“Politicians Aren’t Geniuses, They’re Human Beings”: Matt Walsh and the Humanity of ‘Veep’
That Veep is the funniest show on television is certainly debatable, but there’s no doubt no other show has better insults. Take Selina Meyer’s description of former White House liaison Jonah Ryan, for example.
“You let that unstable piece of human scaffolding into your house?”
Every episode is stocked with similarly exquisite putdowns. And except for Jonah, no one is at the receiving end of them more than Meyer’s Communications Director Mike McClintock, superbly played by Matt Walsh.
With Meyer assuming the role of president in Season 4, that means we’ll also be seeing more of McClintock in his heightened role as White House Press Secretary.
I recently had the chance to talk to Walsh, a UCB founder, about the upcoming season and other projects he has in store.
So what’s new with Mike this season? He’ll have a larger role with Selina becoming president, but I’m also curious about his personal life. Mike’s a rich character.
I think the pull between personal happiness and career is heightened this year. It’s the pull between his wife, Wendy, and kids, and the allure of being on camera as press secretary. He’s the face of the administration so he really enjoys that. With her being president and seeking election, he’s questioning whether he can go in for another four years because it never quite delivers. Everybody’s addicted to fame and success and power, but when you have it, it’s like “well, what else is out there that’s going to make me happy?” So I think that’s Mike turn. He’s getting more frustrated with politics and Selina. I think you see him lose his shit a little more.
What are you drawing from when you play him? He’s such a conflicted character. He has a sense of entitlement, but he’s also sad and depressed. There’s a lot going on with Mike.
I think I try to get away with as much as possible before I get in trouble, like something that’s super dumb or super sad. As a comedian I try and do it as extreme as possible but keeping it within the realm of reality. And I think a lot is built from loyalty to Selina. I think he loves Selina, he would anything for her and he’s sort of trapped in that relationship. Everything is compromised now so it’s kind of tricky.
And just in terms of your role as press secretary, did you spend much time around press secretaries in Washington? You really picked up on the nuances. It’s such a unique relationship between the press and press secretaries. They’re friends, colleagues and enemies all wrapped up into one.
Politicians aren’t geniuses, they’re human beings, so I just start there. Anyone in the political game is a fairly normal person, generally. I spent some time with Mike McCurry, who was a press secretary during the Clinton administration, and Dee Dee Meyers. I also met with [former Obama press secretary] Jay Carney. I just sort of gathered their approach to being in that position. A lot of it is keeping those relationships positive and putting a positive spin on things. Just being civil to each other. When you give real information when you have it I think you engender a real trust with the media, instead of just bullshitting them with platitudes. And then you have the realization that everything could change 10 minutes from now so you tamper your emotions.
Did you notice any parallels between working the room as a performer and working the room as a press secretary?
Certainly. Being up at the podium is basically a performance. You have to be prepared for it. You can’t go in blind without doing your homework. You have to know what the administration wants you to say and you sort of have to read the tea leaves to anticipate what questions they might surprise you with.
(Veep creator) Armando Iannucci is so astute. Do you think it helps having a foreigner’s eye to really capture and portray the dysfunction of Washington?
I think an outsider can see the ridiculousness of it more so than a person who’s immersed in it. Absolutely. They can provide a better analysis of how crazy our system is.
The pacing of the show is so frenetic. Do you have to do more takes than normal on Veep? It seems difficult to deliver lines that are so articulate and so fast-paced without stumbling a few times.
Hmm. They really do overwrite. We do 60-70-page scripts for a half-hour show so there’s twice as much material. But we don’t belabor it. Sometimes we’ll come up with new ideas on the day we’re shooting, but we try to nail it as written. In rehearsal we’ll do a little more improvising. But in terms of the pace, no it doesn’t really feel any more hectic.
I think a lot of people would agree the insults on Veep are one of the best parts of the show. They’re almost poetic. Do you guys tell the writers about your insecurities? Because the insults are so cutting and get to each character’s core.
The writers definitely love to look at our types and our physical flaws and dissect those. They definitely don’t need our help.
That’s one of the best parts of the table read. The insults are so funny. We all hang out after the show and try to become friends again.
Hugh Laurie is in the show this year. He’s great. What’s his role?
He’s someone who comes into our camp, you could say. He’s someone we need something from and he becomes an ally… He’s someone I wanted to work with for a long time. He’s great. I was a little intimidated working with him.
Was it the idea to have Selina become president all along?
I think it was written so that she would have an election and run for president, but to actually get it? I don’t believe during the pilot or first season that that was coming. That’s one of the great things about our show. They really considered so many different ideas and possibilities. And I love that the show is still called Veep.
Beyond Veep, you have some other projects in the works. You’re directing a movie this summer?
Yeah, I directed a movie called A Better You. It’s going to be on-demand this summer. It’s the second improvised comedy I directed. It’s got Horatio Sanz, Andy Daley, Rob Huebel, Erinn Hayes, my lovely wife, myself. So yeah, keep an eye out for that. I also have a tiny part in Get Hard right now. So there’s that.