'High Road' Is the One Matt Walsh Takes

If you don't know Matt Walsh as Trotter from three seasons of Comedy Central's Upright Citizens Brigade:

A.) You don't smoke pot;

2.) You'll still recognize him from The Daily Show, Spike TV's Players (which he created) or any movie directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover, Due Date).

Chicago-born Walsh, who co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) improvisational-comedy troupe, chatted recently about his feature-film directorial debut, High Road, which features a bunch of other folks you'll recognize (Ed Helms, Kyle Gass, Lizzy Caplan, etc.) in the story of a pot dealer road tripping between Los Angeles and Oakland. Walsh's indie comedy makes its world premiere Friday night as part of the Newport Beach Film Festival.


OC Weekly: So, High Road . . .

Matt Walsh: . . . is an improvised movie I directed, based on a screenplay I wrote with my friend Josh Weiner. We outlined about 65 scenes, each about a paragraph. Then I got some friends to be in the movie. We workshopped it for two weeks in a theater, so everyone could understand their relationships. On-set, the actors pretty much improvised all the dialogue.


Is that where you get your, I dunno, bliss, working improv?

It's the way I work most, so I think so. Ninety percent of it is getting really funny people to play the roles. . . . Even movies that are completely done [with] scripts, Hollywood movies, they give you some time to improvise. That's what tends to generate the biggest laughs.


Where did this story come from?

It is loosely based on a friend in Chicago who was a part-time pot dealer. Fortunately, out of that trajectory, he is now a successful writer. But at the time, he could have gotten stuck selling weed.


How did you convince all these familiar faces from movies and television to be in your tiny movie? I assume you didn't have a ton of money to throw at them.

No, it was very much everybody was just ready to play. No one was making more money than the other guy. I had worked with most of these people, especially Horatio [Sanz] and Rob Riggle. Also, some of the younger cast, like Lizzy Caplan and Joe Lo Truglio. Many I knew from the improv crowd, the UCB theater.


None of the UCB players [Walsh, Amy Poehler, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts] is in this?

No. This is not a UCB film in any way. None of the funding came from UCB. So, none of the four of us are in it, although I do have a silent Hitchcock walk-through.


Since it was all improvised, I would think that would present some challenges stitching the story together in editing.

We always knew our plot points needed to be hit. Once you hit them, we know we have everything we need. But sometimes, you keep the camera rolling because that's when lots of good stuff happens.


Given the landmark work of Pauly Shore, why another stoner movie?

[Laughs.] Well, not to sound pretentious, but I believe High Road leaves the stoner genre and is more about the existential crisis young men face growing up. And that's nothing against stoner comedies. I know stoners. I have been one at one point in my life. The world of the part-time pot dealer is something that interests me.


Is this true: You have appeared in all of Todd Phillips' movies?

I have, except The Hangover Part II. I am not in that.


Aww . . .

That's okay. Still go see the movie.


Yeah, but it's like Lou Gehrig's streak being broken.

I am the Cal Ripken of Todd Phillips movies. But, really, there was no role for me. All the people that are returning are the three or four main guys. Everyone else is new.


The fellow who set up this interview gave me this: “The Upright Citizens Brigade has historically been associated with pro-weed causes. Ask Walsh about this. Walsh's UCB co-founder/partner Matt Besser does shows about weed all the time.” Your response, sir?

Ah, wow, I guess I would say, on the record, that I am for legalization. I think it would be a great thing to help solve California's budget crisis. I have hosted the Stony Awards for High Times, a fund-raiser for legalization last year. Matt's a little more active than I, but I do agree with that statement.


And Upright Citizen's Brigade is so much better if you're high.

That's how we profile people when they say they watch the show.


This article appeared in print as “Matt Walsh Takes the High Road: Master of improvisation's directorial debut world-premieres in OC.”

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