When Kathleen Madigan started as a comedian, the path to success was pretty clear.
"If you got on 'The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,' two-thirds of the country, overnight, knew who you were," she says, chatting by phone from her home in Los Angeles -- where, thanks to her nearly nonstop schedule, she expected to spend five days after four weeks on the road.
Not so today, with comedians on Facebook, Twitter, podcasts and other avenues competing for a fragmented audience.
"You cannot get everyone's collective attention," she says. "I think it's more difficult to stand out because the media is so splintered now and there's so much of it. Even only 10 years ago, people weren't really doing YouTube and everything online and there weren't really 900 channels" on television.
For Madigan, that means a lot of work that isn't about standing up and making people laugh.
"Me and Lewis (Black) were joking the other day," she says. "We spend more time promoting ourselves than being ourselves -- and if you're not a narcissist, it's not what I would prefer to do with my day."
But acting out? Saying the heck with it? No, that's not her style; Madigan, at 46, is still a good girl.
"I was a very good Catholic school kid; I was very well behaved," she says. "To this day, I'm totally a rule-follower."
Which is why she's bright and chipper and hard at work even though it's just after 8 a.m. on a Friday at her house. Maybe it's her Midwestern roots showing; Madigan's family still lives in Missouri, which makes a good home base for her on her East Coast tours, she says.
And although she says she loves the nomadic lifestyle of the stand-up comedy beat, it's nice to step back sometimes, too, like when she went to help her sister who had given birth to twins.
"I told her I haven't been in one place for more than a week and a half in more than 23 years," she says. "I stayed in my pajamas for two and a half weeks, and it was awesome."
She finds other ways to relax, too -- hanging out with friends and playing golf with other comedians, especially -- but there's one thing that can't be topped.
"Watching sports is the ultimate escape," she says. "The whole idea of sports to me is to escape everything. I just want to watch a man with a ball smash another man."
Madigan has never been the historically stereotypical "female" comedian; shopping and dating are not the be-all and end-all of her routine. In fact, they don't really appear at all.
"Not by any conscious decision, but really my whole career, the topics have been my family, politics, sports, and then a random chunk of current events or pop culture," she says. "I've never been a relationship comic."
She credits her upbringing for dodging that bullet.
"I think that's the product of (having) four brothers," she says. "My dad didn't treat the girls any different from the boys."
She treats her audiences the same way, because "people are people" no matter where she goes.
"I just do what I'm gonna do, and people are either all in or they're not," she says.
Madigan herself is always all in, no matter the difficulty; her previous visit to the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center came in February 2010, during the week after the back-to-back Snowmageddon storms dropped more than 3 feet of snow across much of York County.
"The last time I was in York, there was about 60 inches of snow, and I'll be very happy to see what the town looks like without giant tunnels of snow," she says.
But whether the weather clears a path or not, Madigan will be a comedian doing what she loves.
"When most of us started, we just went and told jokes, and that's all we wanted to do," she says. "Our goal is stand-up."
-- Reach Mel Barber at 854-1575, ext. 458, email@example.com or @yorkweekend on Twitter.
Going to the show
Kathleen Madigan will perform her stand-up comedy at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York.
Tickets are $31-$39.
For more information, call 846-1111 or visit www.strandcapitol.org.