"The funniest comic in America, bar none." - Lewis Black
I don't typically include quotes that appear on a DVD's cover in my write-ups. However, in the case of Kathleen Madigan's latest stand-up set I will make an exception. While the praise from Madigan's peers is well deserved (notwithstanding Leno's backhanded compliment), I find the selection of voices most intriguing. Lewis Black has performed on USO tours with Madigan and watched her draw laughs from tense audiences in charged environments. Ron White and Madigan are friends and have performed at benefits together. These two comics also provide the best benchmarks to pin down Madigan's style. Black's literate displays of sputtering rage are at odds with White's relaxed and wry observational humor. For those who have never seen Madigan perform, her style of delivery is closer to White's easygoing ways (minus the booziness) with a bit of Black's lucidity mixed in (minus the white-hot anger).
This is all to say that I find Madigan pretty darn funny and would gladly watch her over the vast majority of comics (male or female) performing today. Having made my appreciation for her quite clear, I believe her set on Gone Madigan isn't close to being her best work and functions as a pleasant diversion at best. It's a telling sign that when I watched it for the first time I chuckled but hardly ever roared with laughter. Considering I'm a pretty easy mark (a well-executed Knock Knock joke can have me in stitches), this was the first troubling sign. Then as I looked over my scribbled notes on her set, I realized I couldn't remember why many of the bits had been funny in the first place. I had to watch the entire hour-long show again just to remind myself of the punchlines. This second viewing also confirmed my sneaking suspicion: Madigan had not brought her 'A' game.
The set starts off well enough as Madigan discusses the particulars of her USO tour with Black, Kid Rock and Kellie Pickler. This bit sees Madigan easing into her material with a few easy jabs at Kid Rock and Pickler before drawing some sharp comparisons between Afghanistan and Detroit. From there she dips her toes in politics by way of Hillary Clinton's role in the current administration. After a few stops at Mormonism and illegal immigration, Madigan arrives at the first bit that really got me going. She paints Oprah ('Chubby Chubbstein') as a fascist employer who just can't get over herself. Oprah's an easy target but Madigan's take on her is refreshingly different. The claws are out and blood is drawn. After an admission of TiVo addiction and an extended bit about her family's (especially her dad's) foibles, she closes the set with a blunt look at her array of vices including drinking, smoking and gambling.
While I haven't exhaustively detailed every topic Madigan touches on (where's the fun in that?), something should be apparent by now. She isn't really challenging herself with this material. While not on the level of 'What's the deal with airline food?' plenty of comics have been through the terrain that Madigan guides us through. This wouldn't be a problem if her take on the subjects was radically different but it's not. I would never use the word 'lazy' to describe her set (comedy is hard work) but so much of it feels ordinary and well-worn. This is contrasted by the fact that some of her biggest laughs come courtesy of her family. I know plenty of comics talk about family but they're not talking about Madigan's family. She comes from a genuinely funny clan and her bits about them are filled with warmth and biting wit. She is proof that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree...especially on the funny farm.