"Look, there's always going to be assholes everywhere we go, whether we're standing in line for a sandwich at Tim Horton's or on an airplane. There's always going to be dickheads. We're surrounded by assholes all the time."
– Al Madrigal
Guy MacPherson: How are you?
Al Madrigal: I'm doing alright.
GM: Working around the house?
AM: Just a little routine of gym and then writing my ass off.
GM: Writing for standup or for TV?
AM: Both. I sold a movie, I sold two TV shows, and I'm writing for standup. So I will never stop writing.
GM: What the hell?!
AM: I know.
GM: Are you going to be in the movie?
AM: Yes, of course, I'm writing myself a part. You gotta write yourself a part.
GM: Just a part or the starring part?
AM: No, no, just a part. I would just cast myself. The perfect thing to cast myself for.
GM: Are the TV shows sitcoms or reality?
AM: A couple different things. The ink is not dry but they're Comedy Central shows.
GM: You're a busy guy.
AM: Yeah, trying to be.
GM: I saw you here in Vancouver in 2006.
AM: That was a long time ago. Was that the Cheech show?
GM: Yes, the Cheech Marin show at River Rock Casino.
AM: Where it was more Friends than Cheech?
GM: Yeah, well, he doesn't have much of an act on his own.
AM: He's an awesome, awesome guy. And the opportunity to even see him sing some of those songs? I mean, I'm a huge Cheech fan. I certainly would have paid the money.
GM: You were a pretty young comic at the time. How long had you been in it at that point?
AM: At that point, just professionally I was in it three years. And then I was a part-timer. Everybody had a day job. I started in late '98. So technically had been in it for eight years but making a living and professionally for three.
GM: He wanted to highlight some top young comics, which was big of him.
AM: Yeah, he's a cool guy.
GM: It was a Latino comic show.
AM: Yeah, it was Marilyn Martinez, Joey Medina, and I'm not sure who else.
GM: And you're only half-Latino.
AM: Even though I'm a half, I'm accepted by some Latinos; not others.
GM: Is there a Latino comedy circuit?
AM: Yeah, I guess so. Everybody falls into a category whether they like it or not and I'm a little bit more difficult to peg down. And that's sort of what I talk about. I did this documentary for Univision and ABC. They have this network called Fusion and that'll answer all your Latino questions. But the thing I learned is that everyone's been trying to out-Chicano each other and out-Latino each other since the beginning of time. Same thing with Canadians. People are trying to identify as the most native Vancouverite. You know how people are always saying, 'Oh, my parents were here well before you and these tourists, these transplants...' Everyone wants to be the first. So that is true with Latinos and is true with African-Americans, it's probably true with Native Americans. Everyone's trying to be the more authentic thing. But what it really comes down to, everyone really defines themselves by region and everyone is trying to establish themselves as the most authentic and established. It's not something that's unique to Latinos.
GM: Everyone wants to be part of a group.
AM: And the most senior person of that group; it's not an authentic person of that group. And with comedians, they fit everybody in. Hollywood does this – you match up into a category.
GM: I guess it also depends on one's material as a standup. If you write heavily to one group, then you might fit into that group more.
AM: Yeah, yeah. I don't typically do that. I always talk about my experience so it's unique. I never really want it to sound like any other comics. So I tell stories that are real and I talk about myself quite a bit. That's what I've always done. I'm a dad, I'm a lot of things. I wear many hats: father, husband, son, half-Mexican.
GM: I just saw your documentary yesterday.
AM: Oh, did you? How did you like it?
GM: I liked it.
AM: It was not the greatest thing I've done, but certainly not the worst.
GM: Do you know the Latino population of Vancouver?
AM: No, I don't. Is there one?
GM: I looked it up. It's 1.6 percent of the population.
AM: There you go. It's something.
AM: I wonder what the rest of it is.
GM: The biggest group is Chinese. They're in the 20-percent range.
AM: Yes, the Asian population.
GM: They separate them into groups: Chinese, Japanese, Korean.
AM: Obviously, yeah, yeah. I'm married to a half-Korean so I'm not making that mistake.
GM: The Latino population here is bigger than the black population. There's one percent black here.
AM: Oh, weird. But I'm excited to eat. I've already been given some restaurant names.
GM: Is that what brings comics here? I just spoke to Bobby Slayton the other day and he's looking forward to eating here as well.
AM: Oh, that's funny. Well, it's a great city. I really only try to go to cities that I'm going to enjoy. The marching orders for the touring agent are that I really only want to go to major cities.
GM: Have you been here any other time than 2006?
AM: I went there for a vacation once. I had a young child that I took to the aquarium. That was amazing. I went there just to visit, as a tourist, which says a lot because I don't do that with many cities considering I travel so much. I think I've been three or four times.
GM: How old are your kids now?
AM: Twelve and nine.
GM: Do they still run into your bed?
AM: My wife fights it. Actually, I gotta tell you we just moved into a new house and it happens occasionally when they don't feel too well when we first initially moved here. But we haven't had it happen in a while. I think those days are over. They still love to climb into our bed and watch TV and hang out, but no one's running into bed too much any more. It's starting to really taper off.
GM: You only go to cities you like so this isn't any kind of tour?
AM: I'm off from shooting. I was on this sitcom and it was impossible to travel then. I would try to go out during hiatus weeks. We had about three or four of those. But I like going out and doing standup. I enjoy it so I'll always do it.
GM: Are you playing more clubs or theatres?
AM: It's a lot of clubs. I do a lot of corporate gigs and I do a lot of clubs. So it's a good mix of that. Occasionally when you do the corporate stuff, you'll find yourself in a theatre space but for the most part I prefer a small underground venue. That's ideal for me. Intimate, well-behaved crowd, I love it.
GM: You'll love the Comedy MIX then.
AM: Great. Is it underground?
GM: It is.
AM: Oh my God! How many seats?
GM: I would say about 200. I'm not sure.
AM: It's my ideal type of venue. I hope people realize how lucky they have it. They all name ones that are around the United States. I know that I performed at this Comedy underground in Toronto that was this same sort of thing but it was maybe smaller. But these are all great clubs: The club I started in was Cobb's Comedy Club. It was underground. It was like 220 seats underground in the Cannery in San Francisco; the Comedy Works in Denver is underground. That's a great club; The DC Improv is a fantastic club. Anything where you have to walk downstairs. The Comedy Cellar, the Stand in New York. These are the great clubs in the United States. Acme in Minneapolis. Those are the ones.
GM: Is it just coincidence? Why is the act of walking down stairs important?
AM: The acoustics really help. I like a low ceiling. I like everybody sort of packed in to a small room. That's the best. If I shoot another special, it will be in a small, underground room. I'm not sure which one yet. Maybe the Comedy MIX.
GM: Most people know you from The Daily Show. Was that a freelance thing? You weren't there all the time.
AM: I was there full time for two-and-a-half years but I commuted back and forth. Because the kids were older, I let my son decide. We just had gotten him into a new school and he just solidified some friendships. So I looked at my son and I said, 'Hey man, daddy's got an opportunity.' My wife is cool like that. She would have picked up and moved in a second. And if the kids were super young and didn't have any attachments, under five or seven years old, we would have gone in a second. But here I am with this nine-year-old boy who's entrenched in friendships, just made new friends. I probably could have pulled him out. You think back, I probably could have done it. But I figured I was going to give him the opportunity to decide so I said, 'Hey man, this is a good opportunity for daddy.' I was on a show with Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn called Free Agents that got cancelled. We shot eight episodes; it got cancelled after airing four or five. So The Daily Show called. I was part-time when I started, a contributor. And then Daily Show called and said we want to offer you the full-time gig. So that required me to be there Monday through Thursday.
GM: And you'd fly home every weekend?
AM: Yeah. So I would commute back and forth almost every other weekend. But back to the story, I told my son it was a good opportunity. He didn't understand opportunity and I said this is going to be good money for daddy. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and he goes, 'I don't care about the money; I just want you to be around all the time.' And then I said, 'I'll buy you an iPad 2.' And he said, 'Alright. Watch out for the hobos, don't take the subway at night.' And they sent me on my way. So I commuted back and forth for two and a half years. Then I got the About a Boy gig and mentioned it to Jon. We have kids the exact same age. I said being away from my family is killing me. And he, obviously considering his most recent announcement, totally got that and said, 'Go for it.' Network TV pays a ridiculous amount of money so nobody was arguing with me. So that happened and I got to come back home and they put me back on part time. So I'm seldomly on the show. I'm actually going back for a couple weeks before he leaves. But I got to do one of my favourite pieces, the Latino free computers Danny Trejo piece. It's easily one of my favourites that I've ever done.
AM: They were begging Jon to make it a two-parter because we had so much material it was ridiculous. So we just used the best of. But that was a 4- or 5-minute piece that could have been 12 minutes long. When you get Danny Trejo to be in anything, it's going to make it better.
GM: Is that the one where you were going up to people in the street and really playing up being Mexican?
AM: Yeah, going undercover, that's what it was.
GM: It looked like somebody might have popped you one if the camera wasn't there. Do you ever feel threatened like that?
AM: I've been in trouble before. I've had people threaten me. I used to fire people for a living, and as a standup comedian, we're no strangers to being threatened. So it's no big deal.
GM: What was your job when you fired people?
AM: I used to work for my parents' family business. If you saw Up in the Air with George Clooney, I used to do that. So we managed other people's problems and so when someone needed to go, I was the guy that told them.
GM: Did you enjoy that?
AM: No. I wish I never did it at all. And I think the employers wished they never did it. Everybody wants to make the perfect hire but I didn't ask somebody to steal toner. I didn't enjoy telling people because I had to find new people. No, I never enjoyed it. It was just more work. Every employer wants everyone to work out. No one wants to fire anyone. If you had an assistant, you want them to show up on time, you want things to go well, you hope you make the right hire. But when they start stealing from you and showing up late and doing any number of things that get people fired, you gotta make tough choices. And it's a business choice. It's not enjoying anything. It's just the worst because your company's being fucked up.
GM: You must have good diplomatic skills.
AM: Yeah, yeah. You say very matter-of-fact truths a hundred percent of the time. Even with the heckler in the audience or any sort of person that's being disruptive to any sort of situation. Just be very clear and concise: This is what's happening; this is why you're fucking up; and this is why people don't like you.
GM: Do you find you get fewer hecklers now that you have more of a national presence?
AM: Yeah, things started to really switch for me... Look, there's always going to be assholes everywhere we go, whether we're standing in line for a sandwich at Tim Horton's or on an airplane. There's always going to be dickheads. We're surrounded by assholes all the time. Hopefully you encounter them less. If no one's bothering me, I rarely get involved, unless you see someone being bullied or something like that. But I found that with standup, it switched for me when I started judging the audience and didn't allow them to judge me, if that makes any sense. So I know I am a good comic and I will walk up and take a look at everybody and do that sort of Terminator scan of the room and see who the troublemakers are going to be, and if everything's great, fantastic. Just like an employer: you want everything to work out. I don't want to interact with anybody. I won't go picking on anybody. I just want to tell my stories and walk away. But for example, I was in Fort Lauderdale last weekend and I warned a guy who was texting under the table right in the front row and it was distracting me. So I said, 'Buddy, they made a big announcement. Come on.' And he was a really scary black guy and just really intimidating: big, mean-looking. And he was texting under the table. But I let him have it. And he put his phone away and it never came back out. But then I'm telling you, three minutes later a girl at the table next to him, right in front of me, took her phone out and started liking stuff on Instagram. Just out and was going through Instagram links. And she obviously had too much to drink so she was barely keeping it together. But things got really rough for her for the rest of the show. I did not want that to happen. So there's other forms of heckling. There's people that are really enthusiastic – it's not somebody yelling out trying to give you a hard time. It's phones out, phone calls, it's people maybe that are your biggest fans that are laughing too much at every premise. That's hard to deal with.
GM: And some people just want attention: 'Hey, Al Madrigal talked to me!'
GM: You must get some people who are surprised that you do standup, that you come from that background having just seen you on The Daily Show or About a Boy.
AM: I've did a special a couple years ago and I've got stuff ready for maybe a new one soon. I'm trying to figure out a unique way to do that. So there are enough people now that the turnout's not embarrassing.
GM: But if all they know of you is from The Daily Show or About a Boy, if they haven't seen the standup, they'd think, 'Oh, this guy's doing standup now' rather than knowing that's what you came from.
AM: Yeah, this is all I do.
GM: Will you continue with The Daily Show after Stewart leaves?
AM: Not sure, but maybe. I'll be busy with a couple other things but if they need me I'm certainly going to be there.
GM: The hosting job isn't something you applied for or wanted?
AM: Uh, that's a really tough gig. But no, it was not discussed.
GM: Were you surprised they went with such a new face?
AM: No. That guy's super talented. I mean, he performs internationally in front of stadium crowds. He's not a new face to people in South Africa.
GM: No, but...
AM: He's new to the show, yeah, yeah. But he's a handsome, 31-year-old stadium comic. I mean, what's not to like?
GM: Was the controversy about him all overblown?
AM: Yeah, I don't care about it. I mean personally I would have just deleted my Twitter account. I'm looking for an excuse to delete my Twitter account now! I would have said see you later, social media. Because you've got the show for that. I would have said goodbye. I doubt John Oliver personally handles his. We both probably look at it the exact same way, which is just sort of a distraction and a nuisance more than anything else. I don't really know about anybody else's except mine and I know it's a giant pain in the ass so I'm looking for a reason. So if I got that or any other show that makes me a made man in a job that I can hold down for 15 years, I'd delete that thing in second.
GM: But that's the thing. I don't know how long you've been on Twitter. People say you can find any joke that doesn't go over, but I bet we could go back through your feed and not find those kinds of jokes anyway. So you probably wouldn't get in trouble.
AM: Yeah, that's not my style, but you know, to each his own. I don't care. I'm friends with a lot of different types of comedians and they say some horrible shit. There are good jokes, bad jokes. I stand by anybody's... I just don't care. I would have not put myself in that position in the first place and that would have been the difference.
GM: The latest is Madonna's so-called standup set on The Tonight Show. Comics are all upset about it. I thought it was just a kind of sketch. It wasn't serious. Did you see it?
AM: No, I just saw her kissing Drake and sucking the life from him. I didn't see her do standup. She did standup?
GM: Yeah, on Jimmy Fallon's show.
AM: Oh, I gotta watch that.
GM: She did a set and people were saying it's an insult to the art form. And I thought it wasn't real at all. It was set up, probably by the producers.
AM: Yeah, like they wrote it all for her. Like I said, back to what we started with, everyone taking themselves too seriously. Everyone wants to be the most authentic comedian. 'An insult to the art form.' An insult to the art form?! I mean, this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Skippy from Family Ties does this. Steve-O is a standup comic.
AM: Screech! Screech does standup comedy! What is an insult to the art form? There's people punching themselves in the nuts. This is the lowest form of... I mean, I respect it, and I respect those who respect it, but come on. There are plenty of people insulting this art form every single day.
GM: And people sing who aren't singers and people act who aren't actors.
AM: Yeah, exactly. Vin Diesel sings. Is that someone saying, 'This is an insult!'
GM: That's right. Martin Mull paints.
AM: (laughs) Yeah. Leave it alone!
GM: You and Bill Burr are the boss men of a network. How many podcasts do you have on your network?
AM: We're closing in on sixty, I think.
GM: And it's working?
AM: Things are going great. A network owned by comedians. It's doing incredibly well.
GM: Will it stay in the podcast realm?
AM: No, no, no. We wanna do video. We want to do everything we can. We're rolling out a bunch of stuff. Standup, video sketches, hopefully comedy specials. We actually have a comedy special right now with Jackie Kashian. Everything that comedians distribute can be distributed through this network. So there is no limit. Books, you name it, we got it.
GM: Do you search out the podcasts or do they come to you?
AM: For the most part they're coming to us. I'm not searching too many at this point.
GM: Do you tell them yes or no, or is it anyone who approaches?
AM: We get a lot of inquiries, almost on a daily basis. We're trying to keep it to professional comedians. And comedy writers. I know a bunch of people from The Daily Show who do stuff with us. So we're trying to stick to comedians, professional comics.
GM: And you and Bill do an occasional one yourself.
AM: Yeah, we do a monthly together just to keep awareness of the ATC fans, the Bill fans. Try to make sure everyone's familiar with what the cause is and what we're doing. It's really non-profit. We're in it for the comedians to give everyone a fair deal more than anything else. If I want to make money off the backs of other comics, if there is an angel investor that comes in and wants to blow the whole thing up, we're not opposed to that, but all the comics would make money.
GM: Is everyone making money now or is it up to the individual podcast to do it?
AM: No, we're starting to get advertisers now and everyone's sort of on their own. The little ones know that they're little; the big ones are hustlers that have advertisers coming to them. We are sort of on a pay-what-you-feel-you-should-be-paid basis right now.
GM: Oh, I wanted to say that in your special, Half Like Me, Lalo Alcaraz was saying he thought you were Jewish when he first met you.
AM: (laughs) Yeah, I get that a lot. It's another joke but still I've had it said so that was maybe a line I've heard before.
GM: But to me, he didn't look Latino at all.
AM: Yeah, that's hilarious. Yeah, you had a bunch of Latino nerds with glasses calling each other names.
GM: I thought he was the pocho!
AM: Yeah. Well, he runs pocho.com.
GM: There you go. Okay, Al, thanks very much.
AM: Hey, I appreciate it. Thank you. Are you going to come out to any of the shows?
GM: I will for sure. And I hope you like the club. I'll see you there.
AM: Yeah, take care.