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Article posted: 10/23/2012 5:30 AM

Suburban native bears down in 'Ted,' 'Veep'

By Jamie Sotonoff

Matt Walsh has an impressive Hollywood resume, with comedic roles in movies like "The Hangover," "Ted" and "Old School" and on TV shows such as "Veep" and "The Daily Show."

So what does the Darien native like to talk and tell jokes about?

The Chicago Bears.

Every week, Walsh gets together with some of his funniest (and often famous) friends from the Chicago area -- including "Old School" screenwriter and Wheaton native Scot Armstrong -- and they talk football and do comedy bits for their weekly "Bear Down Podcast."

"I looked around for some Bears podcasts, and there weren't any good ones. So I thought, let's do one and make it funny," said Walsh, 48, who started the podcast four years ago. "It's the one thing that literally loses money for me, but I put the most time into it. Because it's fun, easy, and a good reason to see your friends once a week."

The show's slogan sums it up best: "Your home for all things Chicago, all things football, and all things interesting. We might live in Los Angeles, but that just gives us perspective."

Walsh, who played football for Hinsdale South, might still be watching the Bears in Chicago, rather than from Los Angeles, if not for a gamble he took his senior year in college. Steve Urban, Walsh's roommate at Northern Illinois University, encouraged his hilarious friend to try his hand at comedy. So Walsh started making a weekly trek from DeKalb to Chicago in his sherbet green diesel Volkswagen Rabbit so he could take improv comedy classes at Second City.

"I loved it so much, I knew I had to do it," he said.

Walsh went to New York and formed the Upright Citizens Brigade sketch comedy group in 1996 with Amy Poehler, Matt Besser and Ian Roberts. It wasn't long before Walsh was cracking up fans in Hollywood, too. One of his biggest fans early on was movie director/writer Todd Phillips, who gave him roles in "Old School" and "The Hangover."

"He had a crush on me," Walsh said. "He enjoyed my sense of humor, and said, 'I'm going to put you in everything I make.' He's a great director."

Next week, Walsh leaves for Baltimore to tape the second season of HBO's "Veep." He stars as the press secretary to the vice president, played by Emmy-winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus. And he just finished a dramatic role -- with stunts -- in a tornado movie called "Black Sky."

"I had to pretend to be scared and act like a hero," he said, adding that he'd like to do more serious acting. "I actually enjoy the action genre."

He also writes. After more than 20 years in the business, Walsh said one of his proudest accomplishments was directing and writing the 2011 comedy "High Road," a movie about a pot dealer who goes on the run and figures out his life.

Still very much a Chicago guy, Walsh based one of his TV shows -- the Spike TV comedy series "Players" -- on his experiences waiting tables for five summers at the Westmont sports bar, Papa Passero's.

"It was the first sports bar in the suburbs, so it was a cultural explosion. People had never been in a place with 15 TVs and sports memorabilia on the walls, so it was a big hit," he said.

Walsh said the owners of Papa Passero's owners are flattered to be the show's inspiration, and hang the show's poster in the bar, even though they might not be crazy about the way their personalities are exaggerated for script.

"They're fine with it. I still go there," Walsh said. "They have great pizza."

Another suburban inspiration to Walsh was his sixth-grade creative writing teacher from Fairview School in Darien, Max McGee. McGee went on to be the State Superintendent of Education in Illinois, and is now president of the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora.

Walsh said McGee was inspiring, funny and ultimately led him toward his comedy writing career.

"I remember he used to have funny work sheets," Walsh said. "He was one of the best teachers of my life."

Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in Hollywood. If you know of someone who would make a good feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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