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Kathleen Madigan thinks it, says it, and comedy happens

Kathleen Madigan
Kathleen MadiganLuzena Adams

It is just a couple of days after the Golden Globes and a few days before Kathleen Madigan’s “Boxed Wine & Bigfoot Tour” is set to kick off. Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the awards gala has prompted buzz about a potential presidential run, and Madigan isn’t having it. As a 30-year veteran of stand-up, she’s already got what sounds like a stage-ready riff.

“I can’t have Oprah for four years,” she says, speaking from her home in Ozark, Mo. “I don’t want to be my best self. I don’t want to be motivated. I don’t want to find a dream. All my dreams are horrifying in one way or another. I don’t want a dream.”


She’d rather have a president who quietly goes about his or her business. But if she had to pick a celebrity to run the country, she’d be more of a Frances McDormand voter. “That’s more my speed,” she says. “A little bit of cynicism, a little bit of darkness, and then, ‘Ah, hey, it’s a sunny day!’ every now and then.”

It’s not surprising that Madigan, who comes to the Wilbur Theatre Saturday, sounds like she could be talking off the top of her head and teeing up new material at the same time. She was a bartender from a big Irish family — she’s one of seven siblings — when she started out, and that’s still where her comic center is. One of her brothers calls her “Sally Lunchbox” because of her working-class sensibilities. “He goes, ‘When I have clients that are just real normal, Midwest Americans, I call them Joe Sixpack and Sally Lunchbox. And that’s what you are. You’re just the lady at the bar,’” she says. “And he’s right. And I don’t know if that’s good or that’s bad, but I’m the lady at the end of the bar. And as Lewis [Black] would say, with a lot of opinions and not enough information. And he’s correct about that.”


Black is a good friend and calls her “one of the best comics working today.” Madigan isn’t as overtly political as Black, but she lets herself react to current events in her act. It comes out in a more personal way. In her 2016 Netflix special “Bothering Jesus,” Madigan talked about growing up near Ferguson, Mo., and how no one was surprised when tensions there boiled over into riots in 2014. The story she tells onstage is about how a girl was stabbed to death in the third-floor bathroom of her high school, and of her father’s reaction. “He didn’t even stop doing the crossword puzzle,” she says in the bit. “He just said, ‘Well don’t use that bathroom. What are you, a . . . damned idiot?’ ”

Some comics will sit down at a computer and try to think of things to write about. That always baffled Madigan. She gets plenty of material just going about her normal day. “I just react, and then I hang out with my family, and then I react to that,” she says. “I don’t go looking for stuff to write about. I just lead my actual life.”

Her approach has earned her a wide audience. She graduated from clubs to theaters years ago, and thinks she has a good sense of who her audience is. “I would say that it’s educated, borderline alcoholics,” she says, “which is what I would also refer to myself as.”


And that audience is growing, thanks to Netflix and social media. It used to be that her audience was roughly her age. Now she notices more millennials in the audience and on her Twitter account. “You don’t want to walk around thinking: I have an old person’s act,” she says. “I don’t think it is, but all those years I was in the clubs where you’re gaining a following, those people were my age, ’cause we’re all in the club. So you just want to hope that you drag some young people along.”

Madigan has two specials running on Netflix, which she says is a vast improvement over the days of cable specials. After their premiere dates, HBO and Showtime specials would be hard to find. Not so with Netflix. “It’s always there,” she says. “Old people understand it, even my parents. They get it. I gave them my password; they’re off to the races. Young people like it, old people understand it. That is perfect. And it’s on 24 hours a day.”

Being a successful stand-up has always been Madigan’s goal. She’d happily do a small part in a movie, but nothing that would keep her tied to a studio in Los Angeles. She has ignored overtures from sitcom producers in the past. “They’re so not used to being told no,” she says, laughing. “To be the mom on a sitcom? I can’t think of anything that would make me literally want to bash my brains in more.”


Kathleen MadigAN

At the Wilbur Theatre, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets $32-$39, 866-448-7849, www.thewilbur.com

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.