A year ago this very weekend, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood brought their “Whose Line Is It Anyway”-inspired fun and antics to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
We’re not making this up (even if Colin and Brad were): The laughter-filled night of comedy improv, billed as “An Evening with Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie,” became one of the BCPA’s top-selling shows of 2011-12.
It’s no coincidence, then, that an encore of sorts has been booked: “Whose Live Anyway?,” another live touring extension of the “Whose Line?” legacy.
This time, though, the ante has been upped: Instead of just two “Line” alums playing improv games, we get double the jesters, plus a fifth wheel, in the form of a live, and equally funny, musical accompanist.
The foursome is headed by Ryan Stiles, the towering 6-foot-6 comedian famed not only for his epic “Line” run in both the British and Yank versions, but also his co-starring role in “The Drew Carey Show” (nine seasons as Carey crony Lewis Kiniski) and his ongoing role as Herb Melnick on “Two and a Half Men” (surviving Charlie Sheen’s heralded exodus a year ago).
Also on board, all of them with “Line” connections, are: Greg Proops, Jeff Davis, Jonathan Mangum and keyboard man Bob Derkach.
In an interview from his home overlooking a lake in the Pacific Northwest, Stiles is in the non-working mode he prefers most after all these years of globe-hopping.
Which is: “Sitting on a lake in the middle of nowhere,” he says, where ne’er is heard a discouraging word, be it scripted or made up on the spot.
The lake is Lake Samish, outside Bellingham, Wash., near Stiles’ birth roots of Seattle.
“I was never a PR kinda guy,” he insists. “I was nominated for an Emmy one year, and I didn’t attend the show. It’s more important for me to earn the respect of my peers than to sit and stare at something on a mantle.”
(For the record, the nomination came in 2002, via “Whose Line?,” for Individual Performance in a Variety of Music Program.)
Stiles is not about to suggest that he and the other four at Saturday night’s show will make you laugh any harder than longtime comic companions Mochrie and Sherwood did last September.
“We have four people. That’s different. We do different games. That’s different. We have music. That’s more different.”
But no bald guys (Mochrie).
And no short Scots-Canadians (Mochrie again).
“I mean, two’s fine,” he continues. “But with four, there’s more a sense of a group, and different personalities, and it keeps it fresh for us.”
The core premise, however, will be comfortably familiar to fans of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” the popular improv series hatched in the U.K. 20 years ago and then transplanted, in 1999, stateside, where it enjoyed an eight-season run on ABC, with Drew Carey the host.
Yes, at one point in American TV history it was possible to encounter Carey and Stiles costarring in two weekly network series.
Too much of a good thing?
The Carey-Stiles connection has never let up — from a later, albeit less successful, series, “Drew Carey’s Improv-a-Ganza” on through countless other live and guest appearances.
Despite the intimacy of their comedy lives — in which the performers are often climbing over and under each other as the audience-suggested comedy games are played out — “we really don’t see each other much off-stage. As of today, I haven’t done a gig in three months, but then we’re going out to do eight of them in September. And it’s what I really enjoy doing, more than TV and film. It’s what I need, to be on stage — it’s my church.”
In addition, Stiles owns and operates his own improv club in Bellingham, called the Upfront Theatre, “which is a lot easier than driving 900 miles to L.A.,” a city clearly not close to his heart at this point in his life (he turned 53 in April).
Stiles’ lifetime of laughter originated during his school days growing up in Vancouver, B.C., where he forsook his father’s fish-processing profession to join a group called the Vancouver Theatresports League, circa 1986, which led to a successful audition with the Toronto chapter of Second City.
Just three years later, he was tapped by the British producers of “Whose Line?” to join the show in England, where he was a regular until moving back stateside to join Carey in its U.S. counterpart.
Interestingly, Stiles notes, his career has continued to circle back around to the people he met and worked with early on, sometimes by chance, sometimes by design.
“Drew has always been a friend — he’s like an older brother to me. Same with Colin, a best friend.”
And then there’s Charlie, as in Sheen, the notorious star of “Two and a Half Men,” which was preceded 20 years ago by the two sharing screen space in “Hot Shots!” and “Hot Shots! Part Deux.”
“All I know is that whenever I’ve worked with Charlie, he’s never missed a line or pulled attitude with either the cast or crew, which is a big thing with me. He’s always treated the crew the same as the cast.”
Then again, notes Stiles, “stuff happens, and I know he likes his hookers and his drinking and his partying hard, but they (the show’s producers) knew that when they hired him.”
When Sheen was fired last year and replaced by fellow bad-boy actor Ashton Kutcher, Stiles rode out the storm and remains on board, appearing along the same “recurring” lines — “one year, I do 15 episodes; the next year I do three. It’s great.”
For the time being, though, Stiles is stoked for the September tour of “Whose Live Anyway?,” promising a night of anything-goes improvisation games … but within reason.
“Because this was a show that was on network TV for eight years, we try to keep it clean for the kids — there aren’t f-bombs flying all over the place, and anything that’s a little risqué they wouldn’t understand anyway.”
Above all, Stiles and the rest of the “Whose Live?” crew will be “having a blast on stage.”
And with good reason: “Certainly, the audience wouldn’t be having fun if we weren’t.”
Joining Ryan Stiles for the made-up fun and games of “Whose Live Anyway?” Saturday night at the BCPA are:
Jeff Davis: Like Stiles, Davis has a comedy past that includes a distinct Drew Carey connection, via guest stints on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “The Drew Carey Show,” and co-starring in “Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show.” He began acting in commercials at age 4, and played Louis opposite Yul Brynner in “The King and I” on Broadway at age 11. He was a series regular, opposite Christine Baranski and John Larroquette, on “Happy Family” (2003).
Greg Proops: Yet another alum of both the Carey-hosted American edition of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and its U.K. forebear. Proops co-starred in the Nickelodeon comedy series, “True Jackson VP” (2008-10) as “Max Madigan, president of Mad Fashion.” The San Francisco native is also a frequent guest on E!’s “Chelsea Lately and Fox News’ “Red Eye,” and is the voice of “Bob the Builder” on the popular PBS kids’ show.
Jonathan Mangum: Mangum, a last-minute fill-in for previously announced Chip Esten, is best known for his appearances with Wayne Brady, “The Drew Carey Show,” “Reno 911,” Comedy Central’s “Stripmall” and “Drew Carey’s Greenscreen Show.”
Bob Derkach: Giving the show its soundtrack is Derkach, keyboard player for “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” since its 1999 U.S. premiere. He also performs with “Drew Carey’s Improv All-Stars” and is a past music director of Second City’s Toronto and Santa Monica theaters.
At a glance
What: “Whose Live Anyway?,” starring Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Jeff Davis and Bob Derkach
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, 600 N. East St.
Tickets: $20 to $55
Box office: 866-686-9541