Brendon Walsh has a new half-hour of stand-up on Comedy Central this week with the release of his episode of The Half Hour, but if Walsh plays his cards right, he could have a series with the cable channel, too.
“It’s like a slacker comedy,” Walsh said of the script deal he sold to Comedy Central. “It takes place in Austin, and stars some people who are too old to be goofing off.”
Sounds more than a bit like the Brendon Walsh I’ve come to know over the past several years.
But first, here’s a teaser clip from Walsh’s Comedy Central half-hour, which debuts tonight. You may just learn something old about karaoke and something new about sign language. Roll it!
How long have you been prone to pulling pranks? You’ve got that one bit from your act (we’ll get to that later), and last summer, one of the first comedians to talk to me at Montreal’s Just For Laughs was himself laughing over a prank you pulled on Nick Thune’s fans by suggesting he had been hired by Saturday Night Live.
“That wasn’t even a pre-meditated prank. I was hanging out with Chelsea Peretti in Nick’s apartment. Chelsea and I were thinking, let’s have fun with Nick on Twitter. And I said, ‘Why don’t we congratulate Nick on getting Saturday Night Live?’ We all laughed. Chelsea said, ‘I’m going to Tweet that now.’ And Nick laughed. We didn’t even think (about the repercussions) until people began emailing Nick and saying nice things. And then Nick said, ‘Actually, I auditioned for SNL six months ago.’ We were like, ‘Why didn’t you say anything?!’ That wasn’t a prank. We were just sitting around, thinking, let’s do something stupid. It got out of control very quickly. We felt bad about it. And we went back and deleted it. But either way, the whole thing was crummy. People got happy for Nick. But then people got mad at me for being a jerk. I wouldn’t have done it if he weren’t sitting right there.”
Were you always a bit of a prankster, though? “Yeah, my whole life I’ve liked goofing around. I had fake bugs I put around the house to freak my mom out. I guess my mom was my first victim. The first person I’d fuck around with. I like fucking with people, but in a fun way.”
What’s the secret to a good prank that doesn’t end badly with burned bridges? “That’s the tough thing. When you’re really inspired by something. Kind of like the incident with Nick, you know, we’re sitting around saying ‘let’s start a rumor,’…it’s not until after you’ve done it, you go, ‘Oh, wait a minute.’ You set the wheels in motion, but you don’t think 10 steps ahead…it’s all very in the moment.”
One bit you’ve had in your stand-up act for years, however, is very much planned out — if you haven’t retired it yet — which messes with the audience’s emotions. You’ll have to retire the joke, eventually, or swap out the name. Do you have mixed feelings about that joke? “I don’t do it as often anymore. It’s weird. Every comic is the same way, whenever you’re doing something for a while. I was doing the bit for a few years, four years maybe. So you assume, everybody has seen it. But the reality is they haven’t. But I have done it now on television. I will still throw it in there occasionally, just to get that reaction from the crowd. But one person can ruin it. If they giggle from the back. It doesn’t take a lot to screw it up. It really does bring me complete joy….only for a couple of seconds, though, but still.
“Like I said, I’m not doing it anymore. The whole thing happened so organically. It came from a real incident at a party. When Buddy Hackett died. We were at a party and talking about a few celebrities had died that week — Marlon Brando, somebody else — and a woman came up and said Buddy Hackett died, too. We were all stunned for a minute. I was so amused by how upset we got.”
So he and a friend took that concept out and about.
“This was before smart phones. One of us would loudly say at the bar, ‘What, Gene Hackman died?!’ Honestly, between 10-15 seconds, somebody would come up to us and ask, ‘Did you just say Gene Hackman died?’ It was a social experiment that I brought onstage. I had a theory that black people wouldn’t care as much about Gene Hackman.” He tested it while walking past a dance club with a long line of would-be patrons down the sidewalk. “I go walking past the line, and my friend said, ‘What, you’re telling me Gene Hackman died?’ And two guys broke the line and followed us.”
“So yeah, eveybody cares.”
I know you’re not there now, but how did you end up going from Philadelphia to Austin as a younger comedian? “It was just random. I had a friend who had a place there, a friend from Philly, she used to go to Austin in the summers. We were working together. And I had been there for one night. I had been with a touring company…I knew it was a good place to do anything in the arts. It’s a great place to cut your teeth in and get experience. Filmmaking, comedy, theater, art, music. There was a scene for everything. That was what pretty much attracted me to it. Where I grew up in Philadelphia, people weren’t super supportive of very artistic endeavors.”
But Walsh claims, “I didn’t really do comedy until 2002.” Before then, he did a lot of “that goofy shit.”
Have you thought of bringing “that goofy shit” back into the act? “Yeah, when I was younger, I was doing more characters. When I started going on the road, I just didn’t want to lug a bunch of shit around with me. I would like to get back into doing more characters. It goes along with fucking with people.”
“The beard is kind of limiting. Once you have a beard, it’s a permanent disguise. A beard and a fake mustache and glasses do wonders. There was a ventriloquist set that I would do on the road. I would do Dan Richardson and Woody, that was the ventriloquist’s act name, and of course, the dummy’s name was Dan Richardson. I’d get a kick out of that, because I’d go up and do a 10-minute set early in the show, the feature would do his act, and then I’d go back up as myself and people wouldn’t know it was also me.
“I did a show with (Doug) Stanhope once at the Lakeshore Theater where I did four different characters thoughout the show, and (Chris) Ritter came backstage and said, ‘Where are those other guys at? I wanted to meet them!”
What were the four characters? “The ventriloquist act, Scary Monster, which I did on Kimmel like eight years ago, Balloono, a clown character where I’d come out in full makeup and costume and talk about how great I was at making balloon animals, and then I’d take requests from the audience. When I blew it up, it was a round balloon, and then I’d look at the balloon and look at the package on the stool. It was basically twenty minutes of preparation for literally 2.5 minutes onstage. And then there was Seymour Black, who was a blind comedian. He’d give a big speech…I’d go up and say I’m not a blind comedian, I’m just a comedian who happens to be blind, and then I’d do the hackiest jokes about blindness.”
So you were a fan of Andy Kaufman, I take it? “I was a huge fan of his at the time, and yeah, as I got older, too. I always appreciated him. The wrestling thing, I remember when that was going on, but I was too young to know what was really happening. God, that was so funny. To move to Memphis and really become a wrestling guy! One of the funniest things I’ve ever heard is when him and (Jerry) Lawler get into a big thing in the ring. I think it’s when Lawler pile-drived him and he went out on a stretcher, and then he came back and talked down to the fans. He said, ‘You’ll never see me again! You’ll never see this face in Memphis, Tennessee again!’ And everybody’s cheering. And as he walks out he says, ‘I shall return!’ I think about that on a weekly basis.”
Speaking of cheers and boos, hat’s this I hear about booing in your Comedy Central half-hour? Tell me everything! “I was lying! I had a bit. or a joke when people ask me how the show went, I’ll say they booed me offstage, but then they booed me back onstage. I really like that image where he’s booed all the way around the room.”
Do you have anything else you’d like to plug? “Do you remember that time I tried to pee on you in Austin?”
He’ll also be in Denver next month, June 6-10, at Comedy Works: Downtown.
Here’s one more clip from Comedy Central, talking to Walsh backstage clip about the advantages and disadvantages of a life in stand-up comedy. Roll it.