Making a Mochrie at Packard Music Hall
Colin Mochie, Brad Sherwood bring improv to Warren
“Whose Line Is It Anyway?” gave Colin Mochrie his dream job.
“When I was growing up, there was no such thing as an improviser,” Mochrie said. “No one ever said, ‘I’m going to become an improviser.’ Jonathan Winters is the only person I remember at that point who was doing that sort of thing, then Robin Williams a little later. It really wasn’t until ‘Whose Line’ came along that put improv in the public consciousness. It allows us to do this as our job. Without it, I would have been trying to be an actor.
“The good thing is, improv really is my one marketable skill. I’m constantly grateful that ‘Whose Line’ came along to showcase us.”
Mochrie, 64, also is an actor (he has more than 100 credits on his IMDb page), but he’s best known for making up jokes on the spot with co-stars Wayne Brady, Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood and others on “Whose Line,” first hosted by Drew Carey on ABC and now hosted by Aisha Tyler on the CW. Between the U.K. and the U.S. versions of the show, Mochrie has appeared in more than 200 episodes and is the only performer to appear on every episode of the U.S. edition.
Mochrie and Sherwood have been bringing the “Whose Line” experience to live audiences for about 20 years, and the duo brings its Scared Scriptless Tour to Packard Music Hall on Jan. 27.
During a phone interview last week, Mochrie talked about how the live show differs from the television show, and how he’s brought that improv mentality to his own life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
TICKET: Since you’ve been back to performing live, have you and Brad tried to steer audiences away from pandemic-inspired suggestions?
MOCHRIE: We haven’t had any, which is odd, I think, and something Brad and I’ve never talked about. Usually off the top, we say we’re not do anything political because that tends to divide the audience right away, but I don’t know if they assumed COVID was part of that, because we have gotten nothing connected in our suggestions.
TICKET: What are some of the suggestions you try to steer audiences away from because they get suggested so often?
MOCHRIE: We’re constantly getting proctologists, gynecologists. Every once in a while, I think, you know what, we should do it. We should do like a sound effects scene about a proctologist and see how much they enjoy it. I’m pretty sure they would turn on us pretty quickly.
Most of the work Brad and I do in the show is trying to find ways of getting suggestions so that we do get things we haven’t gotten before. That could be anything from adding a personal bent — What was your great-grandfather’s occupation? — find a way of not getting the same things over and over again. It certainly makes it more fun for us.
Recently, a person’s job was they were the person, when your elevator got stuck, they took the call. Wow, we’ve never had that. Immediately, it gets your mind going. We had a lactation expert once, which is something I don’t know that much about, but those kind of things really inspire us. They give us a little bit of panic — What are we going to do with this? — but it also sort of spurs us on, it spurs our imagination.
TICKET: Do those panic moments come very often?
MOCHRIE: When I say panic situation, I mean my heart beats an extra beat faster for a second. That’s the beauty of working with Brad for so long, there’s complete trust there. If I don’t feel on top of what we’ve gotten, I just sit back and go, ‘I’m gonna support Brad and hopefully he comes up with an idea.’ If not, I’ll take charge and see what I can come up with.
The beauty of improv is, no matter what we say, it’s the truth, because this is the world we’ve created. So even if we’re way off base, what we’re saying is the truth.
TICKET: What’s the difference between doing improv with Brad, someone whose frame of reference and pop culture go-to ideas you know well, compared to working with someone for the first time?
MOCHRIE: I love working with people I’ve never worked with before. It makes me go back to the basics of what improv is. You have to listen to this person because I don’t know any of their references or where they’re going to go. The only thing that’s sort of the same is I have to just immediately trust this person I just met, that they have the same foundation and know what improv is.
It’s interesting because that’s not something we use in real life a lot. Very rarely do you meet someone and go, ‘I trust this person completely.’ With improv you can do it.
TICKET: What’s an example of the kind of set ups you and Brad use on stage for those who’ve never seen the two of you live?
MOCHRIE: The beauty of our tour is the audience knows ‘Whose Line,’ so they sort of know what the show is going to be. The only difference is we don’t have a Drew or Aisha who sets up the game. As well as the players, we become the hosts of the evening.
One guessing game we do, one of us has to confess to a crime. We have no idea what the crime is, so while one of us is listening to Led Zeppelin very loudly in headphones, the other is getting information that makes the most convoluted crime ever. One time the crime was Brad stole Popeye’s identity while pimping for a one-legged prostitute. Then we got a very weird sounding city name from the audience, from their own state or elsewhere. Then we make up a business. We had the Rotating Platypus Buffing Shaving Outfit. That can go on for about 20 minutes.
TICKET: You have lot of acting credits, especially in Canada (where Mochrie lives). What else do people recognize you for when you’re out and about?
MOCHRIE: Probably ‘Whose Line’ is number one. I did a show here called ‘This Hour Is 22 minutes,’ which is sort of a Canadian version of ‘The Daily Show.’ That was back in the Drew days (of ‘Whose Line’), so I was doing both at the same time. And there’s a popular show called ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ that’s been shown around the world. I have a semi-regular part as a serial killer in that, so that’s exciting.
TICKET: When you get hired for acting roles, do they want you to improvise and help punch up the script?
MOCHRIE: I tend to follow it as it goes. As an actor, my job is to get the writer’s point across. I never stray from that unless the writer or director says, ‘Why don’t you try something different here and see if we can punch it up.’ Otherwise I go in just as a straight actor. If they want something, I’ll happily do it.
TICKET: What are the challenges of keeping ‘Whose Line’ fresh after so many years and so many episodes?
MOCHRIE: It really is a dream job. It’s two weekends out of the year. It’s exciting because we usually don’t see each other (in between) because everyone’s working. It’s nice to get together with your friends. Taping lasts four hours Friday, Saturday, Sunday for two weeks, then we’re done and they can get like 40 episodes from that.
I guess the part that keeps it fresh for us is it’s so different from our stage show. Because of the medium, everything has to be really fast and jokey and for people with short attention spans. In theaters we can spend more time with a piece. Everything for television has to be sharp and quick. Just having to do it on television keeps it fresh for us, because it’s so different from what we normally do.
TICKET: Does that mean you prefer playing theaters?
MOCHRIE: I love, love, love improving on stage. It’s my favorite thing of everything we do because we are totally in charge. I love the fact that if we suck, it’s because we suck, and if we’re doing well it’s because we’re doing well. When you’re doing television or movies, you’re just one little part of so many cogs. On stage we have the total freedom to do whatever we want. We can go on forever in a scene or we can cut it short. We’re not at the beck and call of people who don’t understand what improv is.
TICKET: What’s the plan for the rest of 2022?
MOCHRIE: If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s not to make plans. I’ve become an improviser in my life. Live for the moment and try to go day to day, try not to make any plans. We have our tour planned, of course, for the next year, but things seem to change on a daily, weekly basis, so I’m just going to see what happens. I’ve enjoyed having more time with my wife the last couple of years and just finding that balance between the crazy world and the lovely world I have inside my home.