It Is to Laugh

Comic and writer Isabel Madley kicks off sketch comedy class, but what the heck do we really know about her, anyway?

“People have asked me in interviews, ‘Are you funny?’” Isabel Madley says one recent afternoon. Midtown coffee shop Iconik Coffee Roasters is bustling and loud, so I have to double-check that she’s being serious. Sadly, it turns out, she is.

Anyone paying attention to local comedy in recent years knows the answer, anyway: Yes, Madley is funny. Very much so. In a few short years she’s gone from a post-Vassar biology enthusiast (she totally got her degree, btw) to a bit of an iconic small-town hero with a big fat second place win as best comedian in SFR’s Best of Santa Fe reader’s poll from last year (hot on the heels of downright beloved Norteño comic Carlos Medina, for whatever that’s worth). Madley’s a standup and a writer, a background actor in films and television programs like Longmire and Manhattan; in shows watched by millions—even if a production that recently gave her a line cut her moment because Hollywood is heartbreaking.

In short, Madley says, she stays in Santa Fe because of the film and TV opportunities, but she’s a student of comedy with training from the Groundlings under her belt and her own style of narrative comedy. That style might still be percolating, but Madley has been a hit at headlining appearances and slots in multiple states, and she hopes to make a splash in the social media sphere. She’s a member of the loosely affiliated troupe Wayward Comedy. Madley is also kicking off a seven-part sketch comedy workshop through Santa Fe Improv, so the timing seemed right to get to know her better.

“I’m from California, but moved here right before 9/11,” she explains. “From near Chico, Paradise—everywhere that’s been on fire or is now drowning.”

Madley’s actual hometown, Healdsburg, California, is one of those so-small places that Santa Fe seemed a thriving metropolis by comparison when she arrived. As such, she says, she instantly loved our fair city when she and her mother moved here to be nearer to family.

“I grew up in a cabin with no cell service and no internet, watching SNL on the fuzzy black and white TV with rabbit ears,” she says. “I think I have a greater appreciation for Santa Fe in that I didn’t grow up here.”

She also left town for college—all the way in New York, maybe you’ve heard of it?—so that likely helped. There, she pursued biology, sure, but she also saw the theater and performance as a viable career course for the first time. And the college sketch comedy troupe scene? Icing on the cake. Previously, Madley says, she’d dabbled in elementary school theater, and legendary Groundlings member Randy Bennett just so happened to be her high school drama teacher at now-defunct Desert Academy here in Santa Fe. Performance was in her before college, but the ostensibly more responsible path of science made sense when she was schooling.

“At Vassar, I could do theater without having to major in it,” she says. “If you major in drama, you major in drama. I thought biology was more useful, but as it turns out, a liberal arts college biology degree is...”

She trails off, but the point is clear: Ignoring our artistic leanings is stupid, and they’re likely gonna come back with a vengeance at some point. It’s up to those who feel that call to heed it well, because the rest of us have grown fond of laughing and watching movies. So maybe think of it like a public service?

“I never thought I’d get into standup the way I have, though,” Madley continues. “The cool thing about it is that you’re completely independent and in charge of your own story and content. You don’t have to wait for someone to cast you. You don’t have to deal with—let’s think of a magnanimous way to say this—big egos and directors.”

This is partly why Wayward Comedy works for her. Within its ranks you’ll find other funny folk like Evan Galpert and Miljen Aljinovic, plus more names than could possibly fit here.

“But Wayward is very collectivist,” Madley notes. “We don’t want one tyrant in charge who only [works with] their friends.”

That does happen, she says, but, like, in a funny way; some of her Wayward relationships go back years. The difference, though, is that everyone involved wants anything with the Wayward name to be funny, and they will totally leave their buds to die if it’s not the right fit. The troupe also likes to provide opportunities for newcomers and is thus responsible for numerous events at venues like Tumbleroot and, sometimes, Second Street Brewery’s Railyard outpost—and for the lion’s share of Santa Fe’s comedy open mics, the most regular of which goes down each Wednesday night at Chile Line Brewery. All are welcome.

But let’s get to Madley’s upcoming series of classes real quick before we run out of space. It is, she says, almost more of a writing class than a performance class. Scripted sketch comedy is, after all, one of the most prestigious and well-loved art forms around, with countless heavy-hitters getting their start on SNL, MAD TV, etc.. For Madley, it’s a chance to educate, yes, but also to pay homage to the comics who came before and their impact on just about every avenue of media in existence.

“I kind of have this choose-your-own-adventure methodology because I’m not sure who’s going to be in the class yet,” Madley says, “but I’m getting in the weeds. I’m reading Plato. If the point of sketch comedy is that it’s supposed to be funny, we have to figure out why it’s funny. I’m getting very into the theory. I’ve been in a lot of classes where people are like, ‘What’s the trick?’ and we’ll get to that—but I like comedy because anyone can do it.”

If true, Madley’s disarming air and proven track record of coaxing the laughs make her a good candidate for a comedy educator—y’know, since the thought of doing it is scary to some folks. Even so, participants might read some Aristhophanes. They’ll for sure have fun, though.

“I don’t know who’s trying to make a career of this, and I don’t even know if I am, but [comedy] is enriching and rewarding and gratifying because it’s so personal,” Madley says. “When you get a laugh onstage, it’s like...the Sally Field moment: You like me.”

Look for Madley performing at various locations around town in the coming months, including at Jean Cocteau Cinema, Roots & Leaves and the Santa Fe Playhouse.

Introduction to Sketch Comedy Workshops: 6-8 pm Tuesday, Jan. 17 (and the following six Tuesdays). $175. Santa Fe Improv, 1202 Parkway Drive,

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