I had the pleasure of emceeing a comedy show headlined by Kathleen Madigan the other night. I’ve enjoyed her work for some 15 years now, and am always impressed by the amount of material she generates. After the first show Thursday night, I commented to her that, even though I’d seen her perform last year, at least 60% of her stuff that night seemed brand new. She explained that she had to keep writing new stuff or she’d go out of her mind with boredom.
That’s in severe contrast to many comedy veterans, who come up with a semi-solid hour of material and then just pound away at the same set night after night for several years. I suppose at some point they think of themselves the way Yul Brynner must have while doing “The King And I” — just give people what they want, and that’s enough.
When I’m in the audience, that’s not enough. If you want me to keep coming back, you have to give me something more and different than the last time I saw you.
Here’s another example. Several years ago, I went to see Lance Burton at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas. There’s some very impressive magic in that show, particularly the close-up material. A year later, I was back in Vegas, this time with my wife and daughter, who I knew would really like what Lance does, so we went. While the other members of my family enjoyed it because it was all new to them, I was surprised to see that it was, word-for-word, the exact same show I’d seen the previous year.
Fast-forward to two years later. This time, I’m staying at the Monte Carlo with my brother-in-law. We’re gambling enough that the casino offers us tickets to see Lance. My brother-in-law hadn’t seen him, and I was curious to see what he’d added, so we went. Once again it was, to my amazement, the same illusions, the same jokes, the same routines I had now seen three times in 4+ years.
Now, Lance was having no problem packing the crowds in, and it’s not easy devising new material, but I couldn’t imagine why he hadn’t changed it, if just for his own sanity.
That’s why I’m so impressed with Kathleen Madigan. There are other performers who are prolific producers as well (Jake Johannsen comes to mind, Penn & Teller have added three new bits to their show this year, and Brian Regan is another — in fact, Brian is so organized he keeps audio and written records of every bit he’s ever done as a guest on my show, just to be sure he doesn’t repeat something!), but there are too many others who have been coasting for too long.
Those making the effort are showing a commitment not only to the audience, but also to themselves and their craft. I find it refreshing.