When Whose Line Is It Anyway? first aired in the 1980s, most people had never heard of improvisation before.
“Whose Line was sort of the beginning of the improv craze,” says Colin Mochrie, a regular performer on both the British and American versions of the show over the last three decades. “So I’m happy that we sort of got it into the public consciousness.”
The show’s British version ran from 1988 to 1999, and the original American version hosted by Drew Carey aired on ABC from 1998 to 2007. The CW brought it back in 2013 after older seasons picked up steam on the internet—younger generations who weren’t around during the Drew Carey years were catching up on YouTube.
Colin Mochrie is the only performer who’s appeared in every episode of the American Whose Line—though his colleague Ryan Stiles has only ever missed two episodes, and performers like Brad Sherwood, Wayne Brady, and Greg Proops have all performed in dozens of episodes. The eighteenth season, hosted by Aisha Tyler, premieres October 9 on the CW. “When I first started doing Whose Line, my daughter was two months old,” says Mochrie. “She turns 31 next week.”
Early next month, Colin Mochrie and Whose Line veteran Brad Sherwood visit The Cabot in Beverly to perform their longtime live improv show, Scared Scriptless, on October 2. While this live show doesn’t quite have the thirty-year run time of Whose Line, it’s been touring for a whopping twenty years, making it the longest running live improv show.
After a year of playing Zoom shows, Mochrie says it’s great to be back in theatres performing live improv. “Zoom shows were fun, but it’s not the same as having that audience reaction,” says Mochrie. “It’s weird doing a comedy show to silence. Which Brad is used to,” Mochrie says wryly, “but it threw me off.”
But you’ll hear plenty of laughs on October 2—and since it’s improv, no two shows are ever the same. Mochrie and Sherwood take audience suggestions for skit ideas, often inviting folks up on stage with them. They’ll play certain games that fans will recognize from Whose Line, but they’ve had to adapt other games from the television show since they don’t have a host. Or a timer. “Out on stage we can take our time and sort of milk the cow dry, so to speak,” says Mochrie, “and really explore the scene we’re doing.”
The show is family friendly, and Mochrie emphasizes that they stay away from politics for the live shows. “We made a conscious effort to just do goofy, and make it a show where for two hours you can forget about what’s going on in the world,” he says.
So what’s the secret to anchoring a live improv show for twenty years and a television show for over thirty? “I wish I knew!” says Mochrie. Improv has an unassuming appeal compared to the entirely scripted entertainment we usually watch. “I think because it’s so unexpected,” says Mochrie. “Everything’s a surprise, as much to us as to the audience, so it’s always fresh and fun.” Unlike the rhythm of sitcoms, improv keeps you on your toes.
When he’s not performing, Mochrie says he’s a bit of a homebody. He’s been married to comedian Debra McGrath for thirty-two years, and they’ll often perform shows together. “I’ve done all the cooking in our marriage since, like, 1990,” says Mochrie. “So that’s one of the main reasons she loves me.” In recent years, he’s also curated an atypical Twitter presence—instead of tweeting jokes and promoting his work, he uses his platform to retweet fundraisers for folks in need. “There are many negative aspects to Twitter, but I thought why not try pushing some of the positive,” he says. “In the right hands [Twitter] can be a great tool.”
This leg of the Scared Scriptless tour runs through next March, coming back around to the North Shore at Lowell Memorial auditorium on March 11. And you can watch as much improv as your heart desires by streaming the original seasons (one through eight) of Whose Line on HBO Max, and the newest seasons on cwseed.com (nine through, as of October, eighteen).
“The fact that we made this into a career I think is—it gave us a chance to be able to tour the world doing what we love,” says Mochrie.
For more information and for tickets, visit thecabot.org/event/colin-brad.