Madison Shepard and her dog Lexi sit on a couch in their home in Los Angeles, where it’s 75 degrees and sunny on a late November day, just like most days of the year in California.
The multi-hyphenate comedian-writer-actor is currently “unemployed” during the pandemic, but for an artist, that’s just a fancy word for working on multiple projects for little to no pay.
“I’m very accomplished to some people,” she says, “but, you know, on paper, ‘Unemployed,’” she says with a chuckle.
These days, the Oak Cliff native spends her time writing and podcasting in between larger-scale projects, including a stint with the Emmys and writing work for a project with Chris Rock.
“It was very cool to make my childhood icon laugh,” she says of the comedy legend. “I could die and go to heaven. I don’t need a hug from my dad, I just need to make Chris Rock laugh!”
Shepard’s 2020 career plans came to a halt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had just embarked on her first stand-up comedy headlining tour, including a show in Dallas, when her shows started to get canceled around mid-March.
“I think everyone is just trying to do the best they can,” she says of an uncertain professional climate. “One of my coping tools is to write, so I’ve been writing my own pilots, and I’ve been able to write a little bit of stand up; I’ve been doing Zoom shows and Instagram live shows, [which are] not the same, but if we’re turning, I want to pivot.
“The way I’ve been dissociating [with] what is happening is to go deep into the world of my own making, where there isn’t a pandemic, and I can have this story, this life outside of what’s actually happening."
While Shepard has been living in L.A. since high school, Dallas will always hold a special place in her heart.
“I am from Oak Cliff,” she says, as she holds up her cell phone. Affixed upon the back of her phone case is a white Texas-shaped sticker with the words "Oak Cliff" arranged in quirky, hand lettering-style black font. She misses the trees in Texas.
“It sounds weird, but I’m sort of over palm trees. I miss mesquite trees,” she says.
But it’s the people she misses the most.
“I have been here a long time in Los Angeles, but I’ll never not be from Texas," Shepard says. "Growing up in Oak Cliff has shaped me in so many ways that I can’t even fully appreciate. I will always be grateful for that. It’s always going to be home, I’m always going to shout it out, I’m always going to be proud to be from there."
The last time Shepard was in Dallas was also the first time she ever headlined in her hometown, at the now permanently closed Dallas Comedy House. She was looking forward to developing a relationship with the venue, but like many other businesses, it did not survive the pandemic.
“[It’s] horrible, because it’s such a dope venue,” she says.
Her 15-minute, self-produced EP, Goodnight Silverlake Lounge, was released in November of last year as a mechanism to take control of her career after a late-night spot fell through.
“I need something to tell people in comedy that I’m serious, that I’m that bitch and that I’m coming for the throne,” she says of the project.
Shepard had planned to release a longer, 30-minute EP this year, but again, the pandemic shifted her schedule.
“I don’t want to record an album in quarantine," she says. "I will maybe record an album of all my quarantine jokes, to, like, get it out of the way."
The multifaceted artist’s career goal is to have nightly stand-up performances on her schedule and to have a TV show with her name in the title.
“That’s what I came to Los Angeles to get,” she says. “I have to tell myself I’m going to be a 20-year overnight success. I have been putting in so much work and effort, I feel like I’m closer than I’ve ever been, and it’s not happening just yet, but it’s any day now.”
In the meantime, Shepard says she’s going to keep doing what she’s been doing, which is to continue to write, hone her acting craft and continue to perform stand up however she can during a pandemic.
“And, you know, try not to lose my mind in the process, try to keep the faith,” she says. “That’s all we have these days, is faith and hope.”
Reminiscing about her roots as a young filmmaker in Oak Cliff, Shepard gives a shout out to the Raul Quintanilla Middle School film club, taught by her late mentor, Frank Mendez, an actor best known for his role in the film Selena. Shepard credits her knack for comedy to being surrounded by funny friends and family members during her childhood.
“Being from Dallas is such a huge part of who I am, it’s why I am funny the way I am funny,” she says. “I can’t wait to write a show about my experience growing up in Dallas. I can’t wait to be a notable person from Oak Cliff. You know? When they say Oak Cliff, it’s like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Chris Sapphire from The Circle. I want to be Madison Shepard, comedian/writer/actress. Hopefully, I can make y’all proud someday.”
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