Colin Mochrie is a seriously funny guy. So much so in fact, he has made a career of it! You may recognize him from his time on ABC’s wildly popular series ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ Alongside the likes of Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady, this very talented group of improvisational performers brought loads of laughs into countless homes in the series initial run, as well as in syndication. His time on the show unlocked a cavalcade of opportunities to spread his comedic wings. Colin has recently been seen on the ABC series “Trust Us With Your Life,” and for roughly the past 10 years, Colin has been on a hugely successful and popular nationwide comedy tour with Brad Sherwood, entitled “An Evening With Colin and Brad.”
The summer of 2013 is going to be an exciting one for Colin Mochrie and comedy fans alike, as the show that made him a household name with American comedy fans returns to the airwaves! The new incarnation of the side-splittingly funny “Whose Line Is It Anway?” is hosted by comedian Aisha Tyler and features the return of original cast members Ryan Stiles, Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie, who along with a special guest each episode, must put their comedic skills to the test through a series of spontaneous improv games, prompted only by random ideas supplied by the studio audience. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Colin Mochrie to discuss his career in improv comedy, his upcoming book titled “Not Quite Classics,” the return of “Whose Line…” and much more!
I am a big fan of your work and I have to start by thanking you for all the laughs you have brought me through the years!
Oh, thank you so much!
I want to give our readers a little background on you. Where did you grow up and how did comedy come into your life at an early age? Were you always the funny kid growing up?
No, I was the quiet kind who people probably thought would turn out to be a sniper. I was born in Scotland and my parents emigrated when six years old to Montreal. We stayed there for a few years but I basically grew up in Vancouver. I was a very quiet kind, very studious until I was dared by a friend to try out for a show in high school. I did and I got my first laugh and that was pretty much it! Up until that point, I had wanted to pursue a career as a marine biologist but after that first laugh, everything else went out. I just became consumed with getting laughs and being an actor.
Can you tell us a little about taking that path and how you get involved doing comedy professionally?
I went to theater school and took classes where I found I had an ability with cheap little humor, which I thought would do me well. When I was at theater school, I saw this demonstration called Theater Sports which was being developed by this Englishman in Calgary. It was improv in a sports setting and I was very intrigued by it. I took a workshop and found I felt quite at ease doing this and it became a thing I loved doing. I never thought it would turn into a profession!
Who were some of your comedic influences through the years?
When I was a kid, I watched a lot of movies and television. I was a big Bob Hope fan. I loved Jack Benny, Dick Van Dyke, Don Knotts, John Cleese, Jonathan Winters. Anyone who made me laugh I studied and stole some of their stuff!
Looking back, is there a point in your career where you say “Ok, I have finally made it!”
I am still hoping for that moment! [laughs] I guess every moment where I have gotten a job. All I ever wanted to do is be a working actor. That has worked out for me. Of course, when “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” became popular, it was a life changer. It put us all in the spotlight and gave us all careers. Definitely the American version of “Who’s Line…” was a big deal for me.
Speaking of “Whose Line…,” how did you get involved with the show in the beginning?
I was at Second City in Toronto and the producers where doing a cross-country audition in Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York. They saw our show and liked the cast, so they had us audition for them the next morning at 8 AM, which is prime-time for comedy! [laughs] We auditioned but because we were doing what you are supposed to do in improv, everyone was really supportive of each other, so no one really stood out. We were working as an ensemble. It wasn’t until the next year, when my wife (Debra McGrath) and I had moved to Los Angeles because of a show she had written, I auditioned again for them. Because I didn’t know anybody, it was more like “Hey! Look at me!” From that I managed to get on the show.
When you guys were first putting the show together, did anyone anticipate it becoming the hit that it did?
It was shocking! When I auditioned for it, I had never seen the show. To me, it was just this show where people made up stuff in England. It started to become a cult hit on Comedy Central where people really started watching it. When we would go over to film in London, we were getting recognized. I felt there was something there, something about the show that people really enjoyed. When it became an American show, there is always the thought of “Will it transfer? Will it work?” and thankfully it did. It was always a surprise. Just like it coming back again was a surprise! That is what I love about this show, it never dies and it is constantly surprising me!
What is the biggest challenge for you on a series like of this nature?
Just keeping it fresh. The challenge is I am always working with Ryan Stiles, who I adore and grew up with in Vancouver. We have worked together for a long time, so there is always that thing were you think “Have we made this up before? It sounds kinda familiar?” I enjoy working with other people because I don’t know them as well and it keeps me on my toes. Just keeping it fresh and being confident enough to go out on stage with absolutely nothing and trust that between you and the people you are working with, you will come up with a show. That is the biggest challenge.
As you mentioned, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” is returning to the CW in July. What can you tell us about it, what’s new and what we can expect?
It is pretty much the same, except everyone moves a little slower! There are a couple of new games they have come up with. There is also a new host, Aisha Tyler, who I thought fit in seamlessly. When we taped it just flowed like we had been working together forever, so it was a lot of fun that way. There are also some new improvisors. It is very exciting — a mixture of the old and the new! You have the old standbys of Ryan [Stiles], Wayne [Brady] and I, but then you have these new young people who really brought it. Everybody did really well!
You also do many tour dates with Brad Sherwood. How does doing improv live onstage differ from doing it in the studio setting? Does your approach change?
The great thing about touring is in our stage show, we can take as much time as we want to do things. On the television show, you have two to three minute segments because television like everything short, snappy and quick which makes it difficult in some ways. It is a type of improv that a lot of improvisors find difficult because you are taught to build a scene and build your character. On television, everything is pretty schticky and has to be fast, so you don’t have that luxury. When we are touring, on stage we can take a scene wherever on stage and sometimes our scenes go fifteen or twenty minutes. It is always nice to have the freedom to do that!
Speaking of touring, I was curious to know what a typical day on tour was like for you.
It is pretty sweet. We usually only tour on the weekends because we enjoy our wives, so we like to spend time with them. Basically, we just fly into wherever we are doing the show. We have a sound check, do the show and then leave for the next city the following morning. We rarely have a chance to actually see the places where we are performing in. Usually, it is just the theater and the hotel. The show so, for us, is the best part. We really enjoy doing it, the audiences seem to really enjoy it and we have noticed over the last couple of years or audiences are getting younger. I think a lot of people have caught up with “Who’s Line…” on YouTube, which is great! I think that is part of the reason the show managed to come back for the CW. For us, just doing a show were we are kind of in charge is great. If it sucks it is because we sucked, if it goes well it is because we did really well. We don’t need to worry about a producer saying “What you need is a funny neighbor!” or things like that. We are in charge of our own destinies and I think that is what we love about doing the show!
There is another interesting project you are working on where you are bringing your improvisational senses to book form. What., can you tell us about “Not Quite Classics” and how it came about?
My agent said to me, “You should write a book.” Part of the reason I love improvising is because I am basically lazy! When you improvise, you basically show up somewhere and get stuff from the audience, you do it and you leave. Wiring is like work! I didn’t have anything I was burning to write, so I sorta fluffed him off, which somehow he took as “Oh, ok. I will pursue that!” He got a book deal with Penguin and then I had to write this book. I thought since I am an improvisor, I would try to find a way to improvise the book. There is a scene callee “First and Last Line,” where you get your first line from the audience to start your scene and they give you the last line. You have the beginning and the ending and you make up the middle. I decided to do this book in that way. The book is a collection of short stories, where each one starts with a famous opening line from a novel and ends with the closing line, everything in the middle is entirely made up!
You have made a terrific career from improvisational comedy. To what do you attribute your longevity?
That is a good question! I have always looked at this a marathon, not a sprint. My thing has always been working hard and making sure people I work with have a good time working with me, so if something else comes up later, they would think of me. Basically, that is it. Working and trying not to focus on getting rich or famous but just concentrating on the work and keep plodding along and hanging in there until everyone else dies or quits!
You are also no stranger to acting in television and film. Is there some type of role or genre you are still anxious to tackle in the future?
I have never been able to get anyone interested in this but I have always wanted to do an action movie with me as the action hero! Just because in a lot of action movies you know the hero is going to do alright, they are muscular, know how to use guns and so on. I think if I were the star of an action movie, people would worry about me! That is important in a movie that you worry the leading character isn’t going to make it! I would love to do that!
For people who may look to you as an influence or inspiration, what is the best piece of advice you can pass along to them?
My thing is to do it wherever and whenever you can! Improv isn’t one of those things you can learn from a book. You can only learn when doing it. Before “Whose Line…,” we would improvise anywhere that would have us, wether it was the corner of a bar or certain little spaces. That is where you learn to deal with an audience, what your strengths and weaknesses are as well as things you have to work on as a comedian. Also, see as many different kinds of comedy as you can wether it is old Bob Hope or Bing Crosby or something newer like Louis C.K., for example. See as much comedy as you can and see what makes it work for those people.
As there are any young up-and-coming comedians you have seen who have surprised you with what they are doing?
I rarely get to see anyone. Brad Sherwood and I are performing at Just For Laughs this year. I love it because it is the only time I get to see other comedians. I love Louis C.K., I wouldn’t say he is a young guy, but I love him. Demetri Martin is also really enjoy. I really want to get out more and expose myself to that.
You mentioned earlier how many new fans of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” are catching up with the show online. How has social media has impacted you as a performer and in a business sense?
It is great for me. I fought for a long time about getting on to Facebook and Twitter. I am not sure why. It is a valuable advertising tool to get the word out there about our show. I had accidentally let it slip that “Whose Line…” was coming back. It spread like wildfire across the country and took me by surprise in a way. Of course Twitter reaches the world but it shocked me how much me typing one little sentence became this big deal! There are some aspects I am not into, like what people had for breakfast or what tricks there dogs and cats do but there have been a lot of interesting things on both Twitter and Facebook but you have to dig your way through to the good stuff.
What does the future hold for you in the next few months, Colin?
I think we are going to be shooting some more episodes of “Whose Line…” and I am hoping it starts in a couple of weeks. I think they are waiting to see how it goes. I hope the new version of the show would have a following as people have been bugging us for years to bring it back. Now it is time for them to put their money where their mouth is! If that happens, I think we would be shooting new episodes in November. Brad and I will be going to Australia, some time in October. We are very excited and really looking forward to doing our show there. Basically, that is it! Touring and anything else that comes up! The beauty of this career is there is nothing ever really set in stone!
I know you take part in some great work outside of your comedy career. What can you tell us about charity work you are involved in?
My wife and I work with a couple of different organizations. One is World Vision (www.worldvision.org). We went to the Congo, a couple of years ago, to shoot some commercials and get the word out about sponsoring children. That is a charity very close to our heart. Here in Toronto, there is also a place called The Loggen, which helps teenagers who are in metal crisis. It is a small charity that has been around since 1964 and does great work. We are also ambassadors for Lupus. We have been pretty fortunate in our lives and we have made it a concentrated effort to work with charities who don’t have the resources many larger ones do. There are plenty of charities out there who support cancer or breast cancer. There are plenty of those people who do great at it, so Deb and I decided to focus on groups who could benefit most from our help.
That is terrific! Thank you so much for your time today, Colin. We really appreciate it and admire all the hard work you have put in!
Thank you! It has been a pleasure! Take care!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.