Comics bring improv to Meyerhoff

`Whose Line Is It?' stars get help from the audience


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April 14, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Improv is one of the more delicate forms of comedy. It is difficult to rehearse and, in the wrong hands, it can be as flat as an ironing board.

The idea is fairly simple. Actors, or members of an improv troupe, think up various skits. The audience supplies key ingredients for the skit -- maybe the location, the occupations of the characters, or an odd word that must be incorporated in the dialogue.

The actors then perform an unrehearsed skit woven around audience suggestions. The humor enters as the actors come up with clever ways to execute the skit, or as they fail miserably trying.

ABC, rather improbably, managed to turn this form of comedy into a network television show called Whose Line Is It Anyway? (based on a British show of the same name). The show moved to ABC Family late last year.

As host of the show, comedian Drew Carey sets a scene, often with help from a studio audience. The cast takes it from there, improvising dialogue or songs from Carey's suggestions. The shows are minimally edited, but the rough production preserves the energy of the show.

Various cast members have taken the Whose Line format on the road for live performances. Colin Mochrie, a cast member, and Brad Sherwood, a regular guest, come to Baltimore for a show Sunday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to do a live performance called An Evening with Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood.

We caught up with Mochrie in advance of the performance.

What can you do with a live show that you can't on television?

When we do a TV show, everything has to be two-minute segments. That makes it a lot faster. And [on TV] it tends to be a little more jokey, you are trying to get everything out immediately. You can't take the time setting up a scene that you can when you are live. And [the live show] is a lot more interactive. Almost every scene starts with an audience suggestion.

What are some common audience suggestions for skits?

Gynecologists and proctologists. We have yet to ever use them; I don't think that anyone would really want to see what we'd do with that! If there is a big story in the news, we get suggestions related to that. But we try to frame the way we ask for things to get different suggestions in every city.

I understand you do a skit with mousetraps. How does that work?

I like to call it the world's most dangerous improv skit. We have 100 mousetraps on stage. Brad and I are blindfolded, and we have to negotiate through the field of traps. We do nothing but hit mousetraps. They go off all the time. People like to see us in pain.

You rely on the audience for suggestions and even to come up on stage. What are you looking for when you select people?

We try to shy away from the people who are half out of their seats saying PICK ME. We tend to pick couples; that way they feel comfortable with each other. We try to make the audience members feel fairly safe, we try not to embarrass them in any way. There have been times when the audience members have been so good that they've come up with the closing line for the scene.

What do you do to practice?

We try and keep up on pop culture. But we've been doing this together for years. We're both kind of lazy. We play cards until it is time to go on. I wish I could say we were very disciplined and worked hard -- but I'd just be lying to you.

Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood will perform at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. The Meyerhoff is at 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $25-$47.50 and are available via Ticketmaster at 410-547-SEAT or

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