You probably know Michael McDonald best as the longest running cast member on FOX’s MADtv. Since then, he’s continued to star in film (The Heat) and television while also trying his hand at directing with credits including Cougar Town and Scrubs. On top of that, he still makes time to tour the country doing stand-up. We recently sat down with Michael at Gotham Comedy Club during one of these stops to talk about his career, his pre-show rituals and much more!
I thought I knew everything about you but then I was doing some more research and I found out you direct as well? You’ve done Scrubs, you’ve done Cougar Town. What made you want to direct in the first place?
The money (laughs) no I actually started directing on MADtv as well and I always I guess I enjoyed bossing people around no but with mad TV it’s all sketch shows that are really cheap so they can’t pay you more so I just said let me write more or let me direct I just wanted to do more things so I started there and I got a chance to direct a scrubs which is this show run by Bill Lawrence who has many shows and it was a nice little world to break into cause I’ve had a lot of chances.
You’re so successful with a ton of other projects, you do improv, there’s stand-up. Why do you continue with the stand-up schedule while being successful in these other avenues?
I like to perform with television especially, there’s kind of a season so you have a good 4 months when you’re off and it’s kind of the perfect fit. It’s almost like not a summer job because it’s not a respectful to stand-up to call it that. It just works out timing wise and scratches that performing itch.
Also allows us to check out veteran comedians such as yourself as we also get to see the budding stand-ups.
Where are your favorite places to perform?
Gosh, I have like 4 or 5 places I really like but there are places I haven’t even been to that I know other people say are good. I’d say Gotham is one of them, Washington DC Improv is another and uh what else do I like I’m gonna forget one and I love the Tempe Improv.
Alright, what’s the worst green room food you’ve ever had at a club?
I never eat at a club, never. I can’t eat before a show. It’s probably nerves I almost don’t even eat the day of the show. Yeah maybe I’ll have a lunch and that’s it.
That’s kind of a ritual. Do you have any other kind of rituals before you go on?
I always have to have a clean t-shirt on I don’t know why it always has to be clean.
Clean, not like brand new?
No, no there’s a comic, I forget, who wears new tennis shoes every time. That’s in his contract. I think it’s Eddie Griffin. I’m not sure, somebody has a very interesting rider. I mean, I just have to have clean clothes on because I probably I feel dirty inside.
Is there anything on your rider that’s out of the norm?
I have nothing, because I think if I ever wanted anything in a rider it would be more money. I mean what do I need green M&Ms for?
Obviously many people know you from MADtv. What’s your favorite memory, or what are you most thankful for about that show?
Probably my friends I mean I’m still really tight with many of them. What I remember most would be trying to get other people laugh. In the scene that was always fun and Mo Collins was always in a fertile ground to get you to laugh.
Do you still do a lot of improv in L.A.?
Yeah, in fact I fly home tomorrow and I’m gonna do improv at the Groundlings, which is where I started out, Stefanie Wier from MADtv is gonna be a guest so I get to work with her for the first time in a long time.
Do you prefer one better? Stand-up or improv? Do you even distinguish the two?
Well, stand-up pays and improv doesn’t. Improv is fun from the standpoint that you get to work with people. It’s not all on you, I feel very loose, I’m never nervous, I’m often nervous before stand-up. Especially when it’s the first show in a city or a club. My dad has a phrase “the first pickle out of the jar is the toughest one and the rest just come out.” I think it must have something to with that, but stand-up makes me nervous. I think it’s because you can’t hide, its your material. It’s you being yourself and you’re not in a costume, or playing a character, or anything like that. The audience will tell you right away if it’s funny or not by laughing or not. That’s the scary thing about stand-up but it’s also the most intoxicating.