As our desk calendar grows leaner than the North Koreans who didn’t cry at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, a lot of us are looking back at 2011 with a sense of attainment. Throw Al Madrigal into that pile. When most of us go back to work next week, he’ll be on his way to New York City to dive deeper into his role as “Senior Latino Correspondent” on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
“The gig is just so good that as a comic you’re looking for a thing that can help sell more seats and this is definitely it,” said Madrigal.
The exposure is the result of Madrigal winning awards such as “Best Stand-up Comedian” at The HBO Comedy Festival in Aspen and having his own Comedy Central Presents special. He’s also entertained the late night masses for guys named Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson.
On The Daily Show, Madrigal is tasked with blending his Latino infused storytelling style with a satirical take on our nation’s screwed up politics.
A Career Begins
Being himself is what’s gotten Al this far. After having a late start in comedy (he regrets not popping his stand-up cherry till he was 28), Madrigal caught big breaks just a few years into his career. It was on the late night scene where he was welcomed to Hollywood with one of his more brutal moments.
“I did Jimmy Kimmel and the executive producer looked at me and said, ‘Get off at four and a half minutes. If you’re not done we’ll cut the mic,’” Al remembers. “It was horrible I was so freaked out. They were doing an Easter episode and for some reason they penned in ducks and baby chicks and rabbits all at my feet and they were darting in front of me as I was doing my set. I was freaking out.”
Stand-up is what Al enjoys most, but with success comes a chance to get away from the club and closer to the set. Beyond The Daily Show, Al has landed roles in sit-coms like Free Agents with Hank Azaria, Gary Unmarried with Jay Mohr and Welcome to the Captain with Jeffrey Tambor. Early on, it wasn’t easy.
“With acting, one of the first gigs I got I was working with Cheech [Marin], from Cheech and Chong,” Madrigal recalled. “Another gig I’m working with Raquel Welch and Jeffrey Tambor. Jeffrey Tambor is a comedic genius and here I am some stupid comic who sort of found themselves in this situation. That’s the mentality you have until you start (believing) that you really are a decent actor.”
Not Dropping the “C-Bomb”
Now that he’s made the transition, Al is realizing what comes with a bigger profile. Sometimes it means dialing back some of the humor that’s gotten him this far.
“The only thing about more TV work is that I’ll probably have to do a better job of self-censoring myself because I say some pretty horrible things onstage,” says Madrigal. “That sucks, but it really is the truth. Now you got things like tweeting and you get busted for saying stuff I would have said freely in the past. I have kids now, well I’ve had kids for a while, but kids that are of age where I probably shouldn’t be dropping a c-bomb ten times. I should watch myself.”
If you want your Al Madrigal a little more Four Loko and a little less sangria, look no further than 2008’s Half Breed. Madrigal’s first CD is honest, cutting material that goes to the heart of the man he was at the time. From his childhood, to raising his own children and all the craziness that’s happened in between. Especially his experience as a biracial guy living on the West Coast.
“I’m Mexican and fully raised in San Francisco,” Madrigal explains. “I’m always talking about stuff that I’m going through and stories I truly experienced. There’s very little fiction in anything. I embellish here and there, but I was always pretty good at being honest on stage about who I am. Through all the Latino stuff, my entire life I’ve felt very awkward in Mexican situations that I was in quite a bit.”
Madrigal also has a “newish” album Cholos on a Moped available on his website. It includes a bit on hiring a day laborer that has just enough awkward race awareness to go with an underlying shared humanity that makes it some of the best seven minutes of comedy you’ll hear anywhere.
Fatherhood and Family
The move to New York will be admittedly tough on Al. Rather than uproot his family, he’ll be commuting back and forth when he can. (A good 12 hours round trip each weekend). But staring at his biggest break yet as a Daily Show regular, Al is confident he can make it work.
“I have a place in Brooklyn I’m sharing with a good friend of mine. As far as if am I ready to leave the family and everything, no,” Madrigal warns. “It’s something I’m still trying to figure out. I got some iPads so hopefully they remember to stay in touch. So I’ll just try to commute back and forth as much as I possibly can.”
Family life fits naturally into Al’s material from his years growing up to raising two kids today. When he’s not telling jokes or acting, he’s podcasting. Minivan Men has been going strong as a weekly podcast available on iTunes since June. Along with comedians Maz Jobrani and Chris Spencer, the three talk (cleanly) about balancing their life at home.
“You can’t help it. I just talk about stuff that I’m going through,” says Madrigal. “You talk about stuff that you’re experiencing. Fatherhood is such a major responsibility, you can’t help but talk about. But yeah, a lot of bits in my stories involve kids. You can’t help it. At the same time I don’t want to make it my whole act.”
In the Works
There’s more on the way from Madrigal. He’s graced the podcasts of other comedians ranging from Doug Benson to Joe Rogan. Now he’s working on a new project with Bill Burr, whose Monday Morning Podcast has a strong following of its own. During New Year’s weekend, mega-podcaster Chris Hardwick will join Al and Brendon Walsh at Helium Comedy Club in Portland to ring in 2012. Walsh and a few others are on Al’s list of comics everyone should know about. (Follow Helium on Twitter @HeliumComedyPDX, and check out their Facebook page.)
“Well if people aren’t aware of Brendon, Brendon is very funny. Another good friend of mine is Rory Scovel who was one of the funniest guys out there. Pete Holmes is hilarious. Those are the comics I like a lot. Chelsea Peretti is very funny. People love Chelsea. I think she’s one of the funniest comics working. She’s a writer for Parks and Recreation.”
When Al pops a bottle Saturday at midnight, The Daily Show will be his proudest achievement and one that will hopefully carry him to new heights in the year ahead.
“It’s definitely one of the greatest things to ever happen to me career-wise so I can’t wait to get better. Sometimes you luck out and you get in a situation where they hire you because they’re aware of the fact that you’re funny and they let you go a little bit. That’s always the best case scenario.”
About the Author: Ben Lacy has worked up and down the west coast as a tv news producer over the past decade. His favorite funny people include David Cross, Will Ferrell and Hannibal Buress. 2012 will mark the 20th anniversary of him getting a single base hit during the entire season for the North City Expos little league team. He's on twitter @misterlacy