The Daily Show's Al Madrigal on What He Really Thinks of Arizona
Al Madrigal isn't just a funny man, he's a hustler. His day-to-day schedule is spent moving from one project to another -- from the East Coast to the West Coast, television, stand-up -- all the while still making time for his number one priority, his family.
In addition to his recent appearances on The Daily Show, the All Things Comedy podcast network founded with Bill Burr, and of course his stand-up, Madrigal has also been busy working on the upcoming NBC series About A Boy.
We spoke with Madrigal over the phone to discuss his comedy, The Daily Show, and what he really thinks about Arizona.
Between the stand-up, podcasts, television, and family, you've got a lot on your plate right now. How do you balance it all? Is this just a regular pace for you? As a stand-up comedian, you start working, and no one's paying attention. And you hustle, you hustle, you hustle. And I had my day job where I was working 70 hours a week and I had a young family and I was doing sketch comedy. Then all of a sudden I have no day job, and I'm working and hustling with this little family. People are paying attention and I feel like it's difficult to turn the hustle part off.
Would say your success happened gradually or overnight? It was very gradual. I caution younger comics in making the same mistake I did. Initially when I got down to L.A. I had one gig and it's hard not to put all your eggs into one basket and not get excited about an opportunity and then after that opportunity goes away you're always left with that feeling of "What do I do now?" So I've always had five things going on. I worked harder than anybody. I worked harder than I ever worked in a day job. So now luckily everything's happening at once and instead of the one thing I have four things, which is great.
What was your day job? I worked in my parents' business taking care of other people's headaches. I was a corporate fixer. I used to fire people.
How did that affect your comedy? Well it put me in a situation where I'm not nervous. I don't get nervous because I've been in so many bad personnel situations that nothing is compared to having some cameras on you or having some people watching you. It's not a big deal when you're having people freak out, run around....
You've never had audience members freak out during stand-up? Oh starting out you're put in front of the most amazing heckler situations ever. I think every comedian has great heckler stories. That should be a podcast, if it's not already, heckler stories.
But I have a bunch. I've recorded so many, I should release a heckler album. That's how many. And yeah some people think they should be part of the show so they yell out. My whole audience in Austin, Texas, got maced. Someone's pepper spray or mace went off in her purse and uncontrollably sprayed the audience.
I've been chased, I've jumped fences, I've had drunk women try to come up on stage....
Do your kids think you're funny? Oh they think I'm hilarious. My son at three and a half years old -- this is a true story and I don't really tell it -- a homeless guy or not necessarily homeless but just some weird guy was walking towards us and he passed us and my son looks up to me and goes "Who's your buddy?" That's a three-and-a-half-year old. And I'm like, "Oh my god, I love you so much."
How did you get started at The Daily Show? I was doing a show at Carolines in New York, a nice comedy club off Broadway. I was working with a comic who was a producer there, and he suggested that I audition to be the Latino correspondent. And I put an audition tape together, and they weren't looking for anybody at the time. And Jon [Stewart] got to see it and called me in for an audition. So I wrote my own piece, put myself on tape, and then he called me out to perform the piece I had written with his producer and then do another piece and then he shook my hand and said, "Welcome to The Daily Show."
And I'm going to guess you weren't nervous... [laughs] I don't know how this is going to sound. I was not! I was the appropriate amount of nervous. I had met a lot of famous people at that point and I knew not to be a complete fanboy dork even though I wanted to. I just tried to be cool. From an audience stand-point, The Daily Show cast seems like a tight-knit group... Absolutely. Wyatt Cenac, Aasif Mandvi, John Oliver, Jason Jones, Samantha Bee -- they were all so cool to me when I started. John Hodgman has become one of my very good friends.
And Jon, the fact that Jon Stewart was a stand-up comedian like myself and he went through all those paces we talked about, I could identity with him quite a bit. And we can trade stories about the horrible gigs we did, trade those great heckler war stories that comedians have. I'm able to talk to him at length about that stuff, same with Oliver.
So they are some of my good friends and have all be extremely helpful. The Daily Show is a weird gig, you're a journalist, you're a stand-up comedian, you're an actor, all in one.
What made you want to do comedy in the first place? I grew up not just a comedy fan but living on the same block of other comedians, growing up in the city [San Francisco]. I was on Fifteenth between Irving and Judah and there was a comedian named Michael Meehan that lived on my block and a comedian named Michael Pritchard who lived on the block . And so I saw them. I saw Michael Meehan on TV, on The Half Hour Comedy Hour and it was like "oh my god, this guy is on TV." Also Larry "Bubble" Brown, I saw him on TV. And I'm a little kid growing up in San Francisco thinking, "Wow. This is a job. This is amazing. They're on television. I know this guy. I watched him grow up. I can do this."
Did your parents support you on this? No! I was the elder son who was supposed to take over the termination business, the job management company. They were basically saying, "What are you thinking? Why would you decline an opportunity to do this?"
To fire people? To run the company. I'm the eldest son so I would take the whole thing over and we had 3,500 employees at one point. So there's a lot of stuff to do. It's pretty complicated but you wear nice suits, drive around in a nice car and I gave all that up to live in a tiny apartment in L.A. and you know, why would you do that?
Did you give yourself a plan or a timeline? No I went all in. If I was going to do it, I really pulled the trigger. And I waited 'til I got cast in a TV show called The Ortegas that paid me to be down there. I had the family and so I couldn't take that much of a risk. I shot that pilot and went back to work the next day and when that pilot got picked up I made the move. And how do you feel about standup now that you've become so busy with all of these other projects? I really enjoy it. I think that comes across when I'm up there. For example, with this gig coming up at Stand Up Live, I am going to be picking on Arizona. I am going to love to investigate and jump back into whats going on there and talk about that. And I have the best story and joke that I have ever written that I am very excited about doing. That's the other thing that I'm so happy about, the new stuff that I'm anxious to get out there.
Yeah, Arizona has already come up a quite a bit in your other work. The Daily Show for example. You've been responsible for three of my favorite pieces! My field piece on the Mexican-American studies ban was easily my most popular. Then I did the super majority piece where Jon let us get really weird with it and I was spinning from place to place. Oh there was my SB 1070 as well. And I had one with Major League Baseball which was dominated by Latino players who were threatening to boycott the All-Star game.
It wouldn't be the first time celebrities or artists have boycotted Arizona... Yeah, and there's a lot of great people that live there [Arizona] and the artists that get behind the boycott are the ones that appeal to people who don't believe in all this stuff in the first place. You're just hurting the tolerant folks that live there. Not everyone's wearing a tucked in polo shirt, driving around in a golf cart with a shotgun.
Right. And the tide is going to turn. There's no doubt about that. When it comes to intolerant laws that are being passed it's all going to eventually change. The younger people that are more tolerant of others and going to win out and all of this will be forgotten.
I went to Mississippi and Alabama as one of the last field pieces I did and it was amazing. There was an applause break for a gay marriage proposal in both Waffle Houses and a little boy, who you didn't see on the air, was able to tell this fake gay couple all of the places where they could get married. A little boy in a Waffle House at four in the afternoon. Did you plan to do comedy that carried a message? Yeah, I mean it's got to be funny first but if there can be some sort of message, that's amazing. That's how the really good ones are doing it I think.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.