On a hot Tuesday afternoon, Matt Walsh arrives at The Upright Citizen's Brigade's East Village location in New York City for an early screening of his 2015 film, A Better You—inspired by his use of hypnotherapy to quit smoking. It might be a little ...
On a hot Tuesday afternoon, Matt Walsh arrives at The Upright Citizenâ€™s Brigadeâ€™s East Village location in New York City for an early screening of his 2015 film, A Better Youâ€”inspired by his use of hypnotherapy to quit smoking. It might be a little too early, since there are only three or four people in the audience.
Walshâ€™s publicistâ€”sounding an awful lot like Walshâ€™s character, Mike McLintock, breaking bad news to Julia Louis-Dreyfusâ€™s Selina Meyer on Veepâ€”informs him of the small crowd, assuring him that he doesnâ€™t have to introduce the film as planned.
â€œOh, Iâ€™m here. Iâ€™m definitely going to introduce it,â€ Walsh says, unfazed. Then he whispers, â€œTell them there were 400 people hereâ€ into my recorder.
On stage, Walsh discusses the filmâ€”a labor of love he made with comedian_ Brian Huskey__ and a slew of other UCB alumsâ€”as if addressing a full house.
â€œAuthentic discovery, when captured on camera, I think is tremendous acting,â€ he says. Heâ€™s talking about the primarily improvised film, but his words also apply to the looseness of Veepâ€”a quality that makes it one of the best ensemble comedies on television.
At 51 years old, Walsh has only recently become a familiar face for those who arenâ€™t already comedy aficionados. From co-founding the UCB alongside Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, and Ian Roberts in the 90s, to serving as a Daily Show correspondent before and after 9/11 (on coming back for Jon Stewartâ€™s last show: â€œIt felt like a Kennedy awards ceremonyâ€), to appearing in numerous TV sitcoms and Todd Phillips comedies (Ted, Old School, The Hangover, etc.), heâ€™s long been one of those guys who has a tendency to pop up just about everywhere; despite not being a household name, he seems to be friends with, or at least know, just about everyone in comedy. They know him, too; his characters in some of Phillipsâ€™s movies are simply named â€œWalsh.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been â€˜Walshâ€™ in two,â€ he corrects me while sitting in the bar of UCB East. â€œI was â€˜Valshâ€™ with a â€˜Vâ€™ in School for Scoundrels. But yeah, essentially, [these roles] are written to my personality.â€
In the UCB ethos, an improviser should always be thinking about â€œgroup mindâ€â€”supporting other performers in order to make everyone look good. The same could be said for Walshâ€™s acting technique: whether heâ€™s playing the straight man or the funny one, his scene partner always has a solid communicator, someone who is truly listening and supporting their comedy. It should come as no surprise that in college, he originally planned to be a psychologist.
After a few decades working in various facets of comedy, Walshâ€™s career-defining role as McLintock on Veep feels well-deserved. Throughout his career, heâ€™s often found himself playing opposite hilarious women, whether Poehler on their UCB show on Comedy Central, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, or the ladies of the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, in which he plays a Fed.
Just donâ€™t ask him the question every decent funnyman has been loathing since the 90s: â€œWhen I first started doing press interviews, the big question was, â€˜Do you think women are funny?â€™ People would ask you that in an interview. In an interview! Itâ€™s like, of course they are.â€
Even the concept of an all-female Ghostbusters drew instant Internet backlash, the very day the project was first announced. But Walsh thinks the filmâ€™s performances will outweigh any nerdy preoccupation with the original moviesâ€”even though he does, on some level, get where the detractors are coming from.
â€œI guess Iâ€™m surprised, because everyone in the cast is super funny. But on the same token I understand, because that movie is imprinted on some peopleâ€™s mindsâ€”itâ€™s like a parent,â€ he says. â€œWhen I walked on set, I was very reverent. People are very bonded with that movie.â€
Walsh got involved with the film through director Paul Feig, with whom he worked on season one of Arrested Development (thatâ€™s rightâ€”he even popped up on Arrested Development). In the movie, Walshâ€™s Homeland Security character, Rourke, is teamed up with Michael K. Williams, whom Walsh previously knew as Omar from The Wire. (â€œBelieve me,â€ he says, â€œI was like a fanboy.â€)
Now living in Los Angeles with his wife and three children, Walsh is in New York for the UCBâ€™s annual Del Close Marathon, a weekend-long, 24-hour improv-comedy festival that has grown exponentially during its 18-year run (â€œItâ€™s like an upper-middle class Burning Man,â€ Walsh joked). Of course, he had no idea when he started doing improv that he would found one of the most influential theaters and comedy training programs in the world, much less put those skills to use on a show as huge as Veep. He was a recent college grad when he found improv and sketchâ€”and, ultimately, both Matt Besser and the UCB.
â€œWhen I came into improv, it was almost like an outsider art form,â€ Walsh explains. â€œThere were maybe 80 people affiliated with the community in Chicago, and maybe three or four improv theaters including Second City. There were always these stray dog-type personalities who found improv, because thatâ€™s where they were accepted.â€
Matt Walsh, center, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale filming a scene for Veep.Credit: Courtesy of HBO.
The fact that Louis-Dreyfus, and a number of Veep cast members, came from a similar Chicago improv backgrounds comes in handy during improvised moments on set; it also served Walsh well during the showâ€™s nerve-wracking audition processâ€”one that he had to really work for, considering he had never previously met Louis-Dreyfus.
â€œI did five auditions. From the second audition on, I was in the room with Julia improvising,â€ he remembers. â€œThe final audition was crazy, with 12 HBO executives sitting in the back row like the Manchurian Candidate silhouette. It was high stakes.â€
Leaving the theater, Walsh and I run into UCB performers including Jeff Hiller. The excitement of the upcoming marathon weekend is starting to set in, and for these dedicated Upright Citizens, seeing one of the UCBâ€™s founding fathers makes it feel real.
We head to dinner at Supper, a cozy Italian spot around the corner from UCB East thatâ€™s usually packedâ€”especially the outdoor tables on the longest day of the year.
â€œVacation karma,â€ Walsh says when an outside table opens up right as we arrive. â€œItâ€™s like when youâ€™re out exploring, and you stumble into places without plans and everything just works out.â€
You could say thatâ€™s a good metaphor for Walshâ€™s career. He has a knack for finding the perfect supporting roles, leaving room to make his own films or even try his hand at being an â€œaction starâ€â€”as he did in 2014â€™s Into The Storm. He brings the same loose energy to his roles in both mainstream blockbusters like Ghostbusters and indie movies like David Crossâ€™s 2015 dark comedy, Hits, in which he starred. Chances are he wonâ€™t have to audition five times for anything ever again thanks to Veepâ€”but he has a humble self-awareness about comedy fame that is almost zen.
â€œI think people who can do comedy well donâ€™t get enough credit,â€ Walsh says. â€œIt can be harder than drama. Iâ€™m not saying Iâ€™m a great, Shakespearean actor, but I think what Julia does with a comic role is what Meryl Streep does with a dramatic role. Comedy always gets a little slighted.â€
He thinks for a few seconds over his bolognese before coming a conclusion on why that happens.
â€œComedians have to be relatable, in a wayâ€”so the pedestal gets smaller.â€
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