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Colin and Brad are 'Scared Scriptless'

IMPROV:Fans of the British and, later, the American version of the television show “Whose Line is it Anyway” won’t want to miss Colin Mochrie, right, and Brad Sherwood’s performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Honeywell Center.

By Rob Burgess - rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com

Fans of the British and, later, the American version of the television show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” won’t want to miss Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood’s performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Honeywell Center.

“The duo will perform with nothing but their sharp, comedic wit while creating hilarious and original scenes in their two-man show,” stated a press release. “Colin and Brad improvise new material every night from audience suggestions and interaction.”

Most seats are priced at $35 and $49. Limited premium seats are priced at $76. This performance is sponsored by Market Street Grill and welcomed by 105.9 The Bash.

Tickets are available for purchase via HoneywellCenter.org or by calling the Honeywell Foundation box office at 260-563-1102. The Honeywell Center Lighting Box Boom Suites are available for purchase for this show. For more information including pricing about the Ford Theater Box Suite experience, visit HoneywellCenter.org/box-suite or contact Cody Lee at clee@honeywellfoundation.org or by calling 260.274.1424.

In a series of phone interviews recently, Mochrie and Sherwood talked about their roots in comedy, the challenges and rewards of performing without a net and advice to those thinking of following in their footsteps.

Improv vs. stand-up

Mochrie said he was never interested in doing stand-up comedy. He said improv was always much more appealing.

“Stand-up is a lot of work. You have to write, you have to hone, you have to perform in front of an audience. You’re by yourself. Those are all things I don’t enjoy doing. What I love about improvising is I’m working with people and we can show up 10 minutes before a show and it’ll work out,” he said. “I’ve always said if I’m going to die, I’m going with friends.”

Mochrie said he was very aware of how lucky he was to have been a part of such an iconic television show.

“When I was growing up, this wasn’t an occupation. It didn’t really exist. So, I’ve been very fortunate through the success of Whose Line that managed to give me a career, because I’ve got nothing else,” he said.

Sherwood said he started as an actor, but quickly moved to improv.

“It was very easy for me because I’m really good at improv and I’m not so great at dramatic acting. The transition was natural selection more than anything,” he said. “I tried stand-up in college and it gave me anxiety. Strangely enough, most people are more terrified of doing improv and not being prepared than doing stand up. But, for me just the opposite. Having to go up there with basically an hour-long monologue that I think is really, really funny that somebody else may not. I feel like I have more access to saving myself if I’m doing improv.”

Sherwood said he was appreciative of the collaborative aspects of improv.

“The audience is more invested in the show because they’re giving suggestions, too. So, they’re excited. ‘Oh, what are you going to do with this?’ Whereas I think there’s a certain element of when you go to see a stand-up, unless it’s a super famous stand up that you already know that you love, there’s sort of this crossed arms, ‘OK, let’s see what you’ve got,’ kind of a vibe when you go to see a stand up at a club or a theater, versus our show which seems to be more of goofy adventure,” he said.

‘Yes, and ...’

The number one rule in improv comedy is to accept (that’s the “yes”) whatever the scene presents, and add something new at the end (that’s the “and”) to carry it forward.

Mochrie said there was no time to think about whether the particular suggestion was good or not before diving in.

“That’s when you really have to trust the people that you’re working with that it’s all going to work. And, hopefully, whatever your misgivings are will soon go away,” he said. “There’s always this sort of blind optimism that scenes are going to work out. I’ll go on stage, I’ll open my mouth and I’ll see what comes out. That’s basically what all my warm-up into the show goes into, is being relaxed on stage with the fact that I have absolutely nothing except who I’m working with and what the audience gives us. And just the blind belief that it’s going to work out.”

Sherwood agreed.

“If you had the time during an improv scene to second guess yourself or stop and go mistake you would never be able to improvise. You’re just sort instinctualy just jumping at something that right then your spidey-sense thinks, ‘Oh this’ll be the funny thing.’ And you say it and then you’re instantly taught, no that’s not it. And then the joke is what the other person says in response to the thing that you said that wasn’t particularly funny. So, what you thought was a joke sometimes is a setup for a joke, and you find that out on the fly,” he said.

British vs. American audiences

The show had its start in England and was later adapted for American audiences.

Mochrie said each had its sensibilities.

“British audiences, their suggestions would be all over the place. Anything from historical events to geography or whatever. North American audiences tend to be more pop culture, with whatever’s in the zeitgeist of the moment,” he said.

Mochrie said the network censors, or lack thereof, was the biggest change.

“There wasn’t any in Britain. You could pretty much do anything. Whereas, in North America, they were worried about a lot of things. The American one, we really didn’t know where the line was. Because there were some things they let through that I thought there’s no way that’s going to go to air. And then some things I thought that was kind of innocent and then they bleep it and made it sound dirtier than it was,” he said. “Your mind always go to the worst possible place.”

Sherwood said British audiences had a drier sense of humor, whereas Americans had a broader spectrum of what they found funny.

“I think the British audience tends to prefer more clever and witty, with just a splash of goofy. So, I think as the show progressed and the cast evolved into more of a U.S. and Canadian cast, the show became more character and goofy, as opposed to the early days of the British version when it was mostly British guys. It was kind of wordy and clever and pithy and smart aleckey. And then now we’re jumping around and dancing and singing. I think we tend to be more theatrical,” he said.

Sherwood said the original cast of the British version was mostly stand-up comics and actors, and not improv performers.

“Hugh Laurie did a bunch of episodes and I don’t think there’s going to be a lot footage of him coming way out of his shell and doing something bizarre and embarrassing, whereas every third second of the show nowadays, one of the four of us on stage is doing something ridiculous and embarrassing,” he said.

Four-man show vs. two

On the television show, a host is introducing and occasionally leading the games. But, with just two people on stage, Mochrie said there are some adjustments.

“We do some games that will be familiar to ‘Whose Line’ fans, and some games that Brad and I have had to adapt for a two-person show,” he said. “It just changes. There’s a lot of audience participation. We’ll have people up on stage with us. It’s basically the two of us improvising but we do have people there supporting us and doing some of the things Drew (Carey) would do with hosting. We do have a couple of games where they kind of improvise with us. I enjoy the two-person thing because there’s no chance for you to relax. You’re constantly in survival mode, going from one thing to another, which I enjoy.”

Mochrie said the show they do on the road is appropriate for ages “8 to 80.”

“It’s a fun show. It’s a family-friendly show,” he said. “It’s never any dirtier than the TV show. Which may be a low bar.”

Advice for newcomers

Mochrie said he wouldn’t suggest anyone try improv hoping to make a career of it.

“Do it because you enjoy doing it and it’s fun. Do not do it because you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to part of another ‘Who’s Line.’’ We were all incredibly lucky the show came along and showcased us. I always say yeah if you want to improvise, do it. It’s a great life skill as well as a skill on stage. Learning how to work with others, learning how to actually listen to people is a great life lesson. And it opens up your horizons. If you start saying ‘yes’ to things that may have taken you out of your comfort zone before, it’ll lead to all these amazing adventures,” he said.

Sherwood said if anyone was interested in trying improv, they should do it as much as possible and create their opportunities.

“You’ve got to just do it, do it, do it. Find groups. Find workshops. If there’s someone in your town that might be teaching workshops, do those first and then get in a group with people that are people you enjoy working with, people that make you laugh. It’s good to be around people that you find are funny,” he said.