimes at corporate gigs, there’s a lot of weirdness. My answer to that is: Just keep talking. Just keep going.
You’re a busy woman these days. How do you wind down and relax?
I like to drink red wine and watch House Hunters. That’s my mindless TV for fun that I get really secretly excited about. I watch them all. Sometimes I tweet them live and then other people will join in [laughs], and some people on my Twitter feed are funnier than I am. …
I [also] like to hang out with my nieces and nephews and go do whatever they do, because my siblings all have normal, real lives—so it’s nice to be able to bop in and bop out of that.
Confess to us: What was your most embarrassing moment?
Mine usually involve falling. [One time,] we were at this county festival in Ireland, and I was on the third floor of a bed and breakfast, and I fell all the way down the stairs. I even hit a landing and bounced off and fell into the lobby. [Another time,] I was at a corporate gig and this CEO was there, and I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s going to be great.” As I was talking, I didn’t know there was a cable taped to the carpet, and I fell backwards, into the curtain. The lights exploded.
Yikes, that is embarrassing. Last question: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have three things, what would they be?
My glasses, or we have no future at all [laughs]. Sunblock. … I always think that when I watch that show Naked and Afraid or when they talk about Amelia Earhart [because] she may have landed on an island, and she was extremely pale. [I’d also bring] a cell phone—to call if I get off the island. [laughs]
Photo by Luzena Adams