Al Madrigal has been busy since leaving The Daily Show. On top of performing regular live gigs, the comedian will be featured in I’m Dying Up Here, Showtime’s upcoming scripted comedy about the ’70s stand-up scene. But before that, Madrigal has a stand-up special of his own: Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy, debuting on the cable net Friday at 9 p.m. ET.
We caught up with Madrigal to discuss stand-up in the age of Trump, the benefits of watching Fox News, and how anger can sometimes lead to comedy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So right off the bat, you begin the set with some political, Trump-oriented material. How has his presidency changed the way you approach comedy?
AL MADRIGAL: Well, there’s a lot to talk about. During the election, I was doing a kind of witch hunt in audiences during my live performances, asking for Trump supporters to show themselves the entire time this was going on. Yeah, I typically wouldn’t do that. I don’t like interacting with the crowd that much when it’s not necessary. But yeah, this made me start calling out, like, Who could possibly support this? Where are you? Who’s microwaved their dinner tonight? I was really going after people more than I typically would.
And it was so interesting: for all the times that I did that, only one guy ever raised his hand said, “Yeah, I’m voting for him.” That was it. So for the thousands of people I’ve asked, that was the one person who fessed up.
Since leaving The Daily Show, have you stepped back a bit from obsessively keeping up with the daily crush of political news, or no?
Oh, you don’t step back. The only difference is when I was physically at the show, I read three newspapers every single day — The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal were just on my desk so I was able to stay more informed. And I watched Fox News every single day at lunch with my friends from the show. Now I feel like because every single day there’s a different kind of an incident happening with this administration, you can’t help but be on top of it.
And also alerts. I’m getting non-stop alerts from my phone. I think we all are. We all have an instantaneous sort of knowledge of what’s going on in this administration — that’s really crazy.
I assume you’re not watching as much Fox News now that it’s not part of your work?
No, I am — it’s fascinating to do that, and I encourage more people to watch Fox News. Because when they’re covering what I think is a major incident on MSNBC and CNN, Fox isn’t touching it. They’re not covering if, like, Mike Flynn — or if there’s some sort of new Russia allegation that’s come out, they’re not going near it on Fox. It’s crazy to me. So I always like to just sort of see what news everyone else is getting and as well as Fox, and I try to compare and contrast the messages that are put out there by the different networks.
A lot of Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy isn’t political or current events-based. For people who might know you mainly from The Daily Show, how would you describe some of the themes in the special?
Well, it’s just me and anger, and I wish I didn’t care so much, and I wish I didn’t erupt. I wish I didn’t have this, like, short fuse that I have that I feel like I can’t control, and so it’s me explaining where some of the anger comes from. That shrimp revenge story [which the special is named after], I had no intention of telling it, because it is real. I went to lunch with John Hodgman when I was at The Daily Show and told him the story and he was like, “And how are audiences reacting? People love it?” I’m like no, I’m not telling that story on stage, I’m going to get busted! I really did this!
And he goes, “No, a comedian sued for shrimping is the best headline of all time! Please just keep yelling it. Hopefully they come after you!”
That short fuse you’re talking about — do you think it helps your comedy, though? Like if you didn’t have that personality trait, you might be less funny?
No, no, no. If I could make a choice, I would be much cooler and calm and let s—, you know, wash off as much as I possibly can. I think we all do it. I don’t want to react the way I do. But yeah, there are a lot of stories I get out of it, I get a lot of material out of it. Until I tell people to f— off right to their face. Dad! [Laughs]
I looked at a dad at our school and he was just really rude, you know, just being an asshole to my son, and I was like, “You’re a real dick.” Just, like, being right in his face. And no other parent would ever do this to their kid. No one in their right mind, and there’s a lot of regrets that go along with a temper like mine.