LOS ANGELES (AP) — There's the Al Madrigal who speaks in the crisp, skeptical tones of a "Daily Show" correspondent, whether grilling Arizona foes of Latino studies or questioning the sanity of Puerto Ricans who want statehood in a dysfunctional United States of Sequester.
Then there's the comedian showcased in his first hour-long stand-up special, a tour guide through the life of a family man dealing with lippy kids, urban absurdity and angst. Gone is the bravado of the faux TV reporter he plays for Jon Stewart, replaced by a bemused grin and an appealing touch of goofiness.
Although no swashbuckler takes the stage in "Al Madrigal: Why is the Rabbit Crying?" debuting 11 p.m. EDT Friday on Comedy Central, don't be fooled by his modest soft-shoe — a few hesitant steps toward the audience, a few steps back: Madrigal is relishing success after a determined march toward a place in show business.
And he's done it on his terms, as a Mexican-Italian-American from San Francisco who crafts a wry storyteller's take on the world for his comedy act and "Daily Show."
"I'm proud that I've been able to go into any (nightclub) room and do the same material and not change it up for them," said the bearded, bespectacled Madrigal, 41, who lives in Los Angeles and commutes to New York for Stewart's program.
His universal family-guy humor makes translation unnecessary, a la Bill Cosby, one of his comedy influences (Franklin Ajaye and Patton Oswalt are others). There's the bit, for instance, about his young son picking his own clothes for a party, then shrugging off his tattered look: They're your friends, dad.
Or his account in an interview of coming to realize how spoiled his daughter has become. The family, tagging along with Madrigal for a club gig, had checked into a modest motel in upstate New York.
"The 6-year-old looks at me and says, 'Ummm, why am I staring at the parking lot?'" Madrigal recounts. "I had to tell her, 'Cause you're on the road, baby, and this is what you do. You think it's glamorous? We're going to fight a businessman for a pancake after this.'"
There are times that some background is required, including the bit that gives his special its name. "Why is the rabbit crying?" is the nervous question the family raises about the tattoo they spot on an LA "cholo," a young Latino with a gang-member air about him.
Some background, but less than you might think, according to Madrigal: "I think there's cholos everywhere. There's cholos in all of us, and they don't necessarily need to be Mexican."
The comedian and his material are more than ready for the spotlight, said Jonas Larsen, Comedy Central's senior vice president for talent and specials. An extended CD-DVD combo of "Al Madrigal: Why is the Rabbit Crying?" will be released April 30.
"A one-hour special is, in a sense, showing that you've arrived as a comic ... It takes a lot of work to get there," Larsen said, adding that Madrigal is an outstanding storyteller with a fresh take on family life and a "Latino point of view but not exclusively Latino, that reaches a broader audience."
Or, as Stewart put it in an email, he brings a "laid-back, zen-like comedy ninja quality that we didn't even know we were missing."
Madrigal's show-biz dream meant ditching a career at his parents' San Francisco business that provides staff management for other companies. Among his responsibilities: To caution and, in some cases, fire workers. He moved his wife, Krystyn, an educator, and their two children to Los Angeles, encountering both opportunity and lean times over the past decade.
He scored repeated late-night appearances, including with Conan O'Brien on "Tonight" and on "Lopez Tonight," ''The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live." There were acting jobs as well, on sitcoms including "Gary, Unmarried" and "Free Agents," but none of the shows stuck. One, "The Ortegas" with Cheech Marin, was shelved by Fox before it aired.
Madrigal is upbeat about a pilot under consideration for next season, "About a Boy," based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name and following the 2002 Hugh Grant film. Its top-notch pedigree includes executive producer Jason Katims ("Friday Night Lights," ''Parenthood") and Minnie Driver and David Walton in the cast.
Madrigal's character, a stay-at-home dad, is fuller than his previous ones and offers him the chance to play drama as well as comedy.
"I've always been 'ethnic friend,' without any serious moments, all jokes," he said, like the character in the office who complains, "Did anybody touch my lunch?" and then is gone from the scene.
Instability is an entertainment industry given, but his two years on "Daily Show" have given Madrigal a high profile and the chance to create some indelible moments, including his interrogation of a member of the Tucson, Ariz., school board that banned a Mexican-American studies program. A board member earnestly told Madrigal that one teacher was buying his students' loyalty with burritos, which Madrigal said prompted "burrito protests" against the board's action.
"That's the most viewed piece" he's done for "Daily Show," he said, proudly. "People are teaching that piece in Chicano studies classes."
Although he introduced a Hispanic perspective to Stewart's almost impeccably diverse show, he, like other "Daily Show" cast members, hit different comedy beats. He's done a Black Panther piece and a remake of a Clint Eastwood car commercial, and was at work on a federal budget sequester take.
"My primary responsibility is to be funny," said Madrigal.
No pink slip needed here.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org and on Twitter (at)lynnelber.
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