Felicia Madison

Comedian Felicia Madison dishes on being a self-made funny woman

Stand-up comedy seems easy—but that’s only because comedians like Felicia Madison make it look that way. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into a comedy career, moreso if you’re someone like Felicia, who did not start out wanting to be on stage. I recently spoke with her about her journey from an Ivy League university to comedy clubs and her commitment to furthering the careers of other comedians as much as her own. Get to know Felicia in our interview, then find out about all her future projects here.

Brittany Frederick: There’s a common misconception that stand-up comedians simply get up on stage and be funny. Can you talk about what it actually takes for you to put a set together?

Felicia Madison: When I did my first set, I did a class and I had to produce a five-minute set for my graduation. It was really easy for me, because it was basically taking 50 years of joke-telling and putting it into a five-minute set. That was the easy part. The problem was afterward, coming up with a new five-minute set every other week. I had a lot to talk about in the beginning: my life, my upbringing, raising kids, getting married. [But] that’s the thing people don’t realize—it’s hard to be funny. People assume that you’re just funny. No, this is material I’ve had to think about and work on.

It’s a grueling career, and to become really good at it you have to work. Comedians will get up every night, three or four times a night, five to seven nights a week. And the most grueling part is that you work to get the special. You get the special, you record the special and then you take all that work that it took you a year to develop and you basically dump it in the garbage. You’ve got to start all over again. Think about any musician; they can play the same songs over again for years. But we’re constantly creating new material, and it takes a long time to get a joke to that place where it’s perfect.

BF: You graduated from Penn, which is one of the best universities in the entire country. How much did that education help you in this career?

FM: I was actually pre-med in college. I had a Biological Basis of Behavior major and a Marketing minor, so it did give me the joke that the only thing I was qualified to do was sell drugs. (laughs) We’ve had Al Franken at our club a lot, and he tells a joke about how someone he was working with in the government was surprised that he was smart because he was a stand-up—which is, of course, very insulting.

Comedians are very smart, intuitive people, and a lot of them came from great schools. [There are] a lot of people with a strong hold on the English language. Because the word selection is so important in comedy; the more concise you can be telling a joke, the better the joke.

BF: You mentioned your comedy club. On top of your own career, you also work as a booker and a producer, so you’re spending a significant amount of time in the business parts of the world. What made you want to try these other avenues in addition to performing?

FM: It happened because I came to [comedy] late in life, and I sort of had to make my own opportunities. People weren’t banging down my door to have the next Amy Schumer’s mother on stage. So I started with lunchtime comedy shows, which really worked well in my community because my friends didn’t want to schlep downtown late at night. They were tired dealing with their kids and their homework, so I brought the comedy to them. I would rent out a room at a restaurant, I brought all the equipment and that’s how I got started producing.

I brought those lunches to a comedy club. That snowballed into me doing a bunch of new talent shows, and then I became the new talent director and then I became the booker. Now I’m basically managing it and running it. It wasn’t really my intention—but I was good at it. I’d come off stage after producing a show and people would walk up to me and be like, you’re so good at producing shows. And I was like I just got off stage, do you not have anything to say [about that]? (laughs) So I realized that it was something that I was talented at and it was something I enjoyed in addition to the stand-up. It’s been a pleasant surprise and a very good bonus to add to my comedy career.

Felicia Madison. (Photo Credit: JJ Ignotz/Courtesy of ICON PR.)

BF: What do you think has made you good at working with other comedians? And do you find yourself learning from these other folks as you’re producing them, since you’re also continuing to develop your career?

FM: I guess it’s just sort of my nuturing nature. People used to call me “Momager.” (laughs) And being that I came in so late in life, I feel like I have a lot of knowledge to offer the younger generation. I like taking them under my wing and I do feel like I have a keen eye for talent. It’s enjoyable for me to find the talent; I can tell that they have a lot of potential, and then working with them and seeing them grow and move on is a lot like parenting.

BF: What are some of the things that you’ve learned as you’ve taken this journey through the comedy world?

FM: One of the reasons why I did this is I never really, as a young person, found what it was that I wanted to do in my life. I feel like young people don’t explore enough. I did a one-woman show that sort of talked about this; I encourage people to try things. If I didn’t take [that] class and my father also took a class that became a lifelong passion of his, we both never would have found it. When kids are in college or when they’re younger, they’re so focused on their career and their grades and the industry they want to be in that they don’t explore enough and I think a lot of people miss their true calling.

BF: What’s one more thing you wish people knew about stand-up comedy that they don’t?

FM: A lot of people talk about women in comedy and how difficult that is. I think that it’s not quite a thing of the past, but it’s certainly gotten a lot better for us. It’s still frustrating when you see lineups with five men and one woman, but there are a predominant number of men in the business. I try to make all my lineups at the club have at least one or two, sometimes three. Sometimes I’ll have an all-female lineup. There are lots of funny women out there and I wish there was even more opportunity for us.

The other thing that I think women are getting better at [is] I get frustrated sometimes when I think women don’t help other women. I remember early on when I would reach out to people; if I reached out to a man he would always find the time to talk to me. Nine times out of ten, the woman—rightfully so because she has a career, has a husband, has a family—was like, I just don’t have time for it. But I think we need to make time to help other women.

For more about Felicia Madison, visit her website. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.

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