Interview: Inside 'Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza'
Next Monday, they'll be returning to your living rooms with the new GSN series Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza - but before that, they stopped by to chat! I ask improv geniuses Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Kathy Kinney, Jonathan Mangum and Greg Proops about coming back to television and some of their best moments from Whose Line Is It Anyway? and beyond.
Let's start at the beginning: after the cult status of Whose Line, why did you decide to come back and do another improv television series?
Kathy Kinney: We were all there when Drew [Carey] got addicted to improv. We heard the click. He has created these venues, places for us to just come and do the improv, and because he’s loyal like a big wet dog, you know, he always invites us all to come play with him. That’s my story. I’m sticking to it.
Ryan Stiles: I think, if Drew asks, we do it, you know. It’s been like that throughout the years. Almost all of us went overseas. Wnything he asks us to do we just do it, because he’s just that kind of guy. He’d do anything for you.
Jonathan Mangum: I totally agree that he’s the most loyal guy I know and thank God for that.
There are some differences between this series and Whose Line - how different are the two series from your point of view?
Colin Mochrie: Unlike Whose Line there isn’t a host per se. Drew Carey has his name on the show of course, which didn’t mean enough for him to show up for this interview but still—
Kathy Kinney: I'm sitting in for him.
Colin Mochrie: It’s more like a taping of what our Vegas shows were, where everyone takes time. Everybody has a chance to introduce the scene, set up the characters. Also, unlike Whose Line, [where] Ryan and I would always work together, you know, Brad and Wayne would always do the songs, it’s really mixed up. We got a chance to work with everybody. I got to do a couple of singing games. Whose Line I think was contracted not to have me sing. So, it has many, many differences.
Ryan Stiles: Also, on Whose Line a lot of the suggestions came down from the producers on cards that Drew read. We still didn’t know what the suggestions were but, because we don’t have that everything comes from the audience. I think we use the audience more in this show too, and we can take our time with scenes. It’s a little more fun that way so we can explore characters and stuff. We have a big stage. We’re not confined to a little eight by twelve foot stage where we have to stand in a line and speak. We can actually move so it’s—it’s just more fun for us to do.
Kathy Kinney: I want to add one too. Having this unbelievable energized audience in this Las Vegas casino. These are people from all over the world, Europe and everywhere, and we’re feeding on them and they're feeding on us.
Considering that they were somewhat of an unofficial staple of Whose Line, Colin, how many bald jokes can we look forward to on the new series?
Colin Mochrie: We’re actually pretty good I’d have to say. They brought their natural tendencies and actually tried to just do funny improv, which is a first for them, so it was good. I’d say [that] on Whose Line you'd get a good two to three a show. There may be two during the entire shooting [of this show] and they were both by me.
Ryan Stiles: But I find working with Colin, standing beside him, you're just better lit.
Colin Mochrie: I didn't realize it was going to spread to interviews now.
Kathy Kinney: That’s the earmark of this show, is this energy of doing this whole new improv show in Vegas with all new jokes. [It's] all the same people, but I think we’ve gotten funnier. Don’t you?
Colin Mochrie: I think so. We all know each other so much better now. We’re up in double digits, ten, twenty years that we’ve worked together so that just makes it better and you don’t want to fall back on the bald jokes.
What about the Hoedowns?
Colin Mochrie: You’ll never see a hoedown. If there was any way we could have stopped a hoe down from being on Whose Line we would have done it. If we could have done it retroactively we would have done it. Hoedown was never our favorite, as you can probably tell. We did hundreds of them and every year [it] just got harder and harder, so I’m glad to see it banished from this show.
There's another game I have to ask about - I took my parents to see your live show years ago and when you did that one where you're blindfolded with the mousetraps, he laughed so hard that he physically hurt himself. Is that going to happen again, and what were you thinking to come up with it in the first place?
Colin Mochrie: You will see that game again, absolutely.
Jonathan Mangum: I'm curious as to how he hurt himself. What did he do?
I think he pulled something in his stomach. We had to take him to the doctor the next week.
Jonathan Mangum: Well, then we've done our job.
What made you crazy enough to even do that game in the first place?
Kathy Kinney: Well, nobody does pain like Drew Carey.
Colin Mochrie: Yeah. He screams like a little girl.
Kathy Kinney: It's just fun for us to watch that. But who did create that?
Ryan Stiles: I think that’s been around a long time. Improv is kind of dangerous already, because you don’t know what you’re going to say and that just ups up the danger. Trying to do a scene and maintain characters in a story while you’re feeling your toes getting cut off is not the easiest thing in the world.
Kathy Kinney: Because those things really hurt. [When] you're putting them down on the floor, [if] one of them snaps and just brushes past your finger it hurts. We like to court danger.
With all the years that you've known each other and been doing improv, are you ever worried about getting tired of each other, or running out of material?
Greg Proops: I don’t think people realize, when we show up in Vegas we haven’t seen each other for a while. It’s just nice seeing people, going out for dinner with them and doing shows.
Ryan Stiles: The only time we see each other is on stage. We’ve known each other thirty years and I think [the number of times] I’ve phoned him at home, I probably could count on one hand. Colin?
Colin Mochrie: Yeah. You wouldn't even need your hand.
Ryan Stiles: It’s fun to work with all these people. We don’t see each other unless we’re on stage. It’s not like we hang out together all the time. I think the problem we have, [like] with a lot of people that work together a long time, is we get a suggestion the first thing that runs through our minds is have we done this before, and if we did what did we do so we don’t do it again. So you have to kind of censor yourself. But it’s fun working with everybody. We’ve known each other for so long it’s like family.
With that rapport between you, how do you bring in guest stars, or newer cast members?
Jonathan Mangum: We do everything we can to help them. A lot of people are kind of nervous to get up there. Even actors don’t necessarily improvise, so it’s always kind of scary for them, and we kind of sense that, so we kind of lead them through it, but we want them to look good.
Ryan Stiles: Plus, improv is always, always yes. Any idea they have we’re going to completely accept so they almost can’t look bad as long as they just have ideas.
Greg Proops: I’m always trying to emphasize to our guests the enormous sense of gratitude they should be feeling that they’re allowed to be playing with us, and that maybe they should be thinking about a little more than their own needs.
Colin Mochrie: And yet they rarely do.
Kathy Kinney: We're really happy when someone shows up to play with us. We don't think of ourselves as celebrities.
Ryan Stiles: Nor does anyone else.
Kathy Kinney: If someone shows up we’re like "Let’s bring ‘em up, it will be so fun." It’s like you always let all the new kids into the sandbox to play with you. We’re really happy.
Whose Line is still in reruns, and at least to my knowledge, almost everyone seems to have a soft spot for the show and for all of you from that show. What do you think has made your brand of humor so enduring?
Ryan Stiles: We enjoy it when we do it and I think people pick up on that. I think it’s kind of nice to watch a show that’s not a bunch of people arguing with each other it. You watch it and you just feel good watching it.
Colin Mochrie: I think you hit the nail on the head when you say everyone can see how much fun we’re having. It makes it timeless. It’s like watching the old Carol Burnett Show. No matter how often you see the scene you still laugh when you see it because you realize that they had so much fun performing it and it just becomes contagious.
Kathy Kinney: Even after all these years, we’re really making each other laugh, and we’re the biggest critics because we’ve been there all along.
My thanks to Ryan, Colin, Kathy, Jonathan & Greg for this interview! You can catch them when Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza hits GSN weeknights at 8 and 11 PM ET/PT, starting next Monday.