If you're familiar with Kathleen Madigan, you know she doesn't offer a lot of surprises—maybe it's her Midwestern sensibilities—but she's consistently sharp, funny and entertaining.
That's why I'm surprised when she tells me what she would be doing if she weren't doing comedy: working for the Weather Channel.
"Me and my youngest brother are just obsessed with weird weather," she says, laughing. "When there's a big-ass storm coming, whether it's snow or hurricanes, it's all I have on. I don't know enough about science, but I would love to be the freak following the storms."
That makes sense, sort of, because Madigan has a peculiar way of analyzing the mundane and finding the humor in it. Consider, for instance, her take on the Republican presidential candidates.
It doesn't make sense to her that Rick Santorum won the Missouri primary ("It's an open primary—it just makes sense for the Democrats to attack the weak link."), that John Huntsman is out of the race ("He speaks fluent Chinese! He's the guy we want answering the phones when they come to collect their money!") or that Mitt Romney has never touched alcohol.
"He's what, 60?" she says. "Even my mom knows nuns who drink beers once in a while."
And Ron Paul? "It's like Lewis Black said to me: One of the signs of being bipolar is for every good idea, you've got a bad idea—he's like your crazy grandpa shouting things on Thanksgiving," Madigan says.
Black is one of Madigan's closest friends, a link that stems from working Chicago comedy clubs together. The two still work together frequently (Madigan was a regular on Black's Root of All Evil show that aired on Comedy Central), including a USO tour in Iraq.
"First off, Afghanistan makes Iraq look like Las Vegas," Madigan says, before recounting a time when she and Black were on a helicopter flying across the desert; they spotted a group of camels.
"He's like, 'Where are we? Clearly, we've flown through the Bible!'" Madigan says. "You get there and you go, 'Really? There'd better be an ass-load of oil under here, or I don't even understand what we're doing here.'"
But according to Madigan, all that really matters on those tours is keeping the troops happy, even if a few of them are nearly old enough to be her parents. "I used to joke that I'd give an entire year's pay to watch my parents drive a tank through Baghdad," she says, referring to a female soldier she met. The woman, with the National Guard, was 59.
Madigan says that living in Los Angeles—though loads easier than being in the Middle East—has its own challenges. For instance, she's been pitching her dream project, a documentary about the history of female comedians.
"You go into these meetings and they're like, 'Oh, OK. We get the general idea, but could we have the public vote them in and out?' What? Some of them are dead! They're already voted off of this planet!"
It would be easier to do the film on her own, she says, and put it on Netflix. But "I just don't have a hundred grand laying around."
However, she's encouraged by the success of Louis C.K.'s recent standup production, which he sold online—making more than $1 million within 12 days last December.
"The thing about Louis is that he already has that fan base. I think it was really well-thought-out. It's good he made money and circumvented the old school, but I would rather get a production company, have Showtime buy it, and put it on TV.
"When I have a DVD out, my whole purpose is for people to see it and come out to shows," Madigan says. "I just don't think too many comics can afford to do (what Louis C.K. did) yet—I mean, I don't know anyone under 30 who even watches TV anymore; it's all on Hulu and Netflix now. It's the future, and Louis is just one step ahead of it."
But Madigan, 46, says she still loves standup and has no plans to ditch it for something else.
"Just this past year, I've said no to appearances on sitcoms, and appearances on reality shows; I don't even want to be on one. I just like what I do," she says.
"It's like Lewis (Black) and I would joke: We've never been one of the cool kids with the sitcoms and the parties, in People magazine. We're just the comics, just telling jokes."
Kathleen Madigan will perform at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 17. Tickets are $21 to $31. For tickets or more information, call 740-1000, or visit rialtotheatre.com.