A big break can sometimes lead you in a direction you weren’t expecting to go. That’s what happened to standup comedian Al Madrigal, one of the stars of the critically acclaimed NBC sitcom About a Boy — based on a Hugh Grant movie that had been, in turn, based on a Nick Hornby book — which scored decent-enough ratings to be picked up for a second season. He began acting almost by accident. Early in his standup career, he was chosen to perform at the prestigious Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal. A casting director caught one of his performances, and asked him to audition for a sitcom pilot that was going to be pitched to NBC.
“I got cast in my own sitcom right away,” he says. “I really got a taste of acting with no real experience.”
Madrigal moved with his wife and then-1-year-old daughter to Los Angeles from San Francisco. But the series, The Ortegas (which, incidentally, co-starred Cheech Marin), never made it to air; at the end of the 2003 TV season, it shuffled from NBC to Fox, which killed it before anyone ever saw it.
“I’ve been working and putting my head down ever since,” Madrigal says. “I’ve done eight pilots. [About a Boy] is the fourth one to make it to air, and the first one to make it to a second season, if you can believe that.”
About a Boy was created by Jason Katims (the brains behind the acclaimed Friday Night Lights, as well as Parenthood and Roswell) and debuted on NBC back in January as a mid-season replacement. “It really is a fun show to do,” Madrigal says. “It has a lot of heart, it’s funny, and everybody in the cast and crew really cares about each other, and I think that shows.”
Fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will recognize Madrigal — he’s been a correspondent there since 2011. In an appearance in April, he was brought in as the Senior Latino Correspondent to comment on Telemundo’s, Univision’s and Fox News’ coverage of the Affordable Care Act. After showing a clip from Univision advising viewers to check their eligibility, Madrigal showed a video from a Fox News report called “Eye on Obamacare.” “It’s how you cover the Affordable Care Act,” he told Stewart, “with a fair and balanced mash-up of Obamacare, Contagion, and The Walking Dead credits.”
“I’m not able to get on as much as I was a couple of years ago, pre-About a Boy,” Madrigal says, “but they’re still bringing me in for field pieces, which is awesome because that’s what I really enjoy doing over there.”
Now off for the summer from About a Boy, Madrigal has been able to once again focus on his first comedic passion. “I love doing standup,” he says, “and that’s why I got into all of this. It’s like I’ve been directed away from standup by the TV stuff, and had I put my head down and just done standup, I think a lot more people would know me for that. Now, I’m trying to jam it in there, because I think I’m good at it.”
On stage he draws inspiration from his family. “My kids are starting to talk back, and the worst part about it is they’re making sense,” he joked at an appearance on The Late Late Show in November. “We were going to my friend’s house and my 6-year-old comes out wearing floods with holes in the knees.” Madrigal ordered his son to change, explaining that the boy would be embarrassed when people saw him. “My son said, ‘I’m not going to be embarrassed. They’re your friends; you’re going to be embarrassed.’ Touché, 6-year old.”
Convincing his own parents that comedy was a worthwhile vocation wasn’t easy in the beginning. Madrigal was being groomed to take over the family business in San Francisco, but would frequently run off to do standup gigs. “My dad would yell at me when I was driving up to Sacramento. He’d ask, ‘Why in the hell are you driving to Sacramento?'” It got worse when Madrigal told his dad he was being paid $25 for the gig. “He’d yell, ‘Are you out of your mind?'” Of course, his father has since changed his mind. “He probably has a picture of me at the side of his bed because he’s so happy and proud.”