When I was asked to write the feature article on Kathleen, I thought, Gosh, how does a father do that without being maudlin or a braggadocio? So I decided to do a Jack Webb and stick strictly with the facts. And actually, the facts are quite impressive. But first, a little history is in order. After Kathleen graduated from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville armed with her degree in journalism, she wound up as an assistant editor for a St. Louis magazine a job she describes as entering a high-rise tomb everyday where her spirit slowly morphed into a zombie. Her heart, however, had always been in the entertainment industry, so she decided she was going to be a singer like Cindy Lauper or Stevie Nicks. But when she opened her mouth to sing, the entire family realized she had no vocal talent at all. So, still clinging to her dream, one night she went to open mike night at the Funny Bone in St. Louis, did ten minutes of standup and the rest is history.
There are three levels of comedy clubs in the U.S.: the A clubs, the B clubs and the C clubs. There is an opening act, a middle act and a headliner at each stage of this progression. It normally takes 10-12 years for a comedian to move from the bottom of the C clubs to headlining in the A clubs, but Kathleen rocketed to the top in just two years. In 2-1⁄2 years she was on The Tonight Show, and she’s been a regular on the show ever since. She has appeared more than 12 times with Jay leno, who has described her as “the funniest female standup in America.” Lewis Black went one step further and called her “the funniest standup in America, bar none.”
The country must have agreed. In 1996 at The American Comedy Awards she was voted the best female standup comedian in America. Add to this… her appearances on The David Letterman Show, Last Comic Standing, her own HBO special and Comedy Central specials and you have only scratched the surface of this multitalented lady. She has appeared in London, Australia, Ireland, Hong Kong and Canada, making a clean sweep of five continents. In December 2008, she toured Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia with her escort, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Admiral was so taken by her that he now emails her for jokes to punch up his speeches.
Add to this the fact that she was a producer for the TV show Root of All Evil and the History Channel’s production of surviving the Holidays and you begin to see the many facets of her personality.
That’s a little of her history, but as Jack Webb would say, it’s time for the interview.
J: Kathleen, what are the big differences in living at the Lake as opposed to Los Angeles?
K: Well, Dad, first of all, my grocery store in LA doesn’t have a live-bait vending machine outside the front door like Paul’s Supermarket, which is so cool. I wish it did though, just so I could see the looks on peoples’ faces. Second, there are absolutely no Amish people shopping in my Wal-Mart store and I really miss that little touch of Americana. And finally, the Lake has more churches than LA and definitely wins the best church name award. I mean, LA has Tom Cruise’s Scientology Temple but you just can’t top the Walk on the Water Church. What an acronym, the WOW church. I mean, how can you beat that?
J: OK, fine, let’s move on. You went to high school here at the School of the Osage. What are some of your high school memories?
K: Well, Dad, I will not bite on that one. If you think I’m going to ’fess up after all these years you are just wrong. So… next question.
J: Oh, come on Kathleen!
K: OK, besides smoking and drinking on the palisades where The Blue Heron is now, I would rank my experience on the school’s track team as being indelibly imprinted on my mind. We were the only high school track team in America that didn’t have a track. I went to the old high school by the Strip, and Highway 54 was our track. We would run up the highway dodging cars until we got to Arrowhead, then lie in the grass and smoke cigarettes and then slowly run back to school. Now that I think of it that could be the reason I never won a race.
J: OK, let’s get serious for a moment and a little more up-to-date. What are your favorite restaurants, bars and golf courses at the Lake?
K: Gosh, I would like to give a shout out to so many, but if I have to narrow it down it’s Domenico’s for Italian and The Blue Heron and Michael’s Steak Chalet for fine dining. I love to sit on the patios of the Heron and Michael’s and soak up the view, especially on fireworks nights. But best of all, Michael and Joe always give me free drinks! As far as bars, Pickled Pete’s is number one, because Jeff Carroll always gives me a big hug and has my picture on the wall. The City Grill deserves a mention because they were so nice during my benefit for the Dogwood Animal Shelter. Plus I love their salads, and they support standup comedy by booking great shows on Wednesday nights. And what could be more fun than watching football at these spots and witnessing all the Rams and Chiefs fans sink into an utter depression?
As far as golf courses, there’s nothing better than a round at Old Kinderhook or Porto Cima. Bob Renkin has always been super nice to me at Kinderhook as well as Peter and Susan Brown at the Lodge despite the fact that I once wrecked a golf cart at the old HK’s restaurant.
J: Really, Kathleen, that’s the first I’ve heard of this incident. Were you a customer when that happened?
K: Well, Dad, you always told me never to snitch on myself, so up until now I never have. No, I was not a customer. It was when I was a waitress at HK’s; in fact I was the first female server at the entire Lodge. One night after work several of us decided to play some dodge’em with the golf carts, and wouldn’t you know it I crashed mine. Young Jim Albers was HK’s room manager at the time and must have covered for me because I still get Christmas cards from the Koplar family and… Oops. Is this like a confession or something? Let’s just roll on to the next question.
J: Ah! We were talking about teenage fun at the Lake.
K: Right. Who can forget Hawaiian Island? I think they call it Atlantis or something now, but when we were kids it was completely empty except for some rumored goats, so we’d pull up our boats and have the entire island to ourselves. I don’t want to sound like some crazy old person, but this was before the giant boats and all the wave runners and it was so much better! We gotta get a grip on the size of the boats on the Lake. What’s next? Aircraft carriers?
J: You just filmed a one-hour TV special. Can you give us details?
K: We filmed it at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City, and it turned out great! I was a little concerned about the audience because New York crowds can be tough, but it went well. I wanted to film it in St. Louis, but it turned out to be too expensive this time. Maybe the next one! There will also be a DVD available after the show is aired that features a trailer with my family doing their routines, and anyone who knows what hams you guys are will probably find that the best part.
J: What do you enjoy the most about being a comedian?
K: Well, in all seriousness, you can’t imagine the joy I get out of making people laugh. To see folks laughing for an hour and knowing they’re putting all their cares and troubles aside for this period of time gives me great pleasure… almost as much pleasure as only having to work one hour a night and getting to do it in an alcohol-rich environment and getting paid for it. Probably my most rewarding experience was the USO tour I did with Admiral Mullen, kid rock, Lewis Black and Kellie Pickler. Those soldiers were so happy to see us it was overwhelming. The neatest part was when we got to Bosnia. The entire base was made up of only two commands: the Irish Army and the Missouri National Guard. Talk about a small world. Bosnia is a dry Muslim country (no alcohol), so the first thing the Irish and Missouri troops asked us was, “Did you bring us any alcohol?”
J: What is the worst thing about your job?
K: That’s easy… the coast-to-coast travel on airlines that no longer offer any amenities. I do a lot of TV and it’s not unusual to do a Joy Behar show (The View) in New York and then a Dr. Phil Show and The Tonight Show in LA two days later. That time in the air is a real drag.
J: Where do you get your material?
K: Real life. All you have to do is just look for the humor in everyday situations. Like, I was in a hotel in Omaha during a tornado warning, and they told us to go in the bathroom and get into the bathtub. Now just think about that—there has to be a routine in that. Or Dad, how about you trying to call an Amish roofer to fix your barn when they don’t have phones… that was a joke just waiting to be born. You simply look at real life and see the absurdities and then talk about them.
K: When I started, I listened to and loved Lewis Black and Ron White. Those two guys are not only funny, but they’re nice guys who I consider my best friends. We all knew each other when we had no money, no TV specials and were just comics in bars telling jokes. It’s been fun to see it unfold.
J: Do you spend any time in St. Louis?
K: I do. I have relatives there and I do Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation Benefit and also perform at the Ameristar Casino, which I looooove, because the shows are fun and I’m addicted to video poker.
J: Do you spend a lot of time at the Lake?
K: Yes. Because if I’m touring in the Midwest, I’d rather just come see you guys and hang at my Lake condo rather than fly all the way back to LA. I’ve had the condo for almost 10 years and it’s a great getaway from LA and New York. I have a lot of time off this summer, so I’ll be there tearing off old wallpaper and cleaning the boat.
J: When people ask you where you’re from, do you mention the Lake?
K: Well, what’s really funny is, I say I’m from Osage Beach, Missouri, and they say, “Oh, I didn’t know Missouri had an ocean and beaches.” Then I say, “Well, it’s private. You have to be invited.”
J: You’ve been interviewed by a lot of people. What do you think of my interviewing skills?
K: Um, well, I think you’re definitely the funniest person who’s ever interviewed me and I believe the only person who’s ever said they’re my Dad.