Colin Mochrie, the semi-geeky but endearing – and talented – improv maestro graced the UR stage along with Brad Sherwood, both stars of the popular prime time show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” this past Friday as the main entertainment highlight of Meliora Weekend.
The afternoon before the show, I got to chat with him to see what’s going on in the quick-thinking mind of one of Toronto’s favorite comics.
Campus Times: Ok, first question is, how did you get your start in the comedy business?
Colin Mochrie: In high school I was actually studying to become a marine biologist. It’s probably best that it didn’t work out for anyone. I was dared by a friend of mine to try out for a school play. I did, and I got my first laugh, and that was it. So from then on I was with the drama program and I got involved with improv, and it just kept going.
CT: Who did you look up to growing up? Was there a role model for you?
CM: There wasn’t one person, it was pretty much anyone who could make me laugh. I loved old Bob Hope movies, the Dick Van Dyke show, Jack Benny, the Monty Python guys. Yeah, there were many influences, and I managed to steal from all of them.
CT: What’s it like having to think on the fly for improv?
CM: It’s a great way to make a living. I mean, the beautiful thing about it is I’m always working with friends, and they make it very easy, when you’re working with someone that you enjoy and you trust, you feel totally safe.
In many ways before the show starts everybody’s a little nervous because you think “well, we have to entertain these people and we have no idea what we’re doing,” but once you’re up there, it becomes like a kitchen party in a way, ripping off each other and having fun. There are times where it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, but it’s the most exciting death-defying thing I’ll ever do.
CT: No skydiving or anything?
CT: So why do you like improv as opposed to stand-up or other versions of comedy?
CM: Although I have nothing but respect for people who do stand-up, my thing has always been if I’m dying I’m going down with my friends. With improv, there’s also a little more leeway with it, the audiences are such a big part of the show, you know, you’re making it up, so they tend to be a little more supportive. Sometimes the stand-up tends to be a me-against-the-world kind of a thing, they know you’ve been working on your piece and they better be funny or there’ll be hell to pay.
So in your opinion, which is better, the old British version of “Whose Line” or the one in the U.S.?
CM: Oh, now there’s a question that will get me in trouble. I would have to say, the final product, I would probably say the British one. The actual working process, both are exactly the same. You know, a lot of the same people are on both, we work exactly the same way, it just there’s a lot more freedom in Britain to have whatever you want. In America, they get a little scared by anything too sexual or anything like that so it was a different challenge trying to figure out how far we could go without being censored.
CT: Is it really all unscripted on the show?
CM: Yep. That’s the beautiful part of it, is that we don’t have to know anything, you just get up and do it.
CT: So you don’t have to go to rehearsal.
CM: No, we would show up, shoot on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We’d show up Saturday, shoot the show, and go out for a beer afterwards. It’s like the best gig in the world.
CT: So do you think you can become good at improv? Or is it a natural thing that you either have or you don’t.
CM: Anyone can do improv, the funny part, sometimes I think you have to have a good sense of humor. The people who are good at it like Ryan [Stiles] and Wayne [Brady], it’s a natural thing for them – I don’t think you can teach what they do. But the basic tenets of improv, yeah, anyone can learn. Even if you’re not the funniest one on stage, some of the best improvisers are the people who keep their eye on the scene, keep the story going, setting up other people.
CT: Yeah. What’s Drew Carey like in real life?
CM: Oh, he’s a horrible, horrible man…
He is pretty much what you see on television, except he’s a millionaire. He’s very sweet, incredibly generous, he’s been generous to everyone on the show. He’s the show’s biggest fan. I think he enjoys watching it more than anyone else does and I can’t say enough about him. One of the high points of doing the American version was getting a chance to meet and know Drew.
CT: So, do you think there’s a difference in a Canadian and a U.S. sense of humor? Do you find it’s kind of hard translating to different audiences?
CM: It’s not too bad. I think, as a Canadian, of course, we’re heavily influenced by American television shows, we also have the British influence. I think we actually got episodes of Monty Python before America did, and Canada has a strong link to Britain anyway, so as long as I can remember we’re always getting shows like Benny Hill and things like that, so we’ve managed to meld the two into our own kind of humor. But I don’t think we change anything, you know. People laugh at what’s funny.
CT: So I saw also you’re the new face of Toronto, with the tourism package. What’s that like?
CM: The new face of Toronto? Well, you know it’s a big responsibility. I’m sure Toronto wishes it had a better face.
It’s been great. I love living in Toronto and it’s been sort of a tough year for Canada in general, with SARS and West Nile and Mad Cow disease.
CT: They’re plagued in Toronto.
CM: Yeah. So, it sort of felt good trying to help to bring people back.
CT: So now some personal opinions. Who do you think has better beer, Canada or the U.S.?
CM: I’d have to say Canada. Yeah.
CT: What’s your favorite band?
CM: My favorite band… well, just because I know them I’ll have to say the Barenaked Ladies. I enjoy all their stuff. But I’m a big Beatles, Rolling Stones, and from my son getting into Nickelback and some bands that I probably wouldn’t hear otherwise.
If you could be on the cover of any magazine, which would it be?
CM: I would love to be People’s Sexiest Man of the Year.
CT: Wouldn’t everyone.
CM: Any day now.
CT: Are you expecting their call?
CM: No, no.
CT: I also hear you’re a good cook. So what’s your favorite dish to make?
CM: I’m sort of limited in what I can do, because my wife’s allergic to seafood and she doesn’t eat red meat, so it’s chicken dishes [every] day. I do a really nice chicken and leek pasta, and it’s Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday so I love making Thanksgiving dinner, I have some great turkey recipes.
CT: And what’s it like being on tour at colleges? Is it a different experience for you?
CM: It is kind of different. It hasn’t been too bad because in the last little while it’s just been weekends so I get to spend time with my family. It’s always fun working with Brad. The audiences are just so pumped, and so much fun. It is great, it’s just a great way to work. And we actually, I think, do a two-week straight tour in November which I’m really looking forward to. It’s a chance to see the country, which is always fun.
CT: So you like being in the U.S. and touring around?
CM: I do, I love Americans and I always have a great time.
CT: On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you to perform here at UR?
CM: Oh, 12.
Linden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.