2009 flashback: Michael McDonald coming to Atlanta

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed July 9, 2009

Michael McDonald, the sketch comic who spent a decade with Fox’s “MadTV,” is making his first visit ever to Atlanta this weekend to do standup comedy.

McDonald, the longest running actor on the Saturday night show from 1998 to 2008, started doing standup just over the past year or so. Fellow cast member Bobby Lee encouraged him to try.

“I didn’t want to do standup for the longest time,” he said. “You’re up there by yourself. You can’t really hide behind a character. It’s you.”

He doesn’t follow the template of fellow “MadtV” alum Frank Caliendo and have his impersonation characters talk to each other. “I don’t know how he does it,” McDonald marvelled. “He’s very tight and controlled. He’s got every word planted out. I’m way more loosey goosey.”

Though “it’s not me spitting out my old MadTV characters,” expect his child-like Stuart to pop up at least once.

McDonald is more a storyteller than joke teller. “I talk about my family and current events, a little bit of behind the scenes stuff from MadTV,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s funny.”

The 44-year-old actor, who left “MadTV” before its final season, wasn’t sure why the show was cancelled this past spring after 14 years on the air though it clearly was overshadowed from day one by “Saturday Night Live.”

“I have tons of friends on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” McDonald said. “We mostly came from the same sort of comedy pools in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. It’s a much friendlier relationship than you think.”

He tried to look on the bright side of “MadTV” being the RC Cola of sketch comedy. “We got to get away with stuff while nobody was looking,” he said. “Well, not quite nobody.” I don’t have ratings numbers off hand for “MadTV” but I think it was in the range of 3 to 4 million viewers vs. 6 to 8 million for “Saturday Night Live.”

McDonald remains a regular presence on TV thanks to Comedy Central incessantly repeating old episodes of “MadTV” and “Scrubs,” where he’s popped up occasionally. He’s also a recurring character on “Kathy Griffin: Life on the D List” on Bravo.

“It’s weird to be that visible,” he said by phone from Los Angeles today. “People will come up and repeat a line from a sketch I did 10 years ago. I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about!”

He has known Kathy Griffin for nearly 20 years. “We worked with the Groundling Theater in Los Angeles. She was actually on of my teachers. She always makes me laugh. She’s like a sister to me. And I don’t know anybody who works harder than she does.”

Chris DiPetta, who runs the Punchline, said sales have been strong. He expects sellouts on Saturday once McDonald does radio Friday morning.

“He was doing well in other cities and I heard good things so I booked him months ago,” DiPetta said.

McDonald is doing shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday and 8 p.m. Sunday. He is not doing the 11 p.m. show Saturday (gotta save his voice!). Tix are $20 here

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