Toward the beginning of Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy, Al Madrigal’s first stand-up special since Why Is the Rabbit Crying? in 2013, the comedian brings up Donald Trump‘s infamous Cinco de May tweet from 2016. You know, the one in which the future president claimed “the best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill” and that he “[loved] Hispanics.” Proud of his half-Mexican, half-Sicilian heritage, Madrigal wastes no time digging up the old controversy for the sake of bringing a surprisingly long and detailed bit about immigration that ends with an unexpected joke.
“I prefer the longer stuff,” Madrigal tells Uproxx below. “It takes a while to figure out all the tags in those.” While the concluding joke could stand alone and still generate enough laughter to satisfy most performers, the former Daily Show correspondent enjoys drawing things out, not simply to take up time, but to expand his stories and the jokes therein to their full potential. As a result, Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy comes off as one of the year’s better stand-up specials for its combination of longform humor and its observations on current events. Madrigal talked about this, his upcoming series I’m Dying Up Here and more.
I didn’t realize until halfway through Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy that you, more than most comics I’ve seen this year, talk about Trump a lot.
Yeah. The personal stuff I dig into about immigration, which is about a seven-minute bit, is very heartfelt. That bit is probably one of the things I am the most proud of from this special.
Some of your references are quite recent, while others — like his Cinco de Mayo tweet featuring a taco bowl — are at least a year old.
I think the “Trump Tower Taco Bowl” bit was a late add to the set. A bunch of time had passed by then. I’m not a comedian who just cranks out a special every year or so. I like to have the bits be fully formed, maybe even a little over done, before adding the best ones to the show. Usually, I prefer the longer stuff. It takes a while to figure out all the tags in those. When the basis for that taco truck story actually happened, though, I almost hugged the guy because I knew it was the joke. He really said all that to me. And I was really laughing, but also thankful. That always seems to happen. You have a bad case of writer’s block and somebody says something fantastic.
And, they, of course, have no idea why you’re so happy.
I love it. Some people were suggesting I take out the middle part, thinking it could be trimmed up. And they’re not wrong. I could totally do an abridged version of that joke, where it doesn’t get sad, but I really like that part as well.
Why do you prefer longform jokes?
It’s all about storytelling and surprising the audience. So during the first few minutes of the “Trump Tower Taco Bowl” bit, they might think, “This is a really long shit joke.” But once they here the final few jabs, they’ll hopefully realize its’ a shit joke with heart. It’s always fun to do that with the crowd. More recently, I think a lot of it comes from working on I’m Dying Up Here. We were talking about Richard Prior a lot. He would do that. Plus when I was working on The Daily Show, I discovered that was something Jon Stewart was able to do very well — to make things that meant something, but were also silly. It’s difficult to pull off, but it’s something I’ve always been challenged by. And it’s all the comedy I tend to like, too.
At the same time, The Daily Show required a quick turnaround on material. Did that experience help or hinder your long-form process?
No. It’s completely different, because at The Daily Show we had so many other people chiming in along the way. I wrote every single piece I did with a few other writers, and then we would turn it in to Jon for his thoughts, suggestions and revisions. You get caught up in the machine of it all when you collaborate with others at such a fast pace.
This is actually something a few Daily Show producers have asked me about when it came to generating my own material for stand-up. They were like, “Why don’t you just put a writers room together? That way you can write a new special every six months to a year. You can do that, you know?” And you can, you really can. You see some comics actually doing that all the time, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with it. But I’m totally old-fashioned.
You can always tell the difference. The output is very different.
Totally. I’ve always wanted it to come from somewhere and mean something, and it always does when I do it by myself.
You talk about your family a lot in your stand-up, and Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy is no different. What’s the typical reaction?
My wife is really the only one who’s aware. My dad also knew about some of the older jokes about him, but my wife… my poor wife. She’s had to deal with me describing her boobs after she had our second child. I don’t even know if that made it into the last special. I think it did. Either way, she knew about it. In the bit I said one looks like a man’s wallet, and the other one looks like a leather satchel at a Renaissance fair with some crystals in it after it was dropped by a falcon. She’d be sitting in the audience next to my friends just going, “Yep, that’s my husband.” She takes the brunt of it, though I’ve tried to steer away from that kind of material. When the shrimp thing happened, she really said all that stuff. She was just mortified and asked me, “Who are you?” She had to live with it. She was crying on the other end of the phone when all of that went down.
The kids, however, are blissfully unaware of what is happening. I don’t bring them to shows usually. One of them did show up to one show when he was nine-years-old. It was a corporate gig where I was clean. He sat next to another comedian, who came back after the set and was cracking up. He told me, “Oh my God. That was the most adorable thing in the world. He thinks you’re hilarious.” My son was laughing at everything then because I did a completely clean set and he understood some of it. That’s the other thing. I’m really, truly who I am on stage, but I’m also a bit of a prude. I’m trying not to tell gross stuff all the time. I don’t want to do gross-out, vulgar stuff. There used to be a lot of people doing that.
Maybe they won’t have any interest, but years from know your kids will have a visual record of you that most other people don’t have of their parents.
It’s something I’m very, very aware of. I don’t know what they’re going to dig up, or how much they even care. They’ve heard me say similar things in everyday conversations, or on the phone while driving around. Like when we’re driving to their practice, I’ll have one of them in the front seat. And no matter how much I warn other comedians I’m around there might be children in the car, they always end up swearing and saying, “Oh, sorry!” So I don’t think any of it will come as that much of a shock to them when they’re older. I’m not even sure they’ll care.
My daughter, I think, at one point said, “What’s this thing with the shrimp? He did what?” Then, I think, my son asked why it happened, and I had to explain the dance instructor wouldn’t let me in to see them. That dance studio place has been shut down, by the way. It happened shortly after, I think. Do I regret it? Maybe not that particular story, but I do regret a lot of other things I’ve said. I don’t want to be the guy that flips out. I don’t want to be the “Mexican Hulk.”
Before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you about I’m Dying Up Here. Had you read William Knoedelseder’s memoir before joining the project?
I read the book right when it came out. I’m a huge fan of stand-up comedy’s history, as well as reading comics writing about comedy. Originally, I got an offer to be a guest star in the pilot. So I had a small part in the pilot episode, then became a writer and series regular on the show.
That was my next question. I knew you were a regular in subsequent episodes, but didn’t realize you were also a staff writer.
Yeah, I was in the writers room. They wanted me in the room. They paid me to be in room one day a week, but I showed up every day anyways. I loved doing it.
Al Madrigal: Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy premieres Friday, May 5th at 9pm ET on Showtime.