Dave Walsh was crying. A couple of years ago, the comedian had just finished watching “Vacation,” the Chevy Chase screwball comedy about a family’s ill-fated cross-country trek to a theme park. The credits were rolling, showing snapshots taken along the way, and Dave couldn’t help himself. But he did question his sanity a bit when he realized what was causing the tears.
“The reason why I was crying was because they have such a great story,” he recalls. “These Griswolds have experienced something that I would pay money, I would pay great money, to happen to me in my life. And they can never tell the story because they don’t recognize the value in it. And it was so heartbreaking to me because that’s what my life is about in a way, is telling the story that I experienced.”
Dave and Chris Walsh, Charlestown natives known as the Walsh Brothers, told stories through stand-up, sketch, and video comedy for more than eight years in Boston before they left for Los Angeles in 2007. Their regular Thursday night “Great and Secret Comedy Show” at the old ImprovBoston in Inman Square was notorious for its outrageousness, and featured some of Boston’s funniest regulars, like Ken Reid, Nate Johnson, and Chris Coxen. “It was a creative sandbox,” says Chris, 35. “We could do whatever we wanted, and we could make that space and make that world anything we wanted to do.”
Benefit for the Richard Family Starring the Walsh Brothers
Most often, the performance would start out on the street around 9 p.m., an hour before the stage show, with Chris and Dave playing a multitude of characters. “I would walk down to Ryles [Jazz Club] and be chatting people up on the street in character,” says Chris. “People would be like, who is this weirdo? What’s going on? It sort of became the pre-show. Anything you could think of, even that day, could be part of the show.”
The brothers, who have recently brought their antics to the new Comedy Central Studios website, are in town headlining Friday’s show at Great Scott — a benefit for the family of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who died in the Boston Marathon bombing — and giving their own sold-out performance Saturday at the Davis Square Theatre.
‘This is exactly how we go into every situation — “They’re gonna love us!” ’
Their online videos, which have been making the rounds on social media like Facebook and Twitter, feature professional hiders, street pranks such as a living statue grabbing a kid and running (preplanned; no need to worry), and the return of the “Naked Yeti” character, which is just extrovert Chris appearing suddenly in public places completely nude.
“Comedy is having this experience that I share,” says Dave, 38. “In a weird way, that’s what Chris and I love to do. We love to give people a story. So if [we’re] snatching a kid off the street or walking nude between two fire engines, someone’s going to walk away from that and tell that story, and it can brighten their day. It might make their month.”
The Walshes’ comedy is a peculiar mix of characters — like wannabe playas and motel heirs the Ramada Boys — and silly stunts. They once led a crowd of a couple dozen people into the old ImprovBoston’s tiny basement prop room for a Halloween show, telling them they were being sent to hell. There were no lights on, and when Chris led them out, he was nude except for angel wings, guiding them with a lantern.
It’s not that the brothers are always on, always testing material on unwilling friends. But they live for those stories, and the best moments in life for them are when they can blur the line between what they do onstage and off. Take, for example, their cousin Jimmy’s wedding, years ago. They showed up in thrift-store clothes, fur coats included — ensembles that cost $3 apiece.
“Right before we entered the hall,” says Dave, “we’re like, ‘They’re gonna love us,’ and it was the exact opposite.” The crowd and cousin Jimmy didn’t enjoy it in the moment as much as Dave and Chris had hoped, but by the time they finally saw the couple again, about a decade later, it had turned into a treasured memory for them. “They were like, you made that day the greatest day of our life,” says Dave, laughing. “This is exactly how we go into every situation — ‘They’re gonna love us!’ And that has never been true at any time in my life.”
The Walshes certainly have had an enduring impact on the local scene. When Boston comics put together any kind of underground show, it is often compared to the “Great and Secret Comedy Show.” Rob Crean has run “The Gas” Friday nights at Great Scott in Allston for nearly five years and the storytelling show “Horse’s Mouth” at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge for two years. He was inspired by the Walsh Brothers’ mix of stand-up and sketch, and admired a work ethic that had them hosting so many of their own nights at the Comedy Studio and other venues when they lived in Boston.
“Before I saw the Walsh Brothers do it, there were these big comedy clubs that seemed unattainable, you know,” says Crean. “The fact that they just got a show together and did it themselves was really cool. And I still try and do a lot of stuff in the same spirit of what they did at the ‘Great and Secret.’ ”
Now the brothers may be poised to make a bigger splash with their Comedy Central videos. The network is treating its CC Studios as a kind of minor league for developing shows. And the Walshes have been working lately with a trendy movie-making app for iPhone called Vine, which limits videos to six seconds and provides no editing tools beyond the capability to start and stop recording at will until the six seconds are up. It can take serious planning to get it right, something Dave is meticulous about. “He gets very serious about directing these six-second shorts,” says Chris. “It’s hilarious to me. Sometimes I feel like my brother is the Ethan Coen of Vine.”
There is a possibility that the Vine shorts will wind up on the Comedy Central site as well. “If they ever put them up on the Comedy Central website, it becomes a whole different ballgame for us,” says Dave. The hope, he says, is that it will make people think, “These guys know how to tell a story in six seconds. What if we gave them 22 minutes?”