Interview: PJ Walsh Steps Into The Game Shares Stories from Comics on Duty
by Michael Magor
What can I say about PJ Walsh that he wouldn’t say about himself? Not much really because the entertainer extraordinaire wears his heart on his sleeve, and ain’t afraid to tell all. You can find his personal and detailed interview right here on Bloginity.com. The former dental technician for the Clinton administration has come a long way in the comedy industry and is looking to shoot for the stars in his upcoming acting efforts. I don’t doubt for a second that he will be successful condsidering his track record. While PJ’s journey hasn’t been all that easy by any means it’s safe to say the guy’s got ‘it’. And now that he has completed a two year intensive acting program at the renowned William Esper Acting Studio, he’s got more of ‘it’. He is constructing his first solo show, already titled “Over There”, and hopes to take his game to the next level.
Whether you believe it or not, Walsh said his two favorite comics of all time are Sinbad and Billy Connolly. In his interview he continued to say that “people look at me with a clear WTF look on their face” when he tells people that. And rest assure WTF does not stand for “why-those-fellas”. He went on to say that those guys make him laugh “harder than anyone else, and thats what comedians are supposed to do.” Without naming names I hope some comics are reading this and going “oh yea”. Not only does PJ Walsh have ‘it’ he is also aware he has got what it takes to follow in the footsteps while making his own unique footprints along the way. However, without admitting it outright, PJ does say that he likes to keep his mind sharp and puts a “signature on each show” instead of sticking to the script. He likes to improvise on stage a lot and “loves flying off the cuff” to come up with fresh material. All of this are signs that he has that natural ‘it’ factor and honors comedy as an art form.
The man is a true comedian craftsman.
Mike: How did you get started in comedy:
PJ: I got my start when I was in the Navy. I grew up surrounded by funny guys in New York. I didn’t notice the potential to be “the” funny one until I was in a different environment. When we had down time… everything in the military is “hurry up & wait”. During the wait everyone would gather around me or have me stand in-front of everyone. I would goof off, tell stories… act like an ass. I was performing stand up without knowing it. I would notice new people joining us for lunch all the time? Lunch became my very first performance venue. My friends kept telling me I should be a stand up. I believe the universe gives you signs. Some you miss & some are impossible to miss. This sign kept coming around. Once strangers who I had just met started telling me I should do comedy. I started to realize. These people don’t know me? So this is the impression I give off. Those impressions made me feel good. I followed the signs. Comedy chose me. Thank God!
Mike: What inspires you to write new skits?
PJ: For the most part my own life. I just keep living, reflect on what I have done in the past & pay attention to the present. I strive for originality, certain formulas are universal & I think every art form premise has been beat into the ground. There is not a song, movie, book or joke that has not been already covered. We’re pretty far down the road in the creative world. And audiences like the familiar, they don’t care and for the majority have no standards.
I don’t fault them. It’s why the A-Team, Clash of The Titans & Star Trek are still relevant. These are stories I watched when I was a kid. Just shined up & repackaged for the old & new audience. And I will see every one of them. Every once in a while though, you come across The Hurt Locker, In Bruges or Crazy Heart. Something trying to still strive at creativity.
I aspire to do that. I feel I am getting better at it. I tell myself often. “What I do is always going to suck to someone, don’t let that someone be me”. I’ve been a student of comedy & retain so much. I watch comedians and notice right away material that is/has been re-used time & time again.
Without even the slightest attempt at, at least personalizing it. You should know & respect your art. I consider this an art. The audience doesn’t know or care & some comedians for the most part don’t either. And club owners just want butts in the seats. I do care. I’m not perfect. I just have a standard for myself & hope to do good honest work. So I talk about my life for the most part. At the end of the day know one can do you better then you.
Mike: What have been your best and worst experience in a show?
PJ: Best – I got a letter from a woman telling me how much she loved my show & how over the past year her family had been dealing with the painful results of her son being hurt in a wrestling accident during a match at school. He was on life support for several months & they celebrated his 15th birthday again at the hospital due to him having a heart attack. She wrote me telling me that at the show it was the 1st time in a year 1 ½ that she & her husband cried tears of joy instead of tears of sorrow. That it brought true happiness into her heart when she looked over at her husband who had extreme laughter tears flowing down his cheeks. She was so happy to wipe these tears away. It amazed me. I have that letter pined up right in front of me at my desk. I never thought this thing I do would touch someone like that. I mean wow! With that knowledge I know I have to keep trying to do this better.
The worst – bombing! I cannot stand anyone who says they never bomb. I am not talking about a soft set. I mean BOMB! Just flat out people looking at you thinking “I hope he don’t think he’s funny.” It happens to everyone. At least if you are taking risks it should. It is not what you strive for… haha. I remember I was doing one show in Upstate New York at a club I got a lot of my chops at.
They loved me there. I was living in LA at the time & was home. So I was going to do their Saturday night. Well my buddy Cliff Diedrick who owns The Skyline Comedy Café in Appleton, WI. Kim his girlfriend & another friend Paul were in town. They wanted to catch the show, hang & then we were going to hit my family’s bar that was only a bit down the road from the club after. For some reason I always make this mistake. Doing a show in NY on a night the Yankees are in the playoffs.
My experience with this situation has been anyone that laughs at my stuff is off watching the game someplace else. This night was no different. This carnival cruise act went up and sang nursery rhymes & had props & puppets… just painful. BUT the crowd LOVED IT! Cliff leans into me a say’s “ They love this fucking mess… THEY ARE GOING TO FUCKING HATE YOU” I tried to prove him wrong. But FUCK HE WAS RIGHT! 45 minutes of people just looking at me. I would throw out a bit… nothing for a few seconds… then a monster burst of laughter coming from the back corner of the bar where I can see Cliff, Kim & Paul loosing their shit at my 45 minutes of pure death! Bombing is so much fun for your friends & in some cases hysterical to yourself after some time. That same night driving home a truck tire blew up right in front of me and the steal radial tire ripped all up the hood & roof of my car while I was driving. My reaction? I didn’t even flinch… just said “Why not God! Why not!”
Daniel: You just came back from a show you did for the troops, which was during Christmas season and on Christmas Day. How was that?
PJ: Really Special! I have taken these trips since 2001. They really help put life into perspective for me. I get the opportunity to work with Rich Davis on his Comics On Duty program. Rich Davis truly cares a great deal about our service members. It’s an absolute privilege to work with him and the high caliber of talented he brings on board. A Comics On Duty show line up is a monster show.
I guarantee that. And let me just say. If you are a comedian, even more so if you are a “celebrity” comedian and you have never taken a moment of your time to go to Iraq or Afghanistan to entertain these great Americans.
I have a very hard time respecting you. These are the individuals that Protect/Provide our freedoms & those freedoms are the fuel in which we work. Get over yourself and say, “Thank you VERY VERY much!” When I was 19 years old I spent the Christmas of 1991 on a ship right there in the Persian Gulf.
I was put on the ship the day before Christmas & did not know a soul. It was the loneliest Christmas of my life. When I can bring a smile or make service members laugh during the holiday season or any point during these wars. That means a great deal to me! I have been there! 18 years to the day of my loneliest Christmas ever I found myself in the Persian Gulf again on Christmas day bringing laughs to the sailors on The USS Nimitz Aircraft carrier. Life can come full circle at times. Like I said… Really Special!
Mike: What’s the scariest thing that happened during one of your sets?
PJ: The scariest experience is actually pretty cool. I was in Iraq back in 2004 on a 33-show tour with my friend Rich Davis’s “Comic On Duty” program. We were at a base doing a show in an abandoned Iraqi theatre. I was closing the show. The audience was packed with soldiers. In the middle of my show. A code red is called. That means incoming. All I see from my vantage point is about a thousand soldiers putting on their flak vests & helmets. It looked like rows of falling dominos. I dove behind the curtain to Rich & the other comedians who already had on their vest & helmet. During a code red you cannot leave the building. I put on my helmet & vest and I walked back on stage to finish my part of the show. I will never forget taking that stage in front of those soldiers. You could hear their roar for miles! The feeling is completely un- match able. I don’t want to match it! I’m not a bad ass; they are the bad Asses. I am a comedian. But on that day I was one badass comedian! If we were going to take a hit. They would be laughing & I was going out firing jokes!
Daniel: You’ve done tons of things with the Blue Collar Comedy guys. Tell us about the experience, and about hanging out with those crazy people in general.
PJ: I was right they’re for the Blue Collar explosion. I toured with those guys individually from 2003 – 2007 & was Larry the Cable Guys opening act for like three years. Those guys gave me a lot of drive. They showed me what hard work could amount up to. There successes are no mistake. It’s earned. I never felt I was an outsider. But I didn’t exactly fit or I imagine I would still be there. I’m a 1st generation Irish American New Yorker, son of a plumbing contractor, was in the military & a life long Springsteen fan. I really wasn’t a stretch & was well received by their audience. I heard someone say once “ The longer you live & the deeper you dig. You will discover more of your authentic self”. I like to think that is where I have been heading. I believe that is why they are so successful. Haters can dismiss them all they want. You can’t take away what audiences sense about you and they have a huge loyal audience. I cherish every moment & opportunity I got to experience with those guys.
I have some of my fondest memories touring & just the friendship with Larry The Cable Guy & his wife Cara. I find the man funnier then the character. Obviously the character is funny. But the man… ridiculous! We would laugh so damn hard! The kind of laughs you will remember for a lifetime. It’s rare to have that kind of sick laughing at the most demented things connection with someone. Larry & I always laughed uncontrollably at the same damn demented ass things. Tears in our eyes, kicking on the floor, full of life laughter! Those were really fun times. The Blue Collar Guys did something completely amazing. Whether you respect their style of comedy or not. If you actually take time to look into the work they put in coming up & how ready they were when opportunity arrived. You would have an immense amount of respect for them. I do.
Mike: Who are your favorite comedians?
PJ: My favorite comedians are a strange mix. The top two are Billy Connolly & Sinbad. People look at me with a clear WTF look on their face when I say that. Especially Sinbad & most of the time American’s are like Billy who? Here is the thing & it’s simple. Those guys make me laugh harder then anyone else. That is what comedians are supposed to do. When I watched Sinbad’s “Afro & Bellbottoms” HBO special. Man, I wanted to be Sinbad. I tried to get a higher butt & everything! He is just funny to me. I related to him so much. That is why he will always be an influence. I saw so much of myself within his performance. That is how someone becomes your favorite artists. He was clean, silly & loved the hard way his parents brought him up. You could see it was a very strict upbringing. But he would not have it any other way. That is how I was raised. My parents would beat my ass at the drop of a dime. And like Sinbad. I too respect, love & am thankful to my parents.
Billy Connolly is the other side of the coin for me. Raw, could be considered rude by some tight arses, hysterical & loves the word FUCK! What I love most about The Big Yin is that I feel in touch with where he came from. He was raised hard, in the poorest of Scotland. Was a welder on the River Clyde. Man stuff in his words. I am 1st generation Irish in this country. Growing up I spent a lot of time plumbing contracting with my father who like my mother was raised poor on a farm in Ireland. Dreaming of a better place, better way of life. That does not leave your household.
I know where my parents are from, seen the houses they were born in, in Ireland. My father had me working from the minute I was born. It’s a funny insecurity really. I relate more with individuals that don’t take living in this country for granted. With Billy I could tell there were so many obstacles, so much against him & no one was going to give him a thing. My father instilled that in me. We are not privileged people. Lotto tickets don’t fall in our favor & royalty don’t run in our blood. This is the land were if you work hard. Things will happen. I’ve experienced that 1st hand. That is so Billy Connolly. He is an amazing storyteller & so much reflects the surroundings within my Irish upbringing
Mike: What compelled you to do stand up at first?
PJ: I got drunk at hooters with some friends. They signed me up for an open mic then told the hooters waitress & myself what they had done. She was impressed, said she might come by. So the short answer would be T&A. I stepped on stage at Headliners Comedy Club on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda Maryland in front of 8 people, 4 of which were my friends. I remember the visual look of the mic in the mic stand with the spotlight blinding everything else except waves of smoke drifting up behind it. I just took it in & said to myself “this is so damn cool”! Fell in love right there! 11 years later I slept with my 1st Hooters waitress.
Mike: Do you write / improv a lot while perform?
PJ: I do a bit of everything. Mostly I will jot down an idea and then go on stage with it. I have never really been a write every word down guy. More bullet points really. It looses something with me when it has to be so precisely performed. Never seems fresh & fun. I am actually trying to do that more though. I have forced myself to sit down & write my stand up act. I do it with scripts. So my hope is it can only help. When I perform though… that is where it really happens. I love “flying off the cuff” moments. I can improv quite a bit.
I pretty much tape myself every show. I love those magical situations that can only happen live. Sending me off on a tangent. Those tangents usually become material. Plus I like to put a signature on a show. Something that can only happen that night with that particular audience. You have your A,B,C,D… comics. Ones that never veer off their act. I am more of an A,B…Q,7,niner…C,D. I love the search it keeps my mind sharp.
If something is bouncing around in there & the crowd is right I have to talk about it. I can do A,B,C,D when I have to. The big theatre/arena shows I did with the Blue Collar Guys I’d stay on script. My own shows at a more intimate club have a completely different feel. What I am working on now is a solo show. That will require me to stay on script. More acting & coloring of the material. Not just straight funny. I recently completed a full time two-year theatre school. I felt I needed training to gain the ability to try & pull off the vision I have had in my head for sometime. I hope it works. I love the challenge of it all.
Mike: Is there anything you’re very successful at that not a lot of people know about?
PJ: When I was in the Navy I was the Primary Dental Technician for 1st & 2nd families in the White House during the Clinton years & the troops at Camp David. Still blows my mind when I think back. Only one person gets that job. We were told about it in school on day one and it went right over my head. I placed myself dead last on the list of thousands for that job. I ended up at Camp Lejeune, NC. My captain who had sent me to the Persian Gulf told me I should pick Bethesda, Maryland as my next duty station because he thought I would end up being the President’s guy. I guess he saw the potential because he had previously been President Regan’s dentist.
I went to Bethesda because it was close to Washington D.C. & I wanted to start comedy. I knew I needed to be close to a city. That captain knew what he was talking about. I got asked to be a candidate for the White House job. A job that was no easy task to get & do. I had to get the highest security clearance possible. Very long interview & background check process. I passed? That’s when I really started to worry about our country! But the signs were always right there. I could see now how I achieved it. It is really strange when I think back on it. I always had this “if you work hard & are a good person, things will happen” attitude. Funny because I heard Conan O’Brian say close to the same thing on his last night as host of the Tonight Show. It’s very true.
Daniel: Any funny Airplane stories?
PJ: I know this question has been asked to pull the story out of me about how I met our mutual friend Gary Napadov. I was stuck in Chicago O’Hare. A place I find myself way to often. I had been traveling for days & a flight I was on came in late. I could not get on one last flight home to New York. I sat stand by for like 14 hours. Exhausted, frustrated & beyond pissed. I could have easily ended up on that Airline reality show. So now it is the last flight of the night. I get the very last seat at the very last moment. The plane is completely full. I have a middle seat. I board the plane and find my row. In the aisle seat of my row is an Asian man who is sprawled out with his head back, shoes off exposing his nasty socks.
I let him know I am sitting in the middle. He looks up at me & points to his bag that is placed in my feet area. In the little compartment under the seat directly in front of me. I cannot understand a word he was saying. But the jest of it was “do I mind if he keeps his bag in my feet area” I was so exhausted, burned out & just done I said. “Do whatever you want man”. I sit in the middle seat with this dudes bag taking up my leg space.
Then the guy next to me sitting at the window seat say’s to me with a Russia accent “you’re a more understanding person than I am… I tell you that”. I just put my head back and say. “Dude, if I address this little cocksucker in the least. I will rip his skull off and drive it up his own fucking ass! I just want to get home man. It’s only 2 hours. Fuck this asshole”! Now I am saying this in a clear audible voice.
Right next to the guy. And I didn’t stop. “ I mean who wants someone else’s bag of shit on there feet? In what world does that kind of pure cocksucking thinking even occur? I tell you what world… PJ Walsh’s world! Right here, right now with this FUCK FACE! Then I went into a pretty massive politically incorrect rant about how I thought Asian people were suppose to be amazingly polite & every trip I had ever taken to Japan or Korea was an absolute delight.
I just adored the people and how this fucknut was giving them all a bad name. All Completely Out Loud And For This Guy To Hear. From that point on Gary and I have been friends! We bull shitted the entire flight back to New York City & were never short of being completely astonished at the little Asian dudes complete gall. Was Hysterical!