Talking with Al Madrigal About Standup, Fatherhood, and ‘The Daily Show’
Al Madrigal is making up for lost time and he doesn’t have much time left. Don’t worry, he’s fine. But in his own words, he “started late” and has given himself until the age of 50 to see what he can accomplish with his comedy career. If this year is any indicator, the accomplishments will be great. The former Daily Show correspondent has a new Showtime standup special, Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy, which premiered on Friday. He’s also starring in the upcoming series I’m Dying Up Here, the Jim Carrey-produced look at standup comedy in 1970s Los Angeles. Plus, he’s got big plans for All Things Comedy, the digital content co-op he founded with Bill Burr. I talked to Al about taking on too much work, putting family first, and some shocking gossip regarding cilantro.
You’ve got a lot happening right now, Al.
I decided three years ago that I was going to bust my ass until I was 50 and see what happens. It’s a little overwhelming. Comics make fun of me constantly for how much I’ve taken on. I’ve got three movies I’m working on, two TV shows I’m trying to write, the special, All Things Comedy with Bill Burr. I’m an idiot for taking on so much.
Where does that drive come from? Why do you keep piling things on?
I started doing standup in 1998. I went to Montreal as a New Face in 2002. I started super late, so I think that has something to do with it. I feel like I’m trying to catch up. I always loved comedy. I watched Short Attention Span Theater, Stand-up Stand-up with Wali Collins, all those early Comedy Central shows. I grew up on a block with other comedians. But I worked for my family business. To me it wasn’t even realistic that it would be a career because I had this whole other life mapped out for myself. I could have done very well, but I left this career of running a company that has 3500 employees to do standup. I felt like I had a lot of making up to do. Then I got to LA and was part of a show in 2003 with Cheech as my dad. I was cast from a nationwide search for a Latino comedian. I didn’t even know I was a Latino comedian. I thought I was just a comedian. We shot six episodes of a 12-episode order for Fox. I got cast in this thing that didn’t even air. So now I’m left in LA. I kept getting matched up with people from the show. At the time there were – and there are still very few – zero Latino showrunners. When you talk about diversity in Hollywood, the people creating and running the shows are a lot of the same people. Now that has changed, but still it’s an overwhelmingly white male territory. So that’s part of the equation too. I’ve been writing and developing things ever since.
You said that other comics give you shit for doing so much, but that seems counterproductive. So much of success is about the hustle. You never know what thing you put out there will be the thing that takes off.
Hollywood is full of very talented people and it all comes down to who works the hardest. That’s true for comedians as well. I know a lot of really talented comics who are smoking weed and playing PlayStation all day. Another big factor for me is kids. I have two kids. If you’re single you can go to clubs every night and financially you can say no to things. For me there’s no fucking around.
Yeah, you have dependents.
Right. I wake up at 6:00 or 6:30 every morning and then I’m trying to hit clubs at night as much as I possibly can.
Travel is probably an issue too.
Yeah, I’ve almost completely given up on that. I drew a dollar amount in the sand as far as the price. Club work has gotten difficult because to spend four nights somewhere and be away from the family…I have a 15 year old and an 11 year old. It’s happening so quick and I want to maximize the time I can spend with them.
I was watching the credits for your new special and noticed that you tapped Neal Brennan as director.
We’re close enough that it was a favor I could ask. He’s extremely talented. I know it’s sort of beneath him, but I figured I had better get the best person I possibly can to direct it. I’m so glad I did. We taped two shows. The first one was good, like a B+, but there was some stuff I sort of screwed up and there was a weird response from the crowd. They were so on board that people were giving me applause breaks where I didn’t expect them and so tags were getting dropped. Neal, in between shows, was just so perfect, cool, and calm. He’s a voice that I respect. The second show is the one you see mostly in the special.
There’s something I need to ask you that came up in the special: are Mexicans really shitting in our cilantro?
I was in Eagle Rock in LA. I went to this taco truck and a guy really said that. You know when somebody just hands you a bit? He handed me that bit. I looked at the guy and rushed home to my wife like, “You’re not going to believe what this guy just said to me.” I went onstage that night and it killed right away.
I try to eat reasonably well, but then you hear…
That there’s a fucking kale scare.
Yes! It makes you want to eat more processed food. I think I have less of a chance finding e coli in an eight pack of hotdogs.
I’m really excited for I’m Dying Up Here. There’s so many shows about standup comedy right now, but I feel like this is an era that we don’t get to see much about.
Jim [Carrey] talked about a story when they were in a parking lot one night and he watched Arsenio Hall pull a knife on Freddy Asparagus. In Three Amigos when they go to the bar and sing “My Little Buttercup,” he’s the bartender. He was just this super overweight guy who apparently would steal bits occasionally. The desperation of that time hasn’t been explored as much.
Of all the projects that you’ve been involved in over the years, what are you the most proud of?
There are some Daily Show pieces that I’m extremely proud of. My time at The Daily Show and what I learned from Jon Stewart has got to be up there. It enabled me to tour. I got to go on the road with John Hodgman, which was one of the highlights of my life. That guy’s fantastic to hang out with. But I did a piece about how in Arizona they banned Chicano studies books. These Tea Partiers started infiltrating low-level elections. That was their strategy and it totally worked. They became members of the school board and banned Chicano studies. So I went there afterwards and did this piece on it that got national attention. It’s great because you can be silly, smart, and come from someplace all in the same bit. That’s what I’ve tried to do a lot in my standup ever since. The Daily Show and Jon Stewart had the biggest impact on me without a doubt.
Other than the special is there anything else coming up we should keep an eye out for?
All Things Comedy, the thing I do with Burr, is really taking off. There will be a big announcement, but I’ll tell you all about it. We’re taking on some money. We have some investors and a huge partner. I’m extremely proud. My board of directors is Tom Segura, Bert Kreischer, Ari Shaffir, Dave Anthony, and Bill Burr. The company is completely poised to take off.