Upright Citizen’s Brigade veteran Matt Walsh may not have the most familiar name, but he’s appeared in some of the most popular comedies of the last decade, including The Hangover, Old School, and I Love You Man.
He’s taken that success to a number of small roles on television, but now has a much more significant role on HBO’s Veep opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Mike McLintock, Director of Communications. Walsh talks about working with show creator Armando Iannucci and his comedy background in an interview with New York magazine.
Walsh reveals that Iannucci allows the cast some room for improv, especially to make the language more “American.” He explains, “We get these 40-page scripts, and there’s tons of great jokes in there, but once we start rehearsing, we play with it. We’ll paraphrase some of the more British stuff, make it American, and he’ll write down what we say and take what he likes from that. And on our filming days, we’ll get one or two loose takes — not to be self-indulgent, but to look for things to discover. And he’ll shoot in this open, documentary-style, which is very forgiving — it’s not about hitting the marks. The show is pretty truthful about portraying Washington, but it’s not The West Wing. It’s not idealistic. It’s shabby. Some of us don’t have desks and work on a couch. We have bad coffee. Papers are everywhere. And we seem to be dressing like people did in D.C. about twenty years ago! No cutting-edge fashion.”
Nonetheless, despite his comedy background Walsh admits that it’s impossible for him to definitely “make somebody” seem funny. He says, “If I have a guaranteed joke, and a controlled audience, who I know to be neutral — not expecting someone in particular — yeah. But a thousand different people can deliver that joke a thousand ways. And the audience is a big part. A fat guy is guaranteed to get the highest laugh count. There are just certain types that we like to laugh at, who have been a staple of American comedy, from Kevin James to Chris Farley to John Belushi, and we perceive them to be more gregarious. There are other types, such as the proper type — the high-class character who is being subverted or undercut will always be funny to us, such as John Cleese. So in some ways, you can’t overcome what you are, or what the audience tends to laugh at, but I can teach you how to improv, how to listen.”
As for his own type, Walsh is at least self-deprecating, pointing out, “I’m pretty close to the fat guy. [Laughs.] I’m jolly looking. It’s the mustache. Maybe I’m more of an Everyman, which is broader.”
Veep airs Sunday nights on HBO