It’s remarkable to think that a TV series about improv could last for 30 years. But indeed, Whose Line is it Anyway? (or Whose Line? as it’s often known, and will be referred to as henceforth), has always beaten the odds. Starting as a radio programme on the BBC starting Clive Anderson, Stephen Fry and John Sessions, the show transitioned into a series for the BBC that ran for ten seasons. It was a “game show” where, as US host Drew Carey would later come to say, “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter”, and comedians from the UK, US and Canada performed a series of improv games that involved a lot of audience participation.
Many of the regular contestants of the UK series – which by its end included Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood and Ryan Stiles – made the move to the US in 1998 as the concept expanded its reach. The surprise success of that show in the notoriously difficult US market saw a rare instance where a UK series got outdone by its US “remake”, and following one year of crossover, the UK series came to an end, and the US incarnation started a remarkable 8 season run on the ABC, before being reincarnated by the CW, where new episodes continue to be released to this day; the series just wrapping its 6th season (13th overall) with new host Aisha Tyler.
And yes, the American and Canadian stars who made their start on the UK series are still on it today. A run that any improv actor could only dream of. Indeed, the success of the show has made its performers household names, and now three of its long time regulars – Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops and Brad Sherwood – are in Australia to tour something of a three man show that takes the concept of Whose Line? on the road. And last night that took them to the iconic Sydney Opera House, where they performed as part of the annual Just For Laughs Festival.
“We’re all here except the tall one (Stiles), the rich one (I’d assume they’re referring to Drew Carey) and the black one (Brady)… they couldn’t be bothered”, the trio said as they walked onto the stage, and explained a little bit about how the show would work. Not unlike the TV series, they’d take suggestions from the crowd, and involve the audience too. But there were no props or set design here, no cut aways for applause or to meet a certain time limit. This was the sort of improv that the comedians grew up performing off screen, before they their way to UK screens. They rolled with whatever the audience gave them, let it play out as long as it needed to, and left the audience rolling with laughter in return. Some of the segments rolled on so long, the event ran half an hour over its allotted time. Not that anyone was complaining. But an episode of Whose Line? this was not.
The show brought in a few favourites from the Whose Line? Series, and they mixed in a few of their own concepts too. There was the always popular “Film, TV and Theatre Styles” as they jumped through a scene involving fire and “bin chickens” (I’m guessing someone from an earlier show told them about that!), and froze in action as they developed a ridiculous story line as the audience pulled out different genres like “noir” or “porn” on request. Of course “porn” would make it in. How could it not?
There was “sound effects” where two members from the crowd delivered the sound effects for the comedians, a segment where audience members finished the sentences of the actors (where they used a human to ski down a mountain, which was absurdly hilarious), and another where audience members moved the bodies of the comedians through a scene that saw their bodies twist and turn as they struggled to complete some basic tasks.
There was one I think they called “Pillars”, where two members from the audience joined them on stage to make the sound effect of different emotions, which Colin then conducted. The humour here was less in concept and more in their choice of a father/daughter, in which the father had to make the sound for “horny”. Awkward.
One of my favourite parts of the show was where they talked at length to a couple about their first date and tried to recreate that date, giving the couple a horn and a bell to indicate when they were gearing far off course, or getting it just right respectively. It was a well executed, truly entertaining improv concept that had me in tears. The night closed out with “Greatest Hits”, where following the job suggestion from the audience of a “banker”, Brad Sherwood sung the greatest hits for the banker. It was never the funniest part of the show, but always a very entertaining one, and a fan favourite. And though Sherwood is not Brady, he still does a fine job.
There was nothing not to love about the experience. Having grown up watching Whose Line?, it was great to see these comedians in a more authentic space for their craft. And that’s really what the show does so well; take that show and bring it back into the more traditional world of improv comedy – with three masters of its craft at its helm. If improv is your thing, you’re not going to have a better time in a theatre than seeing Greg, Colin and Brad in action.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The trio will next be seen as part of the Just For Laughs Gala which takes place across two sessions this Saturday night at the Opera House. For more details, head HERE. The tour then head to New Zealand. You can find out details about it HERE.
The reviewer attended the Sydney Opera House performance on 22nd November 2018.