WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Colin Mochrie at Warner Theatre (Part 1)
They cracked us up with their improv comedy chops on TV’s “Whose Line is it Anyway?”
Now, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood bring “Scared Scriptless” to Warner Theatre on Thursday, making their return to live tours after virtual shows during the pandemic.
“It’s weird doing a comedy show to no laughter,” Mochrie told WTOP. “Brad is used to it.”
Which improv games might D.C. audiences get to see?
“There are a lot of games familiar to ‘Whose Line?’ fans like Sound Effects,” Mochrie said. “We do Moving Bodies and a little bit of music … it starts with an audience suggestion, we have some audience members improvising with us, so it’s just goofy, goofy fun … we like to say that it’s a live version of ‘Whose Line?’ without the tall guy and the Black guy.”
Of course, he means the hilarious Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady.
“I’ve known Ryan for over 40 years now, so we’ve been improvising for a long time,” Mochrie said. “You just start laughing when you see him. He looks like a Mad magazine cartoon. He’s very funny and one of the best improvisers I’ve ever seen. Then, of course, Wayne is multitalented. He can do everything — impressions, songs, improvise.”
Why did he choose to go on the road with Sherwood?
“I felt bad for him,” Mochrie said. “Brad was actually the one who came up with the idea of the two-man improv troupe. We felt we’ll try it for a week and see what happens. Now, 20 years later, we’re still going strong. It’s been a very good relationship. We’re very in-tune.”
Born in Scotland in 1957, Mochrie mostly grew up in Canada, firstoutside of Montreal, Quebec, then outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. He got his start in comedy in Toronto where Second City had opened a second location in addition to its iconic Chicago hub.
“I started improvising in 1982,” Mochrie said. “Nobody really knew what improv was. I got into Second City, Ryan joined the year before I did. It’s a great training ground, you quickly learn your weaknesses and strengths. It really is like a comedy college because you’re doing seven shows a week, and after every show, you do an improv set to hone your skills.”
Mochrie was working at Second City when producers of the British TV improv comedy show“Whose Line is it Anyway?” came to watch as part of North Americanauditions.
“Improv was still kind of a new art form in Britain,” Mochrie said. “They wanted to get some North Americans over to fill their stable, so they were doing this cross-country audition tour … because we worked as an ensemble, none of us got cast.”
He got another chance the following year and capitalized.
“My wife and I moved down to L.A. because she got a show produced,” Mochrie said. “I auditioned with people I didn’t know, and it became, ‘Hey, screw you guys, look at me!’ And through that, I got a job. So, there’s an important lesson for all you kids out there — always look out for yourself.”
“Whose Line is it Anyway?” aired in the UK from 1988 to 1999 with host Clive Anderson.
“Clive was the quintessential British host,” Mochrie said. “He was sharp, sarcastic, witty, never at a loss for words … when you watch the first few episodes, I love how nervous and stiff he is. By the end, he’s still stiff, but he’s more relaxed.”
Then came the American versionhosted by Drew Carey from 1999 to 2007 on ABC.
“What I loved about Drew was that he was a big fan of the show before he hosted it, so he loved being in that chair and watching us,” Mochrie said. “I can’t say enough about the man. He was incredibly supportive and generous. It was his say-so that ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ got on the air. We’re all grateful he got that show going and gave us all careers.”
Fans can still quote the tagline: “Everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.”
“When they were trying to get the show going in America, that was always a sticking point: ‘Well, how does the scoring system work?'” Mochrie said. “It doesn’t mean anything! It’s just for editing purposes. There’s no real winner at the end. But people with certain companies in America wanted one of us to win a refrigerator at the end of every week.”
What was his favorite improv game on “Whose Line?”
“Greatest Hits was always one of my favorite games because it gave Ryan and I a chance, first of all, to sit down,” Mochie said. “Also, just to kind of goof around and banter, then hand it over to these incredible musicians and singers. It was a perfect scene for me to be a participant and then an observer … that was consistently a favorite game of mine.”
Some of the funniest episodes were with celebrity guests like Robin Williams.
“He was obviously someone who inspired us,” Mochrie said. “He was an Oscar winner coming on our show, but he immediately was just one of the guys. He knew all the crew’s names immediately and was just there to have fun … he raised everyone’s energy 150%. It was hard to be close to him and be lethargic … you were immediately caught up in his excitement and energy.”
Still, the funniest guest might have been Richard Simmons in uncompromising positions.
“The clip with Richard … is one of the funniest scenes ever in the history of television,” Mochrie said. “A lot of it has to do with the total commitment that Richard gave to that scene … it’s the scene people always mention to me and say, ‘If you’ve never seen ‘Whose Line,’ watch this scene’ … it was one of the longest laughs we ever had.”
Carey laughed so hard that he took his glasses off, wiping tears from his eyes.
“I thought Drew was going to die,” Mochie said.
The “Whose Line?” cast went on to big things, namely Carey hosting “The Price is Right.”
“Drew’s doing great,” Mochrie said. “I keep in touch with him as much as possible on Twitter. Chip Esten went on to great success in Nashville and is now a mainstay at the Grand Ole Opry. Greg Proops is always touring … his podcast ‘The Smartest Man in the World’ is always fun to listen to. So everyone really used this launchpad of ‘Whose Line?'”
The most hilarious spinoff might have been Wayne Brady on “Chappelle’s Show,” going against type from his bubbly improv musical theater to play a hard-core gangster.
“That was the closest we saw to the real Wayne Brady,” Mochrie joked.
How would his cast mates describe him?
“I think the beauty of me — there’s a good start to a sentence — is that I’m really low maintenance,” Mochrie said. “I’m just there to have fun, try to make my partners look good, and if that’s not working, try to destroy them by making them laugh. I’ve managed to destroy most of them.”
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Colin Mochrie at Warner Theatre (Part 2)
Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.
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