- Kay Meek Centre Annual Fundraising Gala: Two Men, No Script! Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, Friday, June 15, 7: 30 p.m. Tickets $159. For more information and to reserve tickets call 604-913-3634 or visit kaymeekcentre.com.
Show up, Make stuff up, leave.
It's a simple formula, and one comedian Colin Mochrie says keeps him coming back to improv.
"For me it never seems like work. Every show is totally different so you never really get into a rut," he notes.
Probably best known for his improv antics on the popular ABC show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Mochrie describes his younger self as a "bookworm," and says his career goal as a teenager was to become a marine biologist.
"And then because I was so shy I was dared by a friend to try out for the school play and I did, and when I got my first laugh that pretty much changed everything."
Mochrie, who was born in Scotland, moved to Canada when he was a child, and "mostly grew up in Vancouver," attended the Langara College theatre program, called Studio 58. It was there he was introduced to improv.
"I was certainly going to theatre school to become an actor and then I saw a demonstration of improv and was instantly smitten with it," he explains.
At that time, "there was no such thing as a career in improv," notes Mochrie, adding he was lucky when the original version of the British TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? came along and gave him a job.
"The British improvisers are brilliant and incredibly verbal, and North Americans can be a little goofier and a little more physical, so I think that was part of the reason they wanted us," notes Mochrie.
He stayed with the show for a number of years and eventually made his way back to Canada just in time to co-star on the American version of the show, which was hosted by Drew Carey. He remained a series regular for the six-year run of the show.
Mochrie explains that doing improv for TV was much the same as doing it for stage, except he had much less time for set-up.
"On TV you've got like three minutes," notes Mochrie. "That's why it tends to be a little more shticky, a little more jokey because you have to get everything out there right away."
While he admits TV and movie work tend to pay more, Mochrie says he loves performing on stage.
"There's no substitute for the excitement of live theatre," he says. "There's an energy that is really amazing, a lot of fun to be a part of."
With TV and film projects, too many cooks in the kitchen (including directors, producers and editors) can turn a good performance into a bad final product, he adds.
"What I love about stage work, and especially doing improv on stage, is we're in charge of our own fates really," says Mochrie. "When we're on stage doing improv, it's all on us. If we suck it's because we suck, if we do well it's because we're doing well. We have no one to blame or praise but ourselves."
During his early career in Vancouver, Mochrie met comedian Ryan Stiles, who shared his interest in improv. Stiles was hired to work with a Second City company performing at Expo '86, and that work eventually brought him out to Toronto's Second City main stage.
Mochrie was starting to get a little restless in Vancouver, and Stiles suggested he join him in Toronto. Stiles set up an audition for Mochrie with a touring company, and the woman who hired him (comedian Debra McGrath) became his wife a few years later.
"So it was a very good time for me," says Mochrie.
Over the years, Mochrie expanded his career to include many film and TV appearances, including a regular stint on the CBC comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
But improv has remained a passion, and Mochrie, who lives in Toronto, joins in with local improv groups whenever he can.
"I like to work out with the young people, they keep you honest," he says.
Another person Mochrie has continued to work with is Brad Sherwood, a fellow alumnus from both the British and American versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway?
For the past eight years, they have toured as a two-man show called: Two Men, No Script. On Friday, June 15, that show will headline the annual fundraising gala evening for Kay Meek Centre.
Mochrie describes the show as a twoperson, live version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and notes he and Sherwood will probably be doing what he calls the "world's most dangerous" improv game, which he says they have tried to get rid of but audiences like it too much. The game features Mochrie and Sherwood on stage, barefoot and blindfolded, acting out an improvised scene, while surrounded by 100 live mousetraps.
"Believe me, it's as stupid as it sounds," says Mochrie of the game Sherwood invented.
"It's just painful. It's just painful."
However, danger is part of the draw of improv.
"I think the audience wants to see you in trouble. The audience has a vested interest in the show because they know you have nothing and they're the ones sort of dictating the show because it's their suggestions that get the scenes formed," explains Mochrie. "They want to see you get in trouble, but ultimately they want to see you succeed because they're the ones who put you on that path."
Aside from improv, Mochrie has a number of other projects on his plate, including a Christmas movie he is currently filming in Toronto: "It's odd wearing cashmere overcoats in 30-degree weather," he notes.
In addition, Mochrie has a new show premiering July 10 on ABC. Hosted by Fred Willard, and produced by the same producers of Whose Line Is It Anyway? the new show is called Trust Us With Your Life.
To top off a trio of current creative projects, Mochrie is just finishing his first book.
Not surprisingly, he incorporated improv into writing by taking the first and last lines of famous novels and creating a different middle.
"So hopefully that will be funny," he says with a laugh.
Two of his favourites: changing Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat to a zombie story and revamping The Hound of the Baskervilles so that Sherlock Holmes becomes a stand-up comedian.
"I've had a great life but I don't think it's that interesting to be in a book and I don't have advice for people, so I thought this would be the best way of actually writing something," explains Mochrie of why he chose to borrow lines from the classics.
But don't expect him to take up comedy writing full time. Although he has written in the past, it's not his favourite thing to do.
"For me it's the discipline, I'm just not disciplined. To actually sit down, it just made me respect writers all the more. I don't know how they do it without just going completely crazy," he says of the writing process, adding with a laugh: "That's why I love improv; you show up, you make stuff up, you leave."