Improv's perfect masters
Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood
by Whit Hill
I'm in thrall to a rerun. I can't help it. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, where I'm going, how late I am, what's burning, or who's ringing the doorbell with a hot pizza, I will stop everything to watch Whose Line Is It Anyway? And it is a merciless master.
The hit improv show (revived after being canceled by ABC, bizarrely, several years ago, despite my loud protests) celebrates the kind of humor that I like best: brilliant, physical, potty mouthed, and net free. In each episode, four insanely talented performers, deeply schooled in improvisational technique, play games in front of a live studio audience. And more often than not, two of those performers are Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood. They bring their manic improv stylin' to the Power Center on Saturday, July 1, as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
Born in Scotland and raised in Canada, Mochrie is perhaps the better known of this duo, in part because of his now-flourishing career acting in commercials (he sports a tutu over khaki pants and hawks Nabisco snacks). He started out in life wanting to be a marine biologist or a chef, but those dreams were soundly derailed when he tried out for a school play on a dare, got a part, got some laughs, and decided to devote himself to performing without a script. With a quizzical, sometimes slightly disgusted expression that speaks volumes, Mochrie dives headfirst into whatever task is put before him. He's also quick - you have to be in this business - and incisively funny.
Sherwood's no slouch either. A veteran of late-night comedy - and years on WLIIA - he flits from zany eloquence to goofball antics and back again.
In the clips I saw of the Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood show, the two have scrubbed up nicely - tuxedoes replacing the usual schlumpy Whose Line couture. But that doesn't stop them from going all out, slithering
about on the floor in the "Sideways Scene" - played lying down, with a camera filming from above. And the formality adds a certain something as they trip and stumble through the audience, taking written suggestions on note cards and declaiming in passionate Shakespearean language.
Mochrie and Sherwood make it look easy, but let me tell you, improv is hard. I took a workshop in it once and lasted about an hour and a half before shrinking home to put on my bathrobe. But I remember this: the key to success is elegantly simple. You listen closely and use what you're given. How cool is it that such a basic tenet can result in a scene in which, say, a rabid antelope goes to a cocktail party with a depressed superhero - and makes thousands of intelligent adults laugh till they cry. Mochrie and Sherwood are masters at this.
[Review published July 2006]