Michael James McDonald was born and raised in Fullerton, Orange County, California. He graduated from USC with a degree in Business and became a loan officer at a bank in Los Angeles. A friend took him to see a sketch comedy/improv show at L.A.'s famous Groundling Theater, and everything changed for him. McDonald quit his job as a banker, enrolled in the Groundling's Improv Program, and became a member of the troupe from 1992 to 1997. His first professional writing and acting jobs came from Concorde Pictures, Roger Corman's infamous low-budget movie studio.
Starting as an extra, McDonald landed small roles in many B-movies of the early 1990s, and he gradually earned bigger roles as well as eventually writing and directing some films.