On the Spot

Terrified, yet hysterical. That’s the world of improvisational comedy, at least for Colin Mochrie, who is well known for his lengthy tenure on the TV show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Mochrie, who describes himself as one of “the laziest people you’ll ever see in show business,” found his motivation, oddly enough, through fear. The fear of being on stage in particular, which is the basis of his entire career. Not only does Mochrie perform on stage in front of an audience, but he has no prepared material when he is up there. He has to whip out jokes on a whim, which he actually finds to be easier than stand-up comedy, due to the lack of preparation work.

“Nothing but respect for standup, but it’s hard,” Mochrie said. “I saw a demonstration of improv and I thought it looked like fun. It seemed fairly simple, for someone lazy like me. You just show up, people yell things at you and you do it. So I did it. I never thought it would end up being a career, it was just something I enjoyed doing. It wasn’t until ‘Whose Line?’ came along that thankfully it gave me an occupation.”

Once a shy and reserved kid, Mochrie broke out of his shell and began doing improv in 1980 after graduating from Studio 58 theatre school. He began working at TheatreSports in Vancouver, a competitive improv game theatre. While there, Mochrie met Ryan Stiles, who would later become his colleague on “Whose Line?”

Mochrie first auditioned for the British version of “Whose Line?” in 1989, but didn’t earn a regular spot on the show until a couple of years later. He was a regular on the British version for seven years, until it was canceled in 1998. Then Mochrie came aboard the U.S. version of the show for its debut that same year, joining costars Wayne Brady and Stiles, and host Drew Carey.

“It really is kind of the best gig ever,” Mochrie said. “It’s two weekends out of the year. It’s like goofing around with friends and somehow they make a television show out of it. We show up an hour before filming, we have a coffee and then we just do it. It really is just a lot of fun. We’ve been doing it now for over 30 years and it’s still just as much fun as when we first started.”

Production of the U.S. version was canceled in 2003, but was revived in 2013 and is still ongoing, with Mochrie as a staple of the show.

He described his brand of comedy as “a little surreal, a little physical,” and basically, “goofy would encompass everything.” With years of experience, he’s harnessed the fear and learned to just let the comedy flow on stage.

“It’s just having trust in myself and the people I’m working with,” Mochrie said. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, so it’s just basically being relaxed enough that I’m open to anything that happens onstage. I’ve been fortunate to work with great people, so they always kind of spur my imagination and so far it’s worked.”

When he can’t think of a line on the spot, the other castmates are there to jump in, and vice versa.

“That’s when you rely on the people you’re working with and just follow them and ride their coattails until you come up with something.”

The comedians entertain the crowd on “Whose Line?” with various games throughout the show, which are chosen ahead of time, yet no lines or material is prepared. The audience shouts out suggestions that spur the content created onstage.

“We have a game now that incorporates a lot of music, which is not my strength, but it’s become my favorite because it scares me every night,” Mochrie said. “There’s never a night where I think, ‘I’m really going to rock this one.’ It’s just constant terror, and yet that’s what I enjoy in my life, weirdly. So it’s worked out nicely.”

Because of his love for that rush of terror, Mochrie signed on for a totally new experience in the fall of 2016, a hypnosis/improv tour with hypnotist Asad Mecci.

“He hypnotizes people and then I improvise with them,” Mochrie said. “Again terrifying, but it’s actually been really good for me. I think it’s actually strengthened my improv. I’m working with people I’ve just met, who are hypnotized, so I’ve learned how to just accept that and have had some really fun improv moments.”

Mochrie also has been on the Scared Scriptless Tour with fellow improv comedian Brad Sherwood for the past 20 years, bringing a taste of “Whose Line?” on the road.

“We’ve been friends for a long time — we first met in 1990,” Mochrie said. “We have a similar sense of humor and we also, I think, complement each other — the things I don’t have, Brad has, and the things Brad doesn’t have, I have. So it’s been a good relationship. We both, I think, try to make the show as difficult for ourselves as possible because we find that’s when we have the most fun.

“We like to say it’s sort of a live version of ‘Whose Line?’ without the tall guy and the black guy. There are games you’ll recognize from ‘Whose Line?’ and there’s games we’ve had to adapt because there’s just the two of us. And we’re constantly trying to invent games to keep it fresh for us. It’s going to be fun and nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

They bring the Scared Scriptless Tour to the Tropicana Laughlin Saturday, June 25. Just like always, the audience will determine the direction of the show, and there will be plenty of opportunities for audience members to become part of the show as well.

“We figure out what games will be best in the venue and then we have a running order and that’s as much planning as we have,” Mochrie said. “It’s a fun show. It’s family friendly — we try to keep it clean. You’re not going to learn anything, but you’ll have a couple of good laughs.”