From The Daily Show to his new Internet startup, Al Madrigal leaves his audiences laughing
Al Madrigal ’89 has found success over the years as a standup comic, a sitcom actor and a regular on the Farmers Insurance commercials. He even has his own parenting podcast called Minivan Men “for regular people with children.”
Nothing quite comes close to his latest job as a correspondent with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he reports on a mix of bizarre and important stories. He also covered the Democratic and Republican National Conventions last year and discovered just how familiar a face he has thanks to The Daily Show exposure.
Before joining Stewart’s correspondent roster, he had recurring roles in TV shows such as Free Agents, Gary Unmarried and Welcome to the Captain, and he has appeared on other shows, such as Pretend Time with Nick Swardson and Wizards of Waverly Place. In 2004, at the HBO/U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, he won Best Standup Comedian honors, and Comedy Central featured him in a half-hour special. He has performed his standup routine on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show, Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and Lopez Tonight. He also has an hour special for Comedy Central called Why Is The Rabbit Crying? set to premiere April 26. NBC recently announced that Madrigal was cast in the single-camera pilot About a Boy, directed by Jon Favreau, which also stars David Walton and Minnie Driver.
Shortly before he performed at Cobb’s Comedy Club last November, he spoke with Genesis editor (and his former English teacher) Paul Totah ’75 about his career to date.
PT: Al, how did you move from a part-time contributor to a full-time correspondent with The Daily Show?
AM: I began in May 2011 as a part-time contributor and as the senior Latino correspondent. The producers would call me whenever they needed me. I also had a full-time job on Free Agents with Hank Azaria. Then I got the news that the Hank Azaria show was cancelled. That same day, I got a call that The Daily Show wanted to hire me full time. In January 2012, I moved to New York, where I stay with my classmate Ben Kalin ’89 and his family in Brooklyn. I fly to LA almost every weekend to be with my wife, Krystyn, and our two children [Lorenzo, 10, and Luisa, 7] in Los Angeles. Not the best commute.
PT: As a Palestinian-American, I was impressed by the segment you did reporting from “the West Bank” after Gov. Romney insulted all Palestinians living under occupation as not being as entrepreneurial as their Jewish neighbors.
AM: These shows have an incredible impact. I did a piece in Tucson about how Tea Party members infiltrated low-level politics in Arizona. They became members of school boards and banned Mexican American studies in the state. I did a piece that shed a light on this and exposed one of the board members who didn’t know what he was talking about. I went back to Arizona and had Mexican American kids, with tears in their eyes, tell me how much this meant to them. This was the second piece I had done for the show, and it taught me about the impact it can have.
PT: Do you feel more like a comedian or a reporter when you are doing a piece for The Daily Show?
AM: Jon and the others on the show know that we are comedians doing a comedy show on The Comedy Network. However, the people I met at the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention told me how important our work is. The work that Jon does every morning is just incredible. He really does try to expose the truth, whether it's a blunder on the Democratic or Republican side. He’s all about calling out the BS wherever he finds it. That’s a unique job to have. So as a correspondent, I’m not an actor, not a standup comic and not a reporter, though I’m a little of all three. There’s nothing else like it, and I find it incredibly satisfying to have so many people appreciate my work.
PT: I was so pleased to see you on stage at the Emmys when The Daily Show won.
AM: In years past, only the producers went up. This time, he asked everyone, from the accountants to the cameramen, to join him on stage. Jon didn’t have to let us up there, and he never expects to win. I had always dreamt of being up there. I’d like to be the one giving the acceptance speech some day. It was a career highlight looking out and seeing everyone from the shows I watch and love looking right back at me.
PT: Describe the experience of covering the two national conventions, especially the Republican National Convention, given your show’s liberal bent.
AM: John Boehner’s warehouse party was hilarious. I never saw people partying harder. At the Republican Convention, my producers told me that no one would know who we were because they didn't watch the show. That was far from the case. Many who attended the RNC were huge fans. But to compare the two, the enthusiasm at the Democratic Convention was just unmatched. Maybe it was the Tampa swamp heat that sucked the energy out of people. We were all exhausted by the time Clinton took the stage. The Daily Show moves its entire office to both conventions, and we have to do smash pieces. I’ll typically work on a segment for three to four weeks before it airs. At both conventions, we had 9 hours to get a piece ready for air. Some of us never left the studio and slept on couches. It's exhausting. As the last couple days approach, you just can't wait for it all to end.
PT: What is it like working with Jon Stewart?
AM: Man, he is the hardest working guy I’ve ever seen. He went from the conventions to a televised debate with Bill O’Reilly to The Night of Too Many Stars, all while doing a nightly show. He gives everything to all that he does, and he’s someone I can look to for motivation. He sets the bar high with his tremendous work ethic.
PT: How was your Nov. 21 show at Cobbs?
AM: One month ago, I performed for an hour for a show that will air on Comedy Central some time this year. For that show, I was as prepared as I could be. For the Cobb’s show, I felt a little rusty. I’m excited for the hour special to come out, and I’m ready to write a new hour’s worth of material as soon as possible. For the show that will air, I tried to stick to my lines, but I also like being loose, going off track and messing with people in the audience. I had a chance to do more of that at Cobb’s.
PT: What are your favorite subjects for your standup routines?
AM: I like long stories with different tangents and more complicated storytelling. I use the “Latino-fish-out-of-water” persona. The irony is that I didn’t even know I was a Mexican comedian until I moved to LA. [Editor’s note: Al is half Mexican-American and half Italian-American.] Suddenly, I’m put on a show with other Latino comics. In San Francisco, I operated in a bubble. At NDV and at SI, I had such a good mix of friends that I didn’t even know black kids were anything other than friends. I had no idea growing up that there were black kids and Mexican kids. San Francisco standup is the same way. We didn’t divide comics the way they do in LA with ethnically-themed shows.
PT: Ironically, you’ve made your name as a Latino comic. I’ve seen you several times on shows hosted by Cheech Marin.
AM: Working with Cheech has been easily one of the coolest experiences of my career. We have a great time working with each other, and we've remained friends. Cheech is another guy who models a great work ethic, has been extremely successful and remains incredibly cool to all those he encounters. He’s equally nice to everyone from bus boys to second assistant directors.
PT: What was it like doing your first standup routine in San Francisco?
AM: John Glugowski ’89 was there to witness me eating it at an open-mic night at the Luggage Store on Sixth and Market in 1998. I went up impersonating a classmate of mine who never used plurals when he spoke. Next week I went back as myself. I wrote jokes and did better. From that point on, the San Francisco comedy community embraced me. I went out almost every single night and lived between Cobbs and The Punch Line. I learned what to do by watching successful guys.
PT: Have the Farmers Insurance commercials helped or hurt your career?
AM: I've never liked going out for commercials. For some reason those particular casting directors can be so nasty. Then I got a call from Fred Savage of The Wonder Year's fame. He’s an accomplished comedy director now and directed me in a pilot. He suggested me to be in the batch of Farmers commercials that he was directing. We shot six of those commercials in six days. I also did a commercial in the series, directed by Roman Coppola, that one was a tie-in to The Avengers movie. Working in commercials is a great gig if you can get it.
PT: As busy as you are, you are also doing the Minivan Men podcasts with Chris Spencer and Maz Jobrani.
AM: It’s a podcast with myself and two other comedians with kids talking about parenting lessons with a little nonsense thrown in, so you don’t have to be a parent to listen to it. We publish our episodes on the All Things Comedy Network, which I started last October with fellow comic Bill Burr to host all sorts of comedians and shows. It has already taken off and has earned a lot of interest from sponsors. The old model is that many people make money when a comedian puts out a comedy album or appears on TV. All Things Comedy is a co-op so that we don’t have to pay any middlemen. I don’t need a record company to record, promote or sell an album. We can do that ourselves and go directly to fans. Comedians on the site have released hour specials, comedy albums and videos and own 100 percent of the content, giving comedians a chance to own copyrights. We can promote ourselves through Twitter and Facebook and sell directly to fans. Comics have threatened to unionize, as no group protects us in any way. This is the first start at something similar to United Artists.
PT: Of all the sitcoms you’ve done, which is your favorite?
AM: I really enjoyed Welcome to the Captain with Jeffrey Tambor and Raquel Welch. John Hamburg, who directed Along Came Polly and who wrote Meet the Parents, created and directed that show. That came out at the worst possible time, during the writer’s strike, and just went away after seven episodes. But I couldn’t ask for a first-hand learning experience from anyone better than Jeffrey Tambor.
PT: Were there any shows you regretted doing?
AM: Being an actor, it’s feast or famine. Early in your career, you just can’t be choosy. I need to work as much as I can, especially with a wife, two kids and a mortgage. If someone asks me to be on a show with a talking dog, I’ll take the gig.
PT: What classmates are you still in touch with?
AM: I hang out as often as I can with my SI classmates Ben Kalin, Jean Claude Calegari, John Christen, Jeff Elliot, John Glugoski and Julian Ware. I see Julian at 49ers games all the time. I saw Larry Krueger ’88 when I was on KNBR and Tony Rhein ’91. Axel Alonso ’82, the editor-in-chief of Marvel comics, has become one of my good friends after we did a show together on the Nerdist podcast network called “Comic Book Live.
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