IN THE 1980s and 1990s, Whose Line Is It Anyway? was the cream of Channel 4’s comedy output. It was unmissable, and spawned a host of spin-offs including the hugely successful US series of the same name. If you have ever watched the show you will understand that when it goes right it is the funniest thing ever. When it goes wrong, it’s even better.
This year the Vodafone Comedy Carnival Galway has pulled out all the stops to recapture that magic. They have flown in two of the original cast to perform for the first time together in Galway. Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood are improv royalty.
Colin spent seven years on the UK version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? before appearing on all episodes of the US version. Brad Sherwood, one of improv’s all-time masters, spent three seasons on the UK Whose Line… and all seven series of the US version. For their Galway shows they will be joined by Today FM and Dublin Comedy Improv regular Dermot Whelan.
They will join The Stephen Frost Improv Allstars - featuring Ian Coppinger Steve Steen, and Andy Smart - on Friday October 28 (6.30pm ), Saturday 29 (3.30pm ), and Sunday 30 (3.30pm ), in The Spiegeltent, Eyre Square.
The beauty of it is that Mochrie and Sherwood do not know Stephen’s Allstars. Whatever repertoire of tricks and escape plans the others have will not work here - there will be no failsafe formula. Improv is a high wire act at the best of times, but Colin, Brad, and Dermot are going to be on the same high wire, juggling flaming torches on a unicycle. The whole thing is a three ring mental circus with Stephen Frost as ringmaster extraordinaire. Fuelled by audience suggestions, this is comedy living by its wits. Expect a spontaneous, never to be seen again, show.
Mochrie and Sherwood will also host their own show, An Evening with Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood, in An Taibhdhearc, Sunday October 30, at 7.45pm.
'I was intrigued by the concept of making something from nothing'
Colin Mochrie was born in Kilmarnock in Scotland. When he was seven his family relocated to Canada and it was there that his interest in comedy began. “As far as I remember the move was a fairly easy transition,” he tells me over a transatlantic phonecall. “My parents had friends in Montreal where we moved to so there was a support system there and their kids helped me get acclimatised. I quickly lost my Scottish accent and within a month I was a rough and ready Canadian!
"I was a very shy child. I was a bookworm, I read a lot and I used to watch an awful lot of television and movies and I loved to laugh. I would really watch those people who could make me laugh and was always fascinated by what they did. I always loved comedy.”
After leaving high school, Mochrie enrolled in Vancouver’s Studio 58 Theatre School and discovered the joys of improv; “I saw this demonstration of it,” he recalls. “This thing called Theatresports was being developed in Calgary by an Englishman named Keith Johnstone which was improv in a competitive setting; there were two teams and a referee who would issue challenges and judges who would judge it.
"From the get-go I was immediately drawn to it, it looked like so much fun. I was intrigued by the concept of making something from nothing, just getting a suggestion from the audience and going with that. I immediately signed up for some classes and started being involved in the improv scene in Vancouver. It was just something that I loved; I never thought it would end up being a career.”
'We have a very immature sibling relationship'
It was landing a regular slot on Whose Line Is It Anyway? in 1991 that gave his budding comedy career real traction, and also saw the beginning of his partnership with stage and screen partnership with Brad Sherwood.
Mochrie describes the dynamic of his enduring partnership with Sherwood; “We have sort of a very immature sibling relationship; we’re constantly insulting each other. We work well together; this is the 14th year of our tour. Brad is more of a verbal performer; he is very smart and very well read whereas I’m more the goofy non-sequitur, sexy part of the group.”
Mochrie has doubtless fielded countless weird and wacky audience suggestions in his time and I ask him are there any particular ones that stand out?
“The beauty of improv, and the curse, is that everything goes away really quickly because your mind is constantly in survival mode as you go from scene to scene,” he replies. “You rarely remember them. I have to start writing them down because people always ask me what was the weirdest and I know we’ve had some but nothing sticks in my mind. The weirdest audience member Brad and I ever had was this guy sitting in the front row at one of our shows who was dressed as a horse. It wasn’t even Halloween or anything. We never did find out the story behind it.”
While he was becoming a celebrated comic performer in the UK with Whose Line…, back in Canada Mochrie was, for a long time, known as ‘the commercial king’ due to the many ads he featured in.
“Often they are absolutely just for the money,” he admits. “There was one campaign for a biscuit company and I was ‘The Snack Fairy’. Basically, it was me dressed normally except for a tutu and a wand. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this’, then my wife reminded me we needed to do some renovations to the house so it was a case of, ‘then I guess I’m doing it’. I wish I had a stronger moral fibre and said ‘no, no’ but it did pay well and it gets you through those times when you’re doing your artistic things.
"I also had a funny group of commercials where there were 10 commercials that I did in one day and they were all live and improvised. They were for the opening of an IKEA store in Ottawa. The director and producer would drive me to the location, give me a countdown ‘5,4,3,2,1..’ and then this live commercial would start and I’d do a minute and they’d film it and I’d have to be mindful not to swear or do anything rude. That was kind of exciting but those are very rare; very rarely do you get excited by doing a commercial!”
Seeing that his Comedy Carnival gig is all improv-based I am unable to ask Mochrie anything about what might be in the show. “That’s right,” he acknowledges. “It all happens on the night and really depends on the audience. I’ve actually only performed in Ireland once before, for the Murphy Cat Laughs festival in Kilkenny back in 1999, so I’m really looking forward to performing next month in Galway.”
Get working on those audience suggestions people!
For tickets and more information see www.vodafonecomedycarnival.com