Katie Hannigan ’08 just got the kind of break that can catapult a standup comic’s career: She performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Her segment—which was recorded June 15 at the Ed Sullivan Theatre and aired on August 2—”went really, really well,” she said by phone from her home in New York. “It was such a great experience for me.”
Hannigan, who describes herself on Twitter as “just another wholesome Midwestern girl with demons” and in her act as someone who “looks like she owns a muffin shop,” said a booking agent for the show caught her act in March and invited her to do the show. She was the first of seven comics who recorded their sets on that day in June, in front of an audience that was specifically in the theater to see comedy, as opposed to celebrities and musical acts.
The idea behind that is to make sure the comics get the best possible reception.
“It definitely is a huge career milestone for me,” she said. “This is something I’ve been working toward for years and years and years.”
Eight years, specifically. But at least 14 years, if you go back to her first year at Butler.
After graduating from Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, where she was fascinated by experimental theater, Hannigan came to Butler as a Theatre major and immediately found herself cast in Top Girls, a play by unconventional writer Caryl Churchill. Everyone in the cast was older, and “I felt quite distinguished and honored to be able to do that show.”
In that production, she worked with director Constance Macy for the first time. They teamed up again two years later on The Underpants, and she credits Macy, an Indianapolis actress and director who works frequently with Butler Theatre, with helping her develop a critical eye for comedic timing.
Theatre Department Chair Diane Timmerman remembers Hannigan as “talented, intelligent, and curious. Her primary focus was acting and she was and is a gifted actress. She was always an extremely funny person with a terrific sense of humor. But while she was a Theatre Major, she was known primarily for her acting abilities.”
At Butler, Hannigan also worked at the Holcomb Observatory for 2½ years, which “helped me develop my interests outside of performing, which is so important to be able to draw on.” (She’s now hosting a podcast called Apodcalypse about ends-of-days scenarios in pop culture and religious legend.)
Hannigan moved to New York a week after graduation. She moved in with her former Butler roommate Leah Nanako Winkler—who has also gone on to great success as this year’s winner of the prestigious Yale Drama Series Prize—and they worked together in experimental theater.
“I felt that if I went to New York,” she said, “I would find exactly what I was interested in focusing on for a long period of time.”
But that took some time. Two years later, Hannigan started in comedy. She spent four years going to open-mic nights five to 10 times a week to hone her act. A couple of years in, she also took a job at a comedy club so she could get more stage time, and she began to hit the road to work at clubs and comedy festivals around the country. She also started posting jokes regularly on Twitter—and still does @katiehannigan.
She had other gigs too, including preschool teacher (“the kids were teaching me … that I hate kids,” she says in her act) and New York City tour guide. She developed such an extensive knowledge of New York City that she’s appeared in episodes of The Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum as an expert.
And even as her comedy schedule filled, she continued to act. This month, she shot two TV pilots, including one about city yuppies who decide they’re going to live off the land but find they’re woefully unprepared.
Hannigan said if she could choose, she would act all day and do standup at night. “I am someone who has the ability to write comedically. I also have the ability to perform and act. I have a skillset I would like to use fully in a number of different contexts.”
In the near term, she appreciates that standup comedy is the skill that’s bringing her the most attention.
“The weekend after I performed (for Colbert), it was quite a shock to my system to have accomplished that kind of goal,” she said. “I was feeling kind of overwhelmed as far as what do I do next. The Late Show something that will help my career as a comedian, but I do have some big things ahead that I’m looking forward to.”
Marc Allan MFA ’18