Bismarck has become brave new territory in the world of comedy. And it’s all thanks to Lewis Black.
“I’m friends with Lewis, and he did a couple of shows there and had a great time,” said Kathleen Madigan, a famous comedian in her own right. “He said they were the best shows outside of our USO shows we did for the troops. And I said, ‘Maybe it’s because not enough people visit North Dakota, and they just appreciate us more.’
“So maybe Lew and I have just outsmarted everyone, and we’ll go to towns where no one else goes, and then we’re super-appreciated.”
Madigan, a veteran stand-up comic for 22 years, has earned a large degree of fame in comedy through her multiple appearances on “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Show With David Letterman,” comedy specials on Comedy Central and Showtime, appearances as a commentator on a variety of cable channels, a spot as contestant and a judge on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” and regular appearances on satellite radio.
She will venture into new terrain, yet again, with her first appearance in Bismarck Oct. 6 at the Belle Mehus Auditorium.
She will be following two sold-out shows at the Belle in the last two years by Lewis Black, who she has been friends with for nearly 20 years. Onstage at both shows, Black told stories about Madigan and her penchant for pushing him into trying new things.
“I just wear him down,” she said. “He didn’t want to get on Twitter, and I keep telling him it’s fun. He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not a chore. I mean, if you view it in the right way. I keep trying to push him.
Madigan has learned a lot about comedy in the years she’s been on the road. She started her career as a features writer for The Suburban Journals newspapers in the St. Louis area. After going to an open-mic night at a bar, she decided to make the leap into stand-up comedy, which wasn’t as much of a leap as it might have been for others.
“I remember going to Houston one time and there were some guys that were just starting out,” she said. “They were engineers for like bio-tech companies. I thought, ‘Oh my god. You’re going to quit that for this?’ I mean, I’m doing an even trade, here. You’re not. You have a real job with insurance and vacation. What are you doing?”
She stuck with comedy long enough to develop her own voice and notoriety in comic circles.
“I think the first five years, everybody’s just trying to write jokes and trying to get time together and get an act together,” she said. “And then, once you have an act together, you start to think, ‘Is this the one I really want to have? Or do I want to make it more me, and more personal?’ And hopefully you keep evolving.”
For Madigan, developing her own comedic style has meant finding humor in a lot of different sources.
From YouTube: “I watched one (video) like a hundred times where there’s this monkey – from where, I don’t know, probably in some poor country – and it’s tied to a tree, and they gave it a beer, and he loved it. And then they took the beer away, and the monkey went completely insane. It is so stupid, but I just kept watching it over and over and over.”
To movies: “Any Christopher Guest movie with Fred Willard in it. Nobody makes me laugh harder than Fred Willard. ‘Best in Show,’ Fred Willard in that … I could sit there and watch it 100 times in a day, and still laugh at the exact same stuff.”
And politics: “Paul Ryan, I can’t trust him, because nobody from Wisconsin is that healthy. Nobody. Something’s weird about that guy. You don’t know. I’ve been to Wisconsin about 10,000 times, and everybody there likes their beer and their bratwurst. Nobody’s really that in-shape.”
She also knows it’s best to avoid carrying her act around with her, off stage.
“Most of the real comics don’t want to hang out with the comics who do that,” she said. Most comics off stage are just like normal people. We always say, ‘Oh, I can’t be around that guy. He’s on all the time.’ And it just becomes annoying. Usually, it’s people who are new who do that.”
But, when she is on stage, she has to be open to her audience’s opinions, the same way the audience is open to hers. So long as they’re sober.
“If they’re just drunk and yelling stuff out, then I tell the doorman to get rid of them, because everybody else paid,” she said. “None of us need to be listening to Drunky the Clown just shout random crap out. But if they’re really heckling about stuff I said, then I will let them talk. Sure.”
It’s the community appeal of live comedy that has always appealed to her as a comic, and Madigan says she’s ready to get that same great reaction in Bismarck that her friend Lewis told her about.
“And I would say my tickets are cheaper than Lewis’ were,” she said. “I’m cheaper; that’s a good selling point, right? It’s a fire sale!”
-Kelly Hagen is features editor for the Great Plains Examiner.