Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts are a couple of ‘Players’ for Spike, interview

Spike TV is adding a clever little comedic series, “Players,” to their guy-friendly line up.

The series was created by and stars one of the founders of the improvisational comedy troupe, the Upright Citizens Brigade, Chicagoan Matt Walsh.  Walsh is a critically well received staple of film too, recently appearing in “The Hangover.”

The premise of “Players” follows two night and day brothers (Walsh and Ian Roberts) who together try to work for a common goal: A successful money making sports bar.

Spike TV’s new original half-hour comedy premieres Tuesday, March 2 at 10:30 PM, ET/PT.

“Players” stars Walsh as Bruce Fitzgerald, a free-spirited guy’s guy who is living out his fantasy of owning a sports bar that allows him to gamble, and peruse the ladies with the greatest of ease.

His older, uptight brother, Ken (Ian Roberts), is all dollars and sense, as he calculates profit while avoiding lawsuits and health code violations. 

The series also features Krista (Danielle Schneider), the promiscuous waitress who has an eye for the wrong guys, like B-list athletes and married men, and Barb (June Diane Raphael), is the neurotic waitress who falls in love with Bruce.

Matt Walsh, courtesy of Spike TV

Matt Walsh, courtesy of Spike TV

The character of Hickey (Jack McGee), is based on a true story of someone Matt actually knew. Hickey is a retired cop who got Bruce out of a gambling debt and was rewarded with a job where, instead of actually working, he spends most of his time bidding on sports memorabilia on eBay, and Calvin (James Pumphrey), the young, simple-minded bartender who lives in the store room and is an aspiring sports model who idolizes Bruce. will feature original video content and editorial from the off-beat comedic minds of the show’s stars Walsh and Roberts.  The site will also include exclusive outtakes, cast bios and photos for each of the main characters.  After the series premiere, fans will be able to catch sneak peek scenes leading into each week’s new episode and other episodic content.

Production notes:

Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Jay Martel, as well as Peter Principato, Paul Young, Tucker Voorhees and John Lynch of Devlin Entertainment serve as executive producers.  Jason Woliner (“Human Giants,” “Parks and Recreation”), who directed the presentation and multiple episodes, serves as a co-executive producer. 

The Players Premiers, Tuesday March 2nd at 10:30 pm on Spike. 

Monsters and Critics was fortunate to catch up with the two stars of the show, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts for a bit of beer and chat.

Matt, are there are any comedians that we don’t know about, that you might be introducing on the series?

Matt Walsh: Well in a season of players, we won’t really be introducing some of their guests, but Andy Daly who is a friend of ours plays a gambling addict’s sponsor, and he’s coming down, and he’s been in a bunch of things. 

We have Paul Scheer who’s been on “Human Giant” and a bunch of VH-1 shows.  He does a guest spot.  Rob Huebel, also from “Human Giant”, and he has a guest spot. 

Matt Besser, one of the UCB guys, comes in and plays a redneck.  He plays rednecks really well.  Horatio Sanz who is a good friend of ours from way back plays a (porn) director in one of our episodes, and Dr. Ken – Ken Jeong who’s a friend of mine, he steps in to play a food critic, so he – Anybody else I forgot Ian?

Ian Roberts: No, I tell you what, we are kind of introducing James.

Matt Walsh: Oh yes, that’s a great point, yes.

Ian Roberts: … bartender, and he’s pretty great.  He’s only 22 years old,   I think he’s a real talent.

Ian Roberts: Yes, introducing James Pumphrey..

He plays your bartender?

Matt Walsh: Yes, he plays Calvin who’s an aspiring fitness model, and also lives in the storeroom of the restaurant.

Ian Roberts: And pretty naturally dumb.

Matt Walsh: Pretty naturally stupid.

Ian,  can describe the fraternal relationship between your character and Matt’s?

Ian Roberts: Oil and water.  My guy is sort of uptight and ordered and comes from a world of corporate chain restaurants.  Matt’s guy is the guy everybody loves, fun-loving,  he goes on instinct, he does whatever he wants. 

Impulsive, and so, basically, most of the story line is just (bumping) up against each other, about my unwillingness to take a risk and have some fun, and his unwillingness to be reasonable and think things through.

Where is your fictional bar?  Where is it located?

Ian Roberts: It takes place in Phoenix, Arizona.

Why there?

Ian Roberts: Because no one has accents.

Matt Walsh: It seems to be a good place where you would kind of buy that it’s there, because it’s sort of everywhere America.

Ian Roberts: And also because they have legitimate sports franchises.  You want a sports bar in a town that has real teams.  Like they have the Suns, and the Cardinals, so that’s a good town for sports.

Matt, if comedy was not an option, would you have turned out like Bruce?

Matt Walsh: I may have ended up being a psychologist, believe it or not.

That was my major in college.  I don’t gamble, like Bruce, or I don’t have a problem with gambling.  I gamble a little bit, but I don’t think I have a –

Ian Roberts: They never think they have a problem, by the way.

Matt Walsh: Yes, I know.  I sound like an addict.  I am slightly impulsive and I do enjoy instigating trouble or having fun, but I think I would have been a more – If I didn’t get into comedy, yes, maybe psychology or I might have my own T-shirt company.

Where did the inspiration for Hickey come from?

Matt Walsh: Hickey is actually based on a real situation.  I worked in a restaurant where a gentleman had saved someone’s life, that owned the place, and then they were golden.  They never had to work, but they were on the payroll.  So it – It was a funny situation.

What’s the best part about blending sports with comedy?

Ian Roberts: They both make you hard.

How does improv play a role in the writing of the show?

Ian Roberts: Well, in the acting of it, all of the dialogue is actually improvised.  So we rolled out very tight plot scenarios, but everything that’s spoken, is come up with by the actors.

What is it like and what are the advantages when the actors start improvising?

Ian Roberts: I wish that we could lobotomize them and put puppet strings on them, record their dialog and then scrap the recorders to their backs.

Matt Walsh: Yes, or just stop talking so I can do all the talking.

Ian Roberts: Yes, if they could shut up that would have been better.  No those guys are amazing, because they’re all trained exactly the same way that we are trained, so it’s just such a short hand, so you don’t have to – you can feel completely comfortable, that there’s no doubt that they’re going to be able to come right back, and know the right thing to say, because, you know – every time you improvise you have to have the status, vis-à-vis the give and take, and all that, so truthfully, it was amazing, right Matt?

Matt Walsh: Yes, it was really, really, really fun and we were super lucky that everybody was so funny because we, like Ian said, the dialogue came from the actors.  We had really tight outlines, but everybody made it much funnier than it was in our, you know, imagination.

Ian Roberts: Yes, there really is a benefit, it’s not just laziness, it’s not just scripted.  By not scripting it, you go places, for some reason when you’re sitting there in the room, you wouldn’t think to go there.  So you really get some great stuff that I don’t think you’d get. 

Because we’re basically using six minds to write it instead of whatever you have in the room, you know, the four of us to put together the – besides that thing – you add on all the other people’s input at the end and the synergy kind of makes it, I think, funnier than it would be.

Matt Walsh: Yes, and I think each character has a very distinct voice, whereas if it was just written by two or three people, the voices might sound similar.  But I think when everybody’s kind of saying what they would say, you can see the differences in the characters’ voices a lot.

Matt, do you draw on your own family for inspiration?

Matt Walsh: Yes, I have good relationships with my brothers and I think a brother relationship is pretty awesome, because you do fight fiercer than you would with your friends, but they know you’re going to come back and you’re still going to be brothers, and it’s all going to work out. 

So yes, I guess I am borrowing a little bit from my childhood when I was beaten up by my brothers, as the youngest..

I’m a Boston Bruins fan, I’m just going to preface my question with that, and just leave it at that.  And we make a better pizza than in Chicago, but that’s a aside

Ian Roberts: I’m going to say, go to hell.  I have nothing to say

Matt Walsh: Oh.

Ian Roberts: OK, this is going to be terrible.  But go ahead.

Right.  So what is it about that Sports bar world that, in your opinion, is so rich with comedic, delicious by-product?

Matt Walsh: I think in general, sports bars are sports restaurants, there’s a lot of family sort of feeling between the employees, because they spend so much time there. 

And I also think it was a small, cultural evolution when sports bars exploded in Chicago Land, like I don’t think people had ever seen a big screen TV or a Pop-A-Shot game indoors, so I think it’s a great place to congregate, and I also think a lot of the events for men, let’s say, in life are around sporting events. 

Like the Super Bowl or the Sweet Sixteen, or the World Series.  I think it’s like – they’re almost akin to religious holidays, depending on how big a fan you are.  So the places where they congregate become significant to them.

Ian Roberts: It’s also a kind of arrested adolescence, because …

Matt Walsh: Yes.

Ian Roberts: You become a sports fan when you’re a kid, and that’s one of the things you carry through.  So many things change.  And also, you go there and unlike your house, you could be loud, you can cheer, and a sense – Whenever a bunch of people agree on something, I mean that’s a potential riot. 

You know what I mean, so I think if you say why is that a good place for comedy?  Because it’s the place where you’re allowed to be freer, of course you’re drinking which is going to make stuff happen. 

It’s slightly male-centric and you take guys away from trying – They always say guys are better behaved when they’re around women.  So, at least it’s just a lot about sports bar that lends itself to cutting loose and getting a little crazy, which happens a lot at our – on our show.

Matt Walsh: Yes, I think there’s an escapism too, like being a fan is a place where you can act like an idiot.

For both of you guys, just give me a short list of some of your favorite sports bars, real sports bars that you’ve been to here in the States.  Either L.A., Chicago, wherever, that was memorable?

Matt Walsh: Oh boy …

Ian Roberts:  Wrigley’s spot is where we all met, that was really a sports club, right Matt?

Matt Walsh: Which one Ian?

Ian Roberts: Wrigley Field.

Matt Walsh: Yes.

Ian Roberts: We all used to perform at a place called the Wrigley (Sandwiches), led by Wrigley Field so, there was – there were sports bars everywhere around there.  What was that one right across the street – the street (Matt)?

Matt Walsh: That was the Ultimate – I think it was called The Ultimate Sports Bar.  That’s a pretty good one where they have like, trampoline – you can play like trampoline ball upstairs, and the batting cages …

Ian Roberts: Batting cages indoors.

Matt Walsh: Yes.

Ian Roberts: Didn’t they have indoor batting cages?

Matt Walsh: Yes.  Then even Buster’s – that’s kind of a sports bar, right?

Ian Roberts: That’s like the same idea they have giant – like batting cages, and things you can play, but there’s also big TVs, and then there’s a good – a decent one out here in North Hollywood called Big Wangs. That’s pretty cool.

Matt Walsh: It’s an Asian entrepreneur has no idea that that’s a joke name.

Ian Roberts: And it’s also a gay night club at nights…



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