You may not know the name Colin Mochrie, but you certainly know the bald guy from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” the hilarious and influential improv comedy series that ran on ABC from 1998 to 2006.
Other cast members came and went: Stephen Fry, Greg Proops, Phil LaMarr, Wayne Brady. But Mochrie was its most steadfast voice, appearing on every episode in the show’s eight-year run. It’s no surprise that when the CW revived the show last year, Mochrie jumped right back into the fray, joining Brady, Ryan Stiles and a rotating series of special guests for what appears to be a higher-budgeted mix of classic improv games and a few inspired new ones.
Mochrie didn’t stay quiet during the seven-year “Whose Line?” hiatus. For the past several years, he’s toured the world with “Whose Line?” alum Brad Sherwood, performing live, improvised comedy shows whose centerpiece involves two blindfolds and some 270 mousetraps arrayed on the floor and dangling from the ceiling.
This “Evening With Colin and Brad” has already enjoyed an acclaimed DVD release and has been performed around the world but, of course, every show is completely different from the one before it, and South Florida will finally receives its own version on Saturday at Coral Springs Center for the Arts. Mochrie was gracious enough to chat about the show and his craft with Boca Raton.
What are some of the various set pieces that you’ll be working with in this show; I know about the mousetraps, but what else?
It depends on the theater. We get a feeling of what the place is like and try and figure out games. We usually do the sound effects game, where we have audience members come up and supply the sound effects. We have a game called Fill In, where we have eight people onstage, and they fill in the end of our sentences and help us out that way. We’ve started doing living scenery, where we have audience members be all of our props in the scene. Whatever the final lineup will be, it’s going to involve audience members being onstage and helping us out.
Does it ever happen where you take a request from the audience and think, damn, what are we going to do with this?
That does happen sometimes, but the beauty of improv is that you just see where it goes. Brad and I have gotten to the point where we have absolutely nothing in our minds. We have nothing planned, so every suggestion will take us places we haven’t expected. We had a simple one like pizza, which you’d think is kind of vague, and it ended up being a great scene. So we’ve learned not to worry what the audience gives us; we just jump in there, commit to it, and it usually works out.
So your mind is like a blank canvas, and you don’t know what paint is going to go on it.
Yes. It’s taken years to get to that point, to be able to trust yourself and trust the person you’re going onstage with, to not have anything planned: “We’re just going to go up there and see what happens, and it’ll work out.”
How do you and Brad rehearse for a show like this?
The beauty is, we’re both really lazy, so we don’t have to do anything. We’ve actually spent most of our energy the past 10 years in coming up with ways to make the show so far out of our comfort zone that there’s no way we can rehearse it. We used to spend a lot of time to figure out what we’re going to ask for for this particular scene. Now we just have a bunch of suggestions on cards to ask the audience, and whatever comes out comes out; we don’t have to worry about what suggestion goes with what game. We’re almost at the point now where we can do the show without us actually having to be there.
What’s the weirdest request you’ve played with at one of these shows?
The beauty and the curse of improv is that once a show is gone, it’s kind of gone forever, unless it’s being televised. There’s only one suggestion I can remember over the 10 years that we’ve done it. We asked for an occupation, and we usually get gynecologist or proctologist, and this person used their occupation, which was a lactation expert. That was so much fun to play, because we’d never had that before, we don’t know a lot about it—we just had the general facts down—and it was a really fun scene. It kept us on our toes and got our energy going. We’re always looking for ways to get suggestions like that, things we’ve never had before, and yet somehow sparking the scene.
Is there stuff on this tour that for whatever reason wouldn’t fly on “Whose Line?”
Some of the things we do may not fly, just because of time constraints. On “Whose Line?”, everything has to be basically three- to four-minute segments. In our show, the shortest scenes are 10 to 15 minutes, because we don’t have to worry about doing all the jokes, ending quickly, and getting to the next thing. We really try to make the scene have a beginning, middle and end. Aside from that, everything’s fair game.
I’ve seen clips of the mousetrap game. Is that as painful for you guys as it looks?
Yes. We’ve tried to get it out of our running order, but every time we’ve made the choice not to do it at a certain place, people get upset we’re not doing it. They love to see us in pain. We’re trying to figure out ways to do it and make it different for us. After a while, you just go … “this is the way we end every show; we walk on mousetraps, hurt ourselves, and leave?”
You’d think that you’re hurting yourselves in the same spots so many times that eventually the spots become numb, and you don’t feel it anymore.
You’d think that, but we always manage to find new places!
Jumping back into the “Whose Line?” revival last year … what was that like for you after seven years?
I was quite surprised that it felt as relaxed as it did. I think part of it was that it’s the same production crew, a lot of the same people who worked on the ABC version behind the camera and on the soundstage. So it really was like coming home. Ryan said it was like we took a long lunch break. We fell right back into it again. There is a bit of a worry when you try and recapture something you did so well the first time around, but this worked out beautifully. And what’s great about “Whose Line?” is that it doesn’t take a lot of time. We’re in the midst of shooting right now; it takes a couple of weekends, and we’re done. It never gets to that point where we get sick of each other. We always look forward to seeing each other, goofing around for a couple of days, and then we’re off.
Did you find that there was a lot of demand for this show after it went off the air?
Yes, there was. I don’t think anyone ever really knew how popular the show was, partly because when we were doing the Drew Carey version, we were up against “Survivor” and “Friends,” two of the most popular shows of the last century. But people were taping it and watching it; we found during our tour that our audiences were getting younger. And we realized it was because of YouTube. People who weren’t born during the ABC version were now catching up on the show on the Internet, and that was probably part of the reason the CW figured there was something there.
Of course, the wave of the future is that traditional television will be unnecessary; we’re pretty much at the point where you can call up whatever you want, whenever you want, on your computer, hook it up to your TV, and watch it that way.
Yeah, it’s tough for me, because I was one of those kids, growing up, for whom television was my friend. At this age, I certainly don’t watch it the way I used to. My son I don’t think watches television at all; everything he gets is on the computer or through Netflix. It’s very odd.
How did you come up with the idea for your recent book, Not Quite the Classics?
I was forced into writing something and had to come up with an idea. My agent had approached me about writing a book, and I said, “I don’t really have anything I’m burning to write about.” And then he got me a book deal. I figured I might as well go the improv route—it’s what I know, it’s what I feel comfortable with. I used the game First Line, Last Line, and wrote 12 short stories that begin and end with the first and last line from a famous novel, and the middle goes off in different directions.
Lastly, have you found that being a talented improver has come in handy elsewhere in life, in terms of reacting quickly to crises and things like that?
No. I’d like to say yes, that it’s become my superpower. I still can’t win an argument with my wife. I’ve never been able to talk my way out of a parking ticket or anything. I guess maybe in the big picture, improv has helped me in that I’ve learned to accept things rather than plan ahead, because there are certain things in life you can plan, like vacations and things, but a lot of times you just have to go with the flow. So I’ve sort of learned that, and my wife and I talk about using the rules of improv in our real lives, where you accept things, you say yes to things, because it leads you into an adventure.
Improv is a positive philosophy, isn’t it, because the answer is never ‘no’?
Yes: You’re supposed to listen, you accept people’s ideas, you build on those ideas, you work with people. We’re trying to get that into our lives.
Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Coral Springs Center for the Arts, 2855 Coral Springs Drive. Tickets run $40.28-$61.28. Call the box office at 954/344-5990 or visit coralspringscenterforthearts.com.