Guest Programmer: Matt Walsh - 12/11
Actor/comedian/director/writer Matt Walsh is a self-professed "comedy nerd" whose appreciation of a wide variety of humor is reflected in his stint as this month's Guest Programmer. Walsh grew up in Chicago as one of seven siblings, and tells his TCM interviewer, critic and film expert Leonard Maltin, that watching classic film comedies on television with his family was "one of the ways we got to share laughs in our busy lives."
Walsh's affinity for film comedy was also a factor in his career choices. After college, he worked with improvisational groups in Chicago and was a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade improv comedy troupe, along with Amy Poehler, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts. The troupe's sketch-comedy series ran for three seasons on the Comedy Central TV channel. Walsh also created the improv comedy series Players for Spike TV.
Walsh has had notable supporting roles in many film comedies including Old School (2003), Role Models (2008), Semi-Pro (2008), The Hangover (2009), Cyrus (2010), Ted (2012) and Ghostbusters (2016). He wrote and starred in the cult comedy Martin & Orloff (2002), and has appeared in such comedy series as NBC's Outsourced and HBO's Hung. He is perhaps best-known for the recurring role of Mike McLintock in HBO's Veep, for which he was nominated for an Emmy® as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
Walsh puts his movie picks into four categories of comedy: "social satire," "nostalgia," "cult classic with an indie vibe" and "pure classic." The satirical Being There (1979) stars Oscar®-nominated Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardiner, a simple-minded gardener who inadvertently becomes a national hero. Walsh notes that Sellers was one of his childhood idols, and the fact that his father was also a Sellers fan led to a "very sentimental association" with the actor. He also admires cast members Shirley MacLaine, Oscar®-winner Melvyn Douglas and Richard A. Dysart, along with the "brilliant" screenplay and the "perfection" of Hal Ashby's direction.
The nostalgia angle is provided by My Favorite Year (1982), starring Peter O'Toole as an Errol Flynn-like actor whose drunken misbehavior creates chaos when he appears on a live comedy show in the early years of television. Walsh says this movie is "like candy" for him because he was fascinated by the 1950s heyday of TV studios in New York City and had read "all the books" on the subject. He finds the script to be "tightly written" and the period ambiance "spectacular." And then there's the fun of seeing classical actor O'Toole "at the center of a comedy."
Walsh's "cult classic" is Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I (1987), the British black comedy about a pair of irresponsible London actors whose planned holiday in the country turns into a disaster. Walsh finds that the movie taps into his own memories of being "a poor actor who would do anything for free food or liquor" and "the camaraderie you have with people in the trenches." Supporters of this film, he says, are very passionate about it, making it "the epitome of a cult movie."
For pure classic film comedy, of course, there's nothing like the Marx Brothers, and Walsh chooses Horse Feathers (1932), another movie he remembers enjoying on television as child with his parents and siblings. "There's a little romance, a little singing but mostly it's just the brothers doing what they do best, and it's generally funny throughout." Walsh recalls the influence the brothers had on his sketch group, which would "workshop material before we shot it for our television show," much like the Marx Brothers did on the vaudeville stage before they made their movies.
by Roger Fristoe