Preceding Kathleen Madigan's arrival on the stage at the beginning of her special Bothering Jesus, audience members and viewers at home realize the song playing over the loudspeakers is no incidental pre-show track. "Kathleeeeen Maaadigan," a singer croons. "She's coming out soon. She's put some pants on." Aside from the funny lyrics, the song is notable, at least for Canadian viewers, for the familiarity of the voice. "Oh I know her!" one thinks, watching at home. "Her voice is so familiar. Who is that?" Opening credits soon reveal the original music for the special was created by Jann Arden. Both performers are familiar without perhaps being instantly recognizable, both have performed across their respective countries of origin (Arden is Canadian, Madigan American) for decades, both are funny, both are pros.
Kathleen Madigan may not have the name recognition of her contemporaries but, as she proves here, she is total command of her craft, displaying a comfort and apparent ease onstage that could only come from 25 years of plugging away. Her conversational delivery is loose and chatty; she's like the funniest guest at a party. She opens by telling us that she's from Ferguson, MO ("Yes, that one") and concludes that we may need to have another Civil War to fix all the problems there. Rather than an incendiary political statement, this sounds charmingly tossed off and feather-light.
She riffs through a variety of topics (getting a FitBit, installing a car seat, and the dubious fishing practice of "noodling") with the same casual laissez-faire that is almost more appealing than the jokes themselves. She brandishes her bottle of water like a beer, going through her material with a "can you believe this shit?" delivery that would come off in lesser comics like an affectation.
As in her previous specials, Madigan's strongest material comes from her large Irish Catholic family. Her aging parents visit a retirement community that she likens to a compound from which she plans a daring escape. Her sister accuses Kathleen of "ruining Christmas" after she showed up 20 minutes late. Madigan counters that her sister throws "ruining Christmas" around too liberally; that the label might be more appropriate had she shown up with a rifle on Christmas morning and shot her parents in the face ("because then, yeah alright, I ruined Christmas").
Madigan's missteps are few. A bit about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight complete with a broad Southeast Asian accent borders on insensitive and runs out of steam. Occasionally, Madigan's laughs at her own jokes can feel indulgent, but that is truly rare. Her confidence is well earned and deserved.
Kathleen Madigan's casual demeanour onstage belies the strength and structure of her act. To watch her is to witness a performer in total command of her craft. Bothering Jesus is the latest in a catalogue of specials that span nearly 20 years, and based on her performance therein, Kathleen Madigan is just getting started.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.