Profiles: Fernando Madrigal

As sky blurred with gray, I reached Hyattsville, Maryland and parallel parked between two sedans. Snow plunged from the sky and blanketed the asphalt. Across the street from my car stood a brick apartment building. Fernando was hanging outside on stone path, wearing a winter jacket and Timberlands. He waved at me and grinned.

I walked up to him and say, “hey man.” We shook hands and patted each other on the back. I followed him inside and we hustled upstairs to his unit, which resided on the second floor. Once, we were in his apartment, Fernando offered me a glass of Maker’s Mark and slung his jacket over a wooden chair. His attire included a white V-neck T shirt, pajama pants decorated with white skulls and cross bones, and blue socks.

He scratched his right cheek, revealing a thick black beard imprinted around his face. He sat on the far left-side hand of an L-shaped couch, and I lounged on the other side. I zipped open my backpack and pulled out my black notebook, a pen, and my laptop. Fernando grabbed the remote and pressed the power-button. The flat-screen television crackled and played a YouTube video; a song by DVSN called, “With Me.”

When he was four, Fernando and his mom moved from the Dominican Republic (DR) to PG County, Maryland. At first, he went to Springbrook High School, and later on—after his mom had met his step-dad—he ended up moving to Montgomery County and graduated from Laurel High. After high school, Fernando attended the University of Maryland College Park. But Maryland did not have a film program and soon Fernando transferred to Towson to study film. When Len Bias had died, Maryland cut their funding for several programs, and subsequently the film department ended.

Every day, Fernando works at a media company from 6am-2pm. After work, he performs standup comedy at open mics and showcases. He has only one year of standup comedy experience and he’s already having an incredible start.

For his first open mic, Fernando performed at Bier Baron in NW DC. He had emailed a bunch of different people and Alexx Starr, a DC standup comic, was the one who responded. He wrote three jokes, stretched them out, and practiced them in his living room, timing himself to make sure he had five minutes.

When he arrived at Bier Baron, Alexx told him, “Hey you got seven minutes.” This was a problem—momentarily—because Fernando only had four minutes. It was November 20th, 2016. The room was packed with a bunch of people. Rob Coffey was hosting and he pulled Fernando aside and said, “Oh, your name’s Fernando? Talk about that.” Before Fernando went up, Alexx put up Martin Phillips, one of the comics in the lineup, and he went up on stage and killed it to get the crowd going. Fernando was looking at a mirror back in the little curtained area of Bier Baron, and said to himself, “Be you.”

During the interview, he said to me, “All I remember is seeing white because the lights were so bright. But yeah, it went all right.”

A few months passed. May 2017, Al Baker, a DC comic was doing a sex-joke show and she booked Fernando for his first showcase. It went smoothly, and days later, Al pay-paled Fernando ten bucks for the showcase. That happened while Fernando was doing his first New York showcase at Broadway Comedy club in Manhattan. It was an interesting day. Fernando had family on his dad’s side who were living up there in NYC. His girlfriend at the time came up there with three or four of her friends. He bombed on stage that night. “When I look back on the thing, I rushed, I didn’t do well. I could tell I didn’t do well, but the important thing was I still had fun.”

As the night concluded, Fernando took an uber up to Harlem and to meet up with his girlfriend. She told him, “Yeah we should break up. I just think we’re two different people.”

“I was down longer, then we were in the relationship,” he said.

Fernando opened the window in his living room, and we took a break to smoke cigarettes. The snow fell at a more rapid pace, covering the grass and street with white.

His favorite all-time comedian is Chris Rock. He likes “wordy dudes,” like Seinfeld and Carlin. He also likes Bernie Mac and Jamie Foxx.

“Jamie Foxx had this comedy special, “I might need security.” I watched that a ton. He’s just so good.  He has this joke about being high and parking his car at the club. His boy Terry is in the car with him. And Jamie said, “Hey man, Terry get out and help me. Yo, Terry get back in the car! Terry?” Jamie Foxx is so great, but they don’t think about him in the same way as Chris Rock. His show and standup is so energetic. I like quiet little jokes like that.”

His Step-Dad is another of his biggest influences. “That dude was there every day. He’s been there every day. I didn’t start appreciating him until I started dating a woman with a kid.”

Fernando writes his material in his notebooks, longhand, trying to write all of his jokes down, pretty much exactly as he would talk about them on the stage. He writes first drafts. And when he gets up to open mics, he’ll revise it a bit, seeing what works, and what doesn’t. He writes a lot of pop culture stuff, spending most of the day on the internet. But he also wants to write about his mom.

And he wants to write more about being Latino and Dominican, but also about how those aspects of his life do not encompass his being. A lot of his process is getting up on stage and talking, and seeing where it goes. He sometimes follows his joke material to a tee. If he has a showcase, he’ll do 95% of his bits, and stick very close to the script, but also tries to keep it loose. He tries not to make his standup sound rehearsed.

His goal is to get to a Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld level, where he can become meticulous with his words. He believes that he’s pretty quiet, and that he’s become quieter since doing standup. He’s the same guy on and off stage. “Hopefully I’m funnier on stage,” he said.

His high-level goal is to have a standup special when he reaches his 40th birthday. He wants to call it 40 minutes, and have 40, Drake’s producer, compose the intro and outro music for the special. He started standup when he was 31 years old, and will give himself eight years to find his voice.

Fernando does standup mostly in the DMV comedy scene. “I try to be nice to people. I think Chris Rock said it. You need 2/3 things to succeed. Talent, hard work, and be nice to people. I’m nice to people. I care about comedy, comedians are easy to talk to. One of my exes was doing Roller Derby and she said to me, “I found my tribe.” Comedy is my tribe. There’s a ceiling, but if you really hustle at it, you can get up a lot. There’s a lot of rooms, a lot of opportunities to work, lots of open mics.”