Award-winning comedian kicks off tour in Livermore

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

At first glance, comedian Kathleen Madigan’s life looks just like anybody else’s. She spent the Labor Day holiday with her family in Missouri boating on the lake—one of her favorite activities when she isn’t performing stand-up in 1,500 seat arenas—and after a show she enjoys a glass of red wine before bed.

However, come Friday at 8 p.m., 500 seats will be filled with Bay Area comedy buffs, waiting to see her perform stand-up on her Mermaid Lady tour at the Bankhead Theater. The show is hosted by the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, a nonprofit organization that hosts a variety of artists that range from comedians to musicians and acrobats.

The Bay Area boasts a rich comedy culture and many famous comedians like Robin Williams and Phyllis Diller have called the bay home.

The Livermore venue, she told the Pioneer, is relatively small compared to her usual bookings, but the crowd size doesn’t matter to her; she’s living the dream.

Madigan’s rich 25-year long resume includes appearances on shows like Leno, Letterman, Conan, Ferguson and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore in 2015.

She won both the American Comedy and the Phyllis Diller awards for “Best Female Comedian”, she has five CD’s, three DVD’s, has starred in two HBO specials, three Comedy Central specials and four “Salute to the Troops” specials on the Country Music Television. She has three Netflix specials and plans to release another in November.

However, Madigan’s life didn’t always look this way. Before she found comedy, Madigan worked as a waitress at the same restaurant from age 15 until she was 23. “I still have nightmares about waiting tables,” she said. “I quit 27 years ago and still dream about being swamped and can’t get any help. I think anyone who’s waited tables would probably have the same trauma.”

She also landed a job with the in-house magazine of the Missouri Athletic Club, where she wrote feature stories on the members; “a bunch of old guys in leather chairs.” Madigan said she her cousin, who got her a job with the publication, was responsible for her brief brush with journalism. While she enjoyed the experience, she didn’t truly love the job and found bartending to be more rewarding, monetarily.

Madigan said she stumbled upon her love of comedy by accident at an open mic night that was held at the venue across the street from the bar where she worked. She decided to give it a try for fun, but didn’t initially anticipate that it would lead to a career.

“I wanted to really like what I was doing,” she said. “I didn’t have any goals, I just kept doing it and stuff kept happening; it was kind of nice to not know. I’m really lucky. It’s everything I wanted to do, everything I like doing.”

When it comes to performing, Madigan is fearless. She doesn’t believe in feeling out a crowd and joked that the worst thing she imagines happening onstage is death. “If you fell over and no one believed you and thought it was part of your act and laughed at you during the five minutes it could’ve taken to save you,” she said. “There’s nothing that can go wrong. It’s just a comedy show, it’s not like we’re doing brain surgery.”

Madigan has comedy down to a fine art. She said that she dips her toes in improvisation at times but most of her routines follow an organized structure. Madigan develops about an hour of new material every two years and said she never watches her shows—for fun nor improvement—after the fact.

When she’s not traveling or performing, Madigan shuffles between her home in the mid-west and her beach apartment in Los Angeles. “I hate LA. I literally hate it,” she said. “I hate the sun all the time. I like sun but I don’t want it every day. Sometimes I don’t feel sunny and I’d like it to rain, and it never rains. I’ve lived there 20 years and I’ve never been to a funeral. Its a transient soulless narcissistic city, and that’s being kind.”

The comedian is a seasoned traveler and said that she makes it a point to visit unique and interesting destinations across the U.S. when on tour. A visit of the historic gold rush town of Deadwood in South Dakota last year was one of her more notable stops, due to it’s “super weird history.” Alcatraz is her favorite touristy place to visit in the Bay Area when she’s not on stage. “It’s kinda like you’re just getting paid to travel,” she said.

Madigan visits the Bay Area about twice a year and has performed in a variety of venues such as Yoshi’s restaurant and nightclub in San Francisco and Tommy T’s comedy club and steakhouse in Pleasanton.

Madigan told the Pioneer that she has been touring every year since 1989. This year’s tour, “The Mermaid Lady”, was named to correspond to a long joke within the set. Madigan disclosed that the title of most comedy shows is often a punchline or recurrent theme, but wouldn’t give away any specific details about what attendees could expect at Mermaid Lady.

Her Livermore show will kick off this year’s tour, which will span from September to April.