It takes bravery, skill, endurance, and the right mindset to represent for our country and oddly enough, the same could be said for comedy. Well, maybe if your name is PJ Walsh. This U.S. Navy veteran and stand-up comic houses all of those qualities and then some and on Monday July 6th, he'll be flexing his talents (or, attempting to) along with other members of the U.S. military on a special episode of American Ninja Warrior.
Paying tribute to our brothers and sisters in arms is important because we owe so much to these heroes that protect us and the ones we love. The team over on American Ninja Warrior concurs and figured out a fun way to show them some love by sending them off to battle…on their obstacle course. We talked to PJ before the episode airs to find out how rigorous the training process was, how it was working with his best friend (and co-host of ANW) Matt Iseman, and to see how the experience changed him for the better.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): Obviously the American Ninja Warrior course is nothing short of gnarly. Did you go to one of those gyms that prepare you for it?
PJ Walsh: Well training wise, I'm 43 and I like going to the gym, staying in shape, and being active anyway. When it was about eight weeks away, I went up to this place called Tempest Freerunning Academy where they do a lot of the American Ninja Warrior stuff. They have the warped wall, the steps, and every once in a while, they'll even have a special ninja day. There are so many places around the country that do this now, it's crazy! I went there and took and adult class but everyone else was like, 22. [Laughs.] A lot of the show focuses on upper body strength so I did a lot of arms, pull-ups, pushups, and climbing. We actually started warming up by doing dodgeball and I was like, I've been playing dodgeball since 1983! Let's do this! When I went to throw the ball, I felt like I threw it like I used to but the trajectory of the ball clearly let me know that there was some age behind it.
It's crazy how you can feel so young at heart until you do something like dodgeball and throw a shoulder out.
That's the thing, it was like a real reality check. Back in my 20's, I was in the Navy and stationed with the Marines and could crush an obstacle course after a full night of drinking. I was in such great shape! One of the things I knew going into this obstacle course was I'm not in my 20's and I'm also heavier. I'm in good shape but I was like, 140 back then and this time, I came in at 185. [Laughs.]
I think it's deserved weight though. I'm also OK with a man's "earned" beer gut so don't listen to me…
[Laughs.] I come from a long line of beer guts because I'm Irish. When I grew up and was waist high, there were beer guts everywhere. It was this horrifying thing to me so I became anti-beer gut for myself.
Well I don't see one on you so good job Walsh! OK, back to the training. Did you leave feeling like it went well?
Oh yeah. And it was so much fun and I really took well to it all probably because I used to be a gymnast. I've been doing comedy since 1994 and this training gave me the same feeling as the first time I walked into an open mic. It had that "this is fucking awesome" feeling. I continued the training at a nearby park and did a bunch of swimming to keep pushing to get ready. Right before I left to go on the road I went to this place called 323 Ninja Training Grounds that this guy built in his backyard and a lot of ninjas go there. Those guys could not have been more welcoming and supportive. They're amazing athletes! They were just so helpful and I haven't felt anything like that since my open mic days. I also made a white trash gym at my dad's house when I went to visit him as well. I did a lot of cool stuff to get ready.
Do you think it's the challenge that you are drawn to? Like with comedy, you have to be a conqueror on that stage and on ANW, well, you have to be a conqueror in general.
It is. And I think a lot of people look at stand-up like it's a huge competition with other comedians but I've never looked at it like that. I did do Star Search in 2003 and honestly, that was the only reality show I ever needed to do. [Laughs.] To me, comedy is all about you. It's very narcissistic. I used to feel bad about having a narcissistic job like, hey look at me on stage and listen to me! Then Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook came out and I was like, I'm nothing like these narcissists!
Speaking of narcissists (kidding), did Matt Iseman give you any pointers for the course? I mean, we all know how well he and his hammy did.
[Laughs.] Oh yeah he tried to go up the Warped Wall and pulled his hammy right away! He pretty much told me that a lot of people go out there and try to look flashy so I should just take my time. I can't tell you how I did but at the end of the day, I loved every minute of it. To get the opportunity to go on national television and thank the men and women serving and the veterans, that's all I wanted to do. I've always respected the show and the course but had it not been the military version, I wouldn't have done it.
You do so much to give back and it's such a great thing. A lot of people do as well but your passion really shines through so I just wanted to personally say thank you.
If you realize that then it gives me that outlook too so, thank you. The military has been really good to me. I've gotten to work in the White House, I do a lot of trips overseas, and it's humbled me in a lot of ways. I've ridden in a C-130 with flags draped over coffins and it makes you look at life completely different. I wouldn't be who I am today had I not been around those people and those experiences. Doing all of that has been much more important to me than anything. I also think I work best when I am doing something for a good cause.
So if you could pick anyone to run the course, who would it be?
Oh that's so simple! It'd be my nephew and godson Ryan. He's ten years old and if they did a kid version of it he'd be so excited. He'd totally crush it too except maybe the wall because he's too tiny. He's like a little version me. If I could ever bring him and watch him do it, I'd beam with pride. Even just thinking about it, I'm getting a little choked up. [Laughs.]
Oh my god, so cute. Well as someone who knows you, I'm proud you ran the course. I seriously can't wait to watch it and full disclosure: I will definitely laugh if you eat shit.
Oh yeah, you're going to want to watch it. I made quite an impact! [Laughs.] At the end of the day for me I think it was all about influence and laughter. My nieces and nephews are going to love it, I got to thank the service members, and I got to hang out with one of my best friends Matt so it's a win for me. I also personally feel reignited so I'm very happy I did it!
Be sure to tune in for the special military edition of American Ninja Warrior July 6th at 8pm on NBC. For more info on PJ, check out his website www.PJWalsh.com, become a fan on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @PJWalshLive.