“That came out wrong,” was uttered not by U.S. Press Secretary Sean Spicer, but by “Veep”’s Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh) after a gaffe that earned him one of Selena Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Seinfeld”) famous glares. Though the bumbling former White House Press Secretary is often compared with Spicer, the series refrains from commenting directly on its uncanny parallels to the current administration. In a conference call interview with the Daily, Walsh explained what makes the comedy so salient, while discussing his character Mike McLintock on the show.
The Emmy Award-winning series, lauded for its hilarious cast and sharp satirization of American politics, has become even more of a topic of conversation in its sixth season following the 2016 Presidential Election.
“I think a lot of people are more engaged now,” said Walsh of viewers. Rather than taking a partisan stance, however, the show aims to influence people’s perception of politics overall.
“I think that comedy can be effective in humanizing what’s sacred, so hopefully it just reminds people that it’s just human beings trying to push ideals through in a very flawed system,” Walsh stated.
According to Walsh, the Armando Iannucci ("In the Loop") created series, taken over by David Mandel (“Seinfeld”) in its fifth season, has served as a cynical portrait of American politics from its inception.
“The show has always lived and died by its insults,” Walsh said of the show’s crassness, “I think that was one of Armando’s first observations (of D.C.) … and that was one of the things he wanted to satirize.”
With the profusion of crude insults being hurled around, the absence of references to presidents beyond Reagan and Selena’s undefined party affiliation may escape notice. That’s what makes the show different in Walsh’s opinion.
“It operates on this fiction, which I think gives us a lot more latitude to comment on the greater truths about what’s happening,” Walsh said.
For Walsh, telling the truth through comedy is one of the most rewarding parts of being on the show and of being a comedy actor.
“I love the power of making people laugh,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to be on the stage and write something that can get this huge response from people.”
Walsh’s experience with comedy started at an early age, ultimately leading him to found the Upright Citizen’s Brigade alongside comedians like Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) and Matt Besser (“The UCB Show”).
“I think comedy and improv and sketch are about life experience,” Walsh said of his improv experience. “I think ultimately you have to develop very keen listening habits.”
He fostered those habits as a psychology major at Northern Illinois University, where his training would later on help him “identify patterns in behavior” that helped him develop characters like Mike.
“I feel like I’ve had a hand in creating Mike’s evolution and creating … the details of his backstory and the details of his character flaws,” Walsh said.
Mike’s flaws are especially visible in his new role as a parent this season.
“I think he feels older, and he feels more overwhelmed," Walsh said. "I think in Mike’s situation he feels unfulfilled just being a dad, because he’s not creatively stimulated.”
This season, Mike is faced with an unruly child whom he adopted from China under the impression that she was three years younger than she really is, in addition to the birth of twin babies, all while dealing with his recent unemployment. However, Walsh claimed that yet “of all the characters, Mike has the happiest life outside work.”
Walsh related Mike’s arc for the season: “I think as always, Mike’s main obstacle is working for a terrible boss — also, it’s a tough business (politics) … for Mike I think it’s always that struggle between personal happiness and professional happiness, and I think that continues this season as well.”
As for the show, Walsh praised the writers for their imagination and fearlessness as well.
“What I love about our show is they’re willing to rip up the premise,” Walsh said in citing Selena’s unexpected ascension to the presidency then to herdevastating loss in the bid for reelection following a historic Electoral College tie as an example.
Often, scenes in the script are revised using improvisation during rehearsal — a method Walsh claimed helps identify what’s not working in the script. During filming, Walsh said there are few free takes (after which the scenes as written have completed shooting), but that those opportunities provide Walsh with the chance to further put his improv chops to use.
Additionally, Walsh credits his comedic prowess on the show to the exchange between castmates.
“I think most comedy involves a scene partner, and I think that’s where great comedians show themselves — is their ability to listen and use what their partner’s giving them,” he said.
“Mike McLintock has been one of my favorite roles, and it’s such an honor to come back as an actor and as a returning character,” Walsh added of his experience on the show.