Al Madrigal is returning to his politically driven comedy in his newest stand-up special.
“Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” which premiered Friday on Showtime, begins with the former senior Latino correspondent for “The Daily Show” unearthing a “cilantro plot” against Donald Trump before delving into other bits about parenting, anger and a real-life revenge story involving shrimp.
The Mexican-American comedian recently spoke with HuffPost about the special and Latinos’ responsibility in putting Trump in the White House. During what Madrigal jokingly described as “the heaviest comedy interview of all time,” the 45-year-old star also discussed his role in Showtime’s upcoming dark comedy “I’m Dying Up Here,” and how he’s hoping to nurture future Latino stand-up comics.
You start the special going in on Trump and discussing a cilantro-inspired revenge plot against him from Mexico. Jokes aside, what’s your take on where Latinos stand in U.S. politics right now?
I think a lot of Latinos in the United States, by all means, should be Republicans. They are super hardworking and religious. My dad and mom, they voted for both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush because they felt they earned all their money. My mom used to clean houses. My dad was a warehouse worker and had zero to start with and then started a company and sort of built this fortune. They had this ridiculous rags-to-riches story and a lot of Latinos who have had success in the United States find themselves leaning that way, where they’re fiscally conservative and think everyone should be able to pick themselves up by the bootstrap because they did. But the fact is that they feel so villainized by the right, and especially the far right, that they can’t help but side with the Democrats even though their values scream that they should be Republicans.
In that first bit, you also mention that you thought the moment Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” would be the end of his campaign.
Oh yeah, I really did think that! The other thing I brought up in that same bit was when Trump told Jorge Ramos to go back to Univision. I was like, “What?! The Latino people will not stand for this! You will not get elected because we decide who gets elected.” And then it happened.
I [went] on Anthony Bourdain’s show and I think I said that [Latinos] may not be one of the next presidents but we will certainly decide who gets elected as president. So there might not be a Latino in the White House in the near future but we, the Latinos in the United States, will determine who gets elected.
And yeah, I think we did: Donald Trump.
You think Latinos elected Donald Trump?
Oh, absolutely, you look at Florida. They put Florida over the top.
While experts have certainly debated that, don’t you think it was more of a lack of unity within the community? Your Fusion special “Half Like Me” touched upon how divided Latinos can be and how it stops the community from progressing.
Yeah, the crabs in the bucket analogy. Absolutely. But it’s not just a Latino problem. A lot of people use that analogy. And this is something that I sort of covered on “The Daily Show” constantly: When people try to lump all Latinos together, it’s just impossible. You can’t do that. There is no spokesperson for all Latinos. There is no unifying Latinos. Puerto Ricans don’t give a shit about immigration. I mean there’s [Puerto Ricans], the same as anyone else, who may feel like having an opinion on the issue but they’re not just naturally inclined to [care just] because they fall into that Latino category.
I mean, I think it’s fair to say immigration isn’t an inherently Latino issue, but then what about someone like you? You’re Mexican-American with several generations in the U.S.; is immigration at the top of your list as an issue?
Oh yeah, exactly. So that’s what I’m saying. But I’ve seen fellow Mexicans being so mistreated and we have a lot of employers that are taking advantage of this cheap labor and mistreating these employees. I definitely, I always side with the Mexicans even though I’m established in the United States. But just as a human. That’s something I try to address in the special.
Shifting off politics, you’re also in Showtime’s upcoming dramedy, “I’m Dying Up Here,” about a group of stand-up comedians struggling to make it in 1970s Los Angeles. Can you tell us about your character, Edgar Martinez?
That was a desperate time for a lot of people, so we really do show that desperation really well. My character is sort of a mash-up of a couple of different Latino comedians. I think there’s some Freddie Prinze in there, there’s some Cheech in there, there’s some Carlos Mencia in there. I was fortunate enough to be able to be in the writers room for the entire time on this thing, and I couldn’t be more proud of the product.
Do you think the show truly captures that real-life struggle? How have things changed or stayed the same?
Well, you still have to sort of start the same way [in comedy]. When you start doing stand-up comedy you need to take the leap. I left a job, a lot of people have done that. Howie Mandel was a carpet salesman whose friends pushed him to do an open mic and everyone has their origin story. We see a lot of that on the show.
But then as people pass others and you climb up this ladder of the stand-up world there’s backstabbing, stealing, fights, accusations flying around, the competitiveness of being a sort of independent contractor in this world where you sacrificed a lot on the hopes that you might make it as a comedian. It’s crazy.
Are you describing the show or your experiences in real-life?
Both. That’s everyone’s experience. We’re all surrounded by it. Everyone is not standing around slapping each other on the back. I mean, there’s a great community of comedians that I’m very good friends with but we all have the same stories. That’s why when we get together, we love talking about, “OMG, have you ever done this gig?” So we’ve all sort of gone to war together and most of the big comics have paid all of the same dues.
It’s also nice to see Latinos represented in the cast, because honestly it feels like there aren’t enough Latinos in stand-up.
There’s certainly not a lot of popular Latino comics right now. I mean there’s George Lopez, Gabriel Iglesias ― now you tell me who the others are.
Louis C.K. is part Mexican?
Yeah. Louis C.K. is half Mexican. OK, we’ll take him. But he doesn’t have a lot of material about it. But I’m just saying, where are all the others? There’s just not enough. I’m starting the Latino Comedy Festival so we can actually do sort of TED-style talks for people in Los Angeles about careers in comedy because I feel we’re so underserved.
I got yelled at when I told my dad I was going to be a stand-up comic. I was trying to work a job and do comedy at the same time, and he thought I was a crazy person. So I actually just started a scholarship at my high school [St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco] that will be given to a junior Latino, ideally but not exclusively, who shows some sort of proficiency in comedy. Then I’ll meet with them and pay for a chunk of their tuition for the next year just so their parents see that their child has a future in comedy and don’t give them a hard time trying to make them a lawyer or a doctor.
Watch “Shrimpin’ Ain’t Easy” on Showtime’s streaming services and “I’m Dying Up Here” when it premieres Sunday, June 4.
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