Aspen Laugh Festival: Kathleen Madigan
IF YOU GO …
Who: Kathleen Madigan
Where: Aspen Laugh Festival, Wheeler Opera House
When: Thursday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $75
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
More info: Wednesday’s Laugh Fest lineup features Nate Bregatze at the Wheeler (7:30 p.m.); Thursday includes a free show from 2 Drink Minimum at Silver City Saloon (4 p.m.) before Madigan; wheeleroperahouse.com
Kathleen Madigan has been on the road doing stand-up comedy for nearly three decades. In that time, she’s cried only twice in airports, one of which was here in Aspen.
After doing a private corporate gig here years ago and spending a night in a plush hotel, she decided to leave on an early flight to get to her next show. In typical Aspen wintertime fashion, a whiteout storm blew in, canceled all flights and stranded her here, Madigan recalled in a recent phone interview.
But when she got the call to come back and headline the Aspen Laugh Festival, she didn’t hesitate much.
“I was like, ‘Why do they want us to go there in the dead of winter?’” Madigan, who will perform at the Wheeler Opera House on Thursday, said from a tour stop in Florida. “But I understand why. That’s when the most people are there.”
Travel stories are a staple of Madigan’s sets, alongside the popular comic’s riffs on her Irish Catholic and Midwestern family and bits on the news and pop culture.
“I don’t stray off of that subject matter,” Madigan said. “Because those are the things that interest me. So if you’ve seen my specials, it’ll be more of that but new stuff.”
Her most recent special, Netflix’s “Bothering Jesus” from 2016, includes inspired sections on noodling for catfish, her obsession with missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, a trip to Ireland and cheating her Fitbit.
She also mines her six siblings and her parents for material. They don’t mind being made fun of on a national stage.
“They’re fine with it,” Madigan said. “My parents don’t care if I make fun of them.”
It helps, she suggested, that she’s brought her mom and dad along to shows in Las Vegas, introduced her family to celebrities and brought them backstage at “The Tonight Show” (she’s been on 25 times and counting), while also hosting big after-parties following her hometown shows in St. Louis. Her brothers and sisters, she said, also get occasional celebrity treatment from Walmart employees when they find out these Madigans are related to Kathleen Madigan.
“They’ve gotten all the perks,” she said with a laugh. “We’ve all had fun with it.”
“Bothering Jesus” opens with Madigan talking about the protests against racist police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, which is near where she grew up. (“I don’t know how we kept a lid on that s— for 25 years,” she says of racism in the area.) Madigan is not a political comedian and not one to court controversy, but she’s also pretty fearless. In this fraught and divided moment in America, she’s unafraid to weigh in on political and social issues as long as she can keep it funny.
Some comics have said they feel the need to self-censor or stay away from hot-button issues, so as not to alienate audiences. Madigan shrugs off those concerns.
“People say that stuff, but they’re just not doing it right,” she said. “I have my feelings on Trump and Nancy Pelosi and as long as I can make those feelings funny I’m going to say them onstage and I’m not going to worry about it. But also I’m never going to say something onstage that’s just offensive and unfunny.”
Still, Madigan scoffs at the idea that it’s a comedian’s primary job to be edgy.
“The job is to go out and make people laugh,” she said. “Go walk into an open mic night. Does anybody in there say, ‘Hey, your job is to go out and push the envelope?’ ‘Really make people think?’ No.”