Michael McDonald might be easily recognized for cracking us up as cast member on MADtv for a staggering 10 years. But having been in the biz for that long, he has found his own path to success that includes a number of ways to make us laugh besides a good old fashioned "Look what I can do!"
The seasoned comedian comes from a deep improv education as a member of the notorious Groundlings. So, before he goes deep into the Fort Lauderdale Improv this weekend, we chatted about how his early career still played a big role in MADtv, chasing down Sandra Bullock with a knife, and playing the voice of Gandhi on the greatest and most forgotten cartoon of all time. All, for the most part, with his pants off.
New Times: So, you are actually the third MADtv alum that I have interviewed.
Michael McDonald: Really? Well I hope to maintain the tradition of us all being terrible interviews.
Me too. Most recently, we talked with Bobby Lee.
Bobby actually is the main reason I got into stand up, so we have him to blame.
We talked about MADtv and I asked whether or not the cast reunites like a fraternity, and his quote was "not like a fraternity, more like we went to war. Like we were on the Titanic and we survived, and we all have this deep connection."
I like to think of it as we all found out later in life that we are blood related and there are varying degrees of happiness about it. You know, it's weird. How do I put this? I was going to say sketch shows are hard to be on and then I think about people that have really hard jobs like soldiers or doctors, now that's actually hard. But, relative to another TV show, sketch shows tend to have a little bit more drama behind them because you are kind of responsible for coming up with material as well. I think because of the uncertainty of it from week to week, it causes a lot more stress than the average show.
I know that you were a Groundlings guy. Did any characters that you developed while a part of the troupe make their way over to MADtv?
Oh yeah, I would say most of the characters I ended up doing on MADtv started out as Groundlings characters.
What about Stuart?
Yes. Stuart was something that I created at the Groundlings with Mindy Sterling, she played Frau Farbissina on Austin Powers. She originally created Stuart's mom and then when I got to MADtv, I knew I could do Stuart, but it really need the mom character too, and I asked her if I could do a version of that character. Obviously, it wouldn't be the same, Mindy does it differently than Mo [Collins]. But I needed to get Mindy's permission, and it's always ranked at the top of my definition of a generous actor and performer that Mindy could have said no and she didn't, and that doesn't always happen.
I know you have a movie coming out, The Heat, with Melissa McCarthy, and that she was in the Groundlings as well. Did you guys know each other back then?
Yes, she was one of my students. She and her husband Ben met in my class.
Wow! That is so exciting for you.
I know, isn't that crazy? It's been such a fun thing to. We never lost contact, but you just get busy -- it's sort of like being in the circus when you work in showbiz so you don't see people, even people you are fond of and would love to work with. So it is great after all this time to circle back and get to work together again. I really hope people like the movie, I think they will. Obviously it is Sandy [Sandra Bullock] and Melissa doing what they do best, and they are two really, really fun girls. The only weird thing for me was that I spend the whole movie basically trying to kill them. I play a bad guy. It's just the weirdest thing to be chasing Sandy and Melissa around with knives for a summer.
There is a trend in Hollywood now that wasn't there before where women are starting to do funny movies that don't suck. Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect, and I see The Heat going in that trend. Are you starting to see that as well?
Yeah, I never understood the whole concept that women aren't funny or that movies with women in them will not be successful because growing up in the Groundlings, many of the funniest people I knew were women. Kathy Griffin, Lisa Kudrow, Cheri O'Teri, Jennifer Coolidge, Ana Gaysteyer, Kristen Wiig -- you name it. I'm happy to see it, I'm not surprised and I hope it continues. I just want movies to be funny, I don't really care if its a men's or women's movie. I'm just a fan of comedy.
From looking at the shows you have been on, you are clearly buddies with Bill Lawrence.
Yeah, Bill has kind of been my most frequent employer.
He is awesome!
He is on fire, right? He has three new shows on the air. I am going to direct at least one of them, maybe two. I direct a lot for him. I like working with him for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is he typically has the same crews and he has great taste in writers. On Cougar Town, I got to sit in the writers' room and I met probably the most talented group of writers that I have ever sat with. I guess I am pretty lucky he thinks I am good enough to hire.
Well, specifically, Clone High might have been the greatest cartoon of all time.
Ah man! I loved doing that so much. I was so bummed out when it got pulled.
Hold on a sec. [Background conversation]
That's my assistant. Who I did not know was here. I have just been wandering around. I changed my pants while I was talking to you, I walked out in the yard and did stuff. I almost gave her a really good show. Sorry about that.
It's okay! So, you were Gandhi, which was an amazing character.
That was too fun to do. We actually all got to play multiple characters, but I loved doing that character. That was like a big, happy family. And I thought the idea was so good, didn't you?
Oh my god, the concept is like actually so genius.
You know what? I've never seen an episode.
Yeah, I've never seen an episode. Like, if I were to watch it now I would not even know what is happening next.
Well, you should watch it! At least the first episode, it's classic.
I love that you brought it up. I've done a bunch of really obscure things, and that was far from obscure, it was a TV series, but because of it's early demise it got lost. It brings up old happy memories.
Now I settle for Bob's Burgers.
Ah! Animation is so fun to do. I've got to remember to get more work in that area. You can go in there looking like a homeless person. You can go in there wearing your underwear, like I was just doing with my assistant.
So as I am pretty sure you know, but you have the same name as a famous musician.
Yes, and also an MMA fighter. And also, another comic from Canada.
Has that ever affected you, like you show up somewhere and they were expecting someone different?
No, but I would be thrilled if a lot of music fans came to the Fort Lauderdale Improv to go to my show. I would sing "Ya Mo Be There," just to fool them.
You are known for on air time, so can you give us a little peek into what your standup show is like?
How do I put it? My style is mostly story telling. I am always kind of happy when something horrible happens to me because, generally, I can make it into a funny story. I view standup as going to confession, because I am good Catholic boy. I unload all my demons on the audience, then we get drunk and giggle about them.
What is your favorite kind of sandwich?
My favorite kind of sandwich involves bacon and avocado. And anything else can be on it, including a turd. I just don't care as long as there is bacon and avocado.
Follow Michael McDonald on Twitter @McDonaldComedy and catch him live June 7 through June 9 at the Fort Lauderdale Improv (5700 Seminole Way). Tickets are $20 plus fees. Visit ftl.improv.com for more information.