Back in 2010, a guy named Johnny Walsh started to perform at open-mics in Madison, at places like the Argus and the Comedy Club on State. Over time Walsh became a familiar presence in the local stand-up comedy world. He’s got an avuncular and unflappable stage presence, and his material is a testament to how much a comedian can do with a little misdirection and a little understatement.
Walsh is legally blind, which he talks about pretty often in his act: “The other day I was out for a walk and a couple came up to me and they asked me for directions and I thought, ‘Well, that’s…that’s a bit optimistic.'” He’s also an attorney practicing business law for the Madison law firm Axley. The polish and confidence that comes with being a lawyer actually somehow make his stand-up more charming and approachable.
Walsh took a break from comedy in 2014, but came back to it last year. In March, he won the annual Madison’s Funniest Comic Contest at the Comedy Club on State. Granted, winning a competition is only one measure of a comedian’s talents, but that one’s known for actually being pretty gruelling. “During the prelim I just turned my hearing aids off,” he says, perhaps only half-jokingly, about the competition’s initial cull of dozens of comics.
In any case, it says a lot that Walsh could come back from a long break and win over the crowd so handily. He still doesn’t regard himself as that great of a comic, and his focus now is on pressing forward—maybe enjoying some more slots opening for touring comedians as part of the contest prize, but mostly just sticking to the gradual and sometimes brutal process of developing material in front of open-mic crowds.
“I’m going to spend the next probably three months or so just bombing and writing new material,” he says. “It’s tough to get up there and bomb when you know that you could pull out five minutes of material that would bring the house down. You get off stage and inevitably there’s one person there that’s never seen you, and they come up and give you advice.”
Walsh sat down recently with Tone Madison contributor Chris Lay (full disclosure, Chris was a judge at this year’s competition and used to be an active stand-up performer in town himself). They discussed how Walsh got started doing stand-up, his experiences in the Madison comedy scene, and what he’s learned about performing.
Give the conversation a listen here, or subscribe to the Tone Madison podcast on Apple Podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and consider supporting us financially with a one-time or recurring donation.