The Comedy Couch

 COLIN MOCHRIE - May 10, 2005

GUY MACPHERSON: I was up all night reading your
excellent website.
COLIN MOCHRIE: Oh. Yeah, she does a good job, doesn't
she?

GM: Who?
CM: Her name's Jesse.

GM: Are you involved with it?
CM: She contacts me. Like, she'll send me questions
from the fans. She's mostly in touch with my agent.

GM: A lot of comics either don't have websites or have
really useless ones. But there's a lot on there.
CM: I even have recipes, so come on!

GM: I know. It almost makes me want to take up
cooking... I asked to interview you. I'd already
interviewed, in past years, Proops and Ryan. And I
thought, 'Whoever speaks to Colin Mochrie?' Then I saw
all these articles. Millions of them. Now I feel like
there's not a question I can ask you that I don't
already know the answer to and that you haven't heard.
CM: Well, that saves time.

GM: I know that you're shy.
CM: Mm-hmm.

GM: I hear that a lot from performers and I always
have to wonder whenever I see them on a talk show
talking about this, why would you go into something
like show business if you're shy?
CM: Yeah. I think I'll probably need a couple of years
of therapy to answer that. I've actually been thinking
about this because it's something that people always
ask me about. I mean, it is difficult to understand
because there are times where I'll be flipping a
channel and I'll see myself and be extremely
embarrassed by what I'm doing. Yet on stage I'll
pretty much do anything to get a laugh. I think it's
because when I'm on stage I'm usually surrounded by
people I enjoy and who I trust and it's sort of a safe
environment so I feel like I can do anything. Whereas
in real life I don't have those safety issues.

GM: Which is why you'd never try standup because you'd
be up there alone.
CM: Exactly. My thing is, if I'm dying, I'm going with
friends.

GM: You're taking everyone down with you.
CM: Oh yeah. I ain't going alone.

GM: So what affect does it have on you in public? Do
people think you're a snob?
CM: Uh, I'm very charming. But it is difficult. I
think they walk away a little disappointed because I'm
not wild and wacky. They almost invariably say 'Tell
me a joke' or 'Say something funny'. It's really not
what I do. I'm funny with my funny peeps. But by
myself I'm not extremely witty or funny.

GM: Well, you've got to be part witty and funny to do
what you do.
CM: Partly, but I try to keep it hidden in my real
life.

GM: I used to watch Ryan do standup back in the early
eighties at Punchline's and he was fantastic, I
thought. I always thought, 'This guy's going to be a
star someday.' Then he got steered away from that.
Were you responsible for taking him away?
CM: No! The first time I saw him I thought, 'How can I
hook myself onto this gravy train?' I don't think Ryan
ever exceptionally really enjoyed standup. And when he
came across improv, that I think is what really
sparked his interest. And he, too, enjoys working with
people. I don't think the solitary thing was something
he enjoyed.

GM: Did you come across improv at the same time or
were you there before?
CM: I was there a little before him. He was doing
standup; I was with TheatreSports. And my best friend,
actually, was sort of hired by Punchline's to start an
improv troupe. It was Ryan and Rich Elwood, David
Cameron, and Denny Williams. And my friend Jim. And
that's I think where Ryan first came in contact with
it. And then Jim introduced the two of us and we
started playing TheatreSports together. And started
this long improv relationship. It's really worked out
nicely for both of us.

GM: That's an understatement. Does it ever get old
doing improv?
CM: No.

GM: You do the short form, right? Do you ever do long
form improv?
CM: Yeah, we have done long form. But usually when
we're on tour, we usually just do the short form.

GM: Right. So how many games are there that you could
possibly choose from?
CM: Oh, there's scads!... You know, there's hundreds
and there's variations. We probably do ten basic
games.

GM: And within those, do you ever go, 'Ech, we've done
this'? I guess that's the thing with improv, is that
it's always new.
CM: The really good thing about this group is we
always try and do something different so we don't get
into that rut. Because when the improviser is
challenged and is trying to find something new, that's
usually where the fun begins and the audience really
gets into that. Greg Proops and I don't usually do the
music. And one year we decided, hey, what the hell.
They paid their money; they can't really leave. So
instead of having the actual singers improvise a song
to this woman, Greg and I did it. And I have to say we
kicked ass. I would say it was one of my finest improv
moments. I was so excited because I was doing
something that I was incredibly scared about and it
worked out nicely.

GM: Were you channelling someone?
CM: Once again, it was just working with Greg, it
really helped that there was someone up there. I could
just sort of follow him and jump in. And the woman we
were singing to was darling, so it helped.

GM: Is the hard part about the singing the music or
coming up with the rhyme?
CM: For me it's the actual music. Because I have the
soul of a song and dance man but none of the
equipment. So I'm always trying to sound good and it
just doesn't work. It's not happening.

GM: Do you still do it?
CM: Yeah, we do it once in a while. We try to
challenge ourselves as much as we can.

GM: You have the perfect name for a comedian.
CM: I always wonder if that was preordained.

GM: Is there any comedy in your family?
CM: No, not really.

GM: Any funny people?
CM: My family's Scottish, so they have sort of that
dark humour. Very morbid. It's not light, happy, funny
laughs. It's always sort of self-depricating and
any-day-now-we-could-be-hit-by-a-meteor type of thing.

GM: Your parents still live here, right?
CM: Yeah. They live in North Van.

GM: Do you have any siblings here?
CM: I have a brother and a sister.

GM: And you're in Toronto now.
CM: Yup.

GM: It's quite amazing you can have such a nice career
from Canada. Has it hurt you or helped you? Because
you're in everything.
CM: It does seem that way. Whose Line was deceiving
because it took up three weekends. That was it. And
you have shows that are showing every week. So it
seemed like I was a lot busier than I actually was. It
may have hurt in some ways not being in L.A. because,
of course, they have more opportunity in television
and films, or whatever. But for some reasons, I think
we made the right choice in living in Canada.

GM: Three weekends and that would be a whole year?
CM: That would be it. We would shoot Friday, Saturday,
Sunday, each taping would go three to four hours, and
from each taping you'd get three to four shows.

GM: And it's gone now, right? It's off the air?
CM: Yeah, it's gone. As far as we know. No one
actually told us that we were officially cancelled,
but it's been three years so we're getting the hint.

GM: So you just went on hiatus...
CM: ... and they forgot to call us back. We're like
those Japanese soldiers they found in the Philippines
or somewhere not knowing the war was over.

GM: Do you think that if the show had stayed in
England that it would still be on the air.
CM: You know what? It's hard to say.

GM: And any regrets moving it to the States?
CM: It's sort of a mixed bag. I mean, no, ultimately
no because when it moved to America it gave us a
higher profile and it gave us all greater chances for
employment and greater recognizability. The
unfortunate thing about doing it on American
television is you have to deal with American networks.
There was certainly a lot more freedom in England. We
were allowed to do whatever we wanted. In America, we
had a censor in the booth the entire show because
there was no script. And we never quite knew where the
line was, what would stop us from getting something on
air. They bleeped Ryan saying 'lay' once. And actually
bleeped him saying 'hand'. And yet there were other
things where I went, 'There's no...'. Brad said
something about a 200-pound snatch and they kept that
in. So you really had no idea what was going on. There
was something you would say that was totally
innocuous... I said something like, 'We'll be right
back with the adventures of the salty monkey.' And the
censor actually stopped and said, 'Okay, what does
that mean?' And I said, 'Um, I don't know. I just put
two words together.' 'It's like a penis reference,
isn't it?' 'Well, no.' So that was frustrating.

GM: On the road you have none of that, right? So you
can say whatever you want.
CM: We're fairly clean because our audience is such a
wide demographic. We have everything from kids to
grandparents. That being said, we have Greg Proops
with us.

GM: Nuff said.
CM: Exactly. But we're pretty good. The language
probably gets a little bluer than it does on Whose
Line but I would say the content is probably just as
silly and probably more Benny Hill risqué.

GM: I was reading about the ABC network and how
originally they wanted to have veejays and celebrities
on. And then they put you up against Friends and
Survivor.
CM: Yeah, apparently they're popular shows.

GM: So what were they thinking? And if they found
another timeslot for you, wouldn't it thrive?
CM: There's a couple of things. I don't think they
actually, first of all, knew what they had. I think
what they saw was 'okay, this is an incredibly cheap
show for us to make and even though it's getting
trounced regularly in the ratings by Survivor and
Friends, because the show's so cheap, it's still
making money for us.' They never actually spent any
promotional money on us. They just sort of threw us in
there. And even though the ratings sucked, I'm always
amazed at how many people recognize us no matter where
we go, no matter how small a town or how big a city,
people recognize us. So I think there's something
wrong with the ratings system.

GM: But you were on all the time.
CM: We are on all the time. I think we could still be
running if they sort of played their cards right. Ryan
and I kept begging every season, 'please split us up.'
We love each other, we enjoy working with each other,
but it's been like 20 years now. It's exciting for us
to work with other people because we don't know them
as well. But they wouldn't go for it.

GM: Split you up on the show?
CM: Just on the show. Could we do shows where we're
not in every scene together? Because although it was
fun and we do enjoy working with each other and it
works out well, after a while, if you're improvising,
you're going, 'I'm sure we've done this before. It's
really familiar.'

GM: Green Screen is a similar show in concept, right?
I haven't seen that one.
CM: I like to think of that as sort of a noble
failure. It sort of took all of the elements of improv
and got rid of them, the ones that you enjoy. The
animation that they put in was amazing. It looked
great. But I think part of improv is getting the
audience to use their imagination to get them to sort
of work with you, and that took away that element by
putting in all the backgrounds and everything.

GM: It sounds like an interesting concept. I'd like to
have seen it.
CM: It was a very interesting concept. It was actually
harder to improvise in because of technical aspects we
had to work in a certain area. Also you had to think
in a different way. You thought, 'Well, I can't just
sit here and talk; I have to sit here on an elephant
and wash dishes while I'm talking so the animators
have something to do.' So it just added another
element to something that's already hard.

GM: What happened with 22 Minutes? You were on for one
season?
CM: Two seasons. And it was sort of in the midst of
Whose Line. And I just found the commuting was tough.
I was in Halifax from Wednesday to Saturday. Then if
we were doing Whose Line, I'd be flying off to Whose
Line.

GM: In LA.
CM: Yeah. I kind of liked my wife and my son so I
wanted to see them every once in a while.

GM: I was surprised to learn that your wife did My
Talk Show.
CM: Oh yeah.

GM: I hadn't heard about that since it aired. But I
remembered it because I was a fan of Ryan Stiles when
he left Punchline's. Then one night I was flipping
around and there he is as the milkman on My Talk Show.
CM: My God.

GM: And I'd never heard of it since. And then just
last night I read about it.
CM: That was another one where... It was our first
taste of Hollywood. She and her writing partner, Linda
Kash, had written the show. They loved it, they
produced a pilot, they took the pilot down to NATPE
[National Association of Television Program
Executives], where they sell to all the syndication
markets, and they sold like 97 percent in the market.
Then the people who were behind it got fired and new
people came in and they totally changed it and it just
went in a different direction. It was very odd. It was
an odd time. I try not to be bitter.

GM: You were part of that show, too?
CM: No, I couldn't work. We moved down there. My wife,
Deb, was eight months pregnant. She gave birth fairly
soon after we were down there and I was sort of
househusband/nanny. That's how I learned how to cook.

GM: That's what I'm doing now. Except without the
cooking.
CM: Try the cooking.

GM: I'll check one of your recipes out... Getting
Along Famously just aired recently?
CM: We did a pilot that was aired in January. And we
got an order for six more so we're writing that right
now.

GM: That's a sitcom completely, right?
CM: Yup.

GM: So no improvisation.
CM: No. We're thinking of maybe adding a few elements,
but I don't think so. It'll be mostly written.

GM: A show like Curb Your Enthusiasm and a couple
others employ improv.
CM: Yeah, I think Curb Your Enthusiasm is actually 90
per cent improv.

GM: They just have a place they want to reach every
scene.
CM: Yeah.

GM: Does something like that interest you?
CM: Oh sure.

GM: That's a different kind of improv, though, isn't
it?
CM: It is different. You can't all of a sudden just
start walking like a chicken for no reason. It has to
have some sort of reality-based part to it. That would
be great. That would be interesting; a bit of a
challenge not to do your usual schtick to get out of
something that's not working.

GM: I just went to a high school reunion on the
weekend. I was thinking, you went to Killarney: Have
you been to any reunion?
CM: The last one I went to I think was the tenth. A
while ago.

GM: Are you the most famous person from Killarney? Are
there any others near you?
CM: I think I may be, which is kind of sad. But who
knows? There may be some nuclear scientist I don't
know about.

GM: Because every school has one. 'Hey, who's the
famous person?' So you're it... What's Roland Rossman
[high school friend who got him started in theatre]
doing right now?
CM: You know what, I was doing a show in California.
My best friend from high school lives out there. And I
said, 'Where is Roland Rossman now?' I haven't seen
him since high school. I have no idea what's happened
to him. The last I heard he was in Austria teaching,
but I have no idea what's going on.

GM: With improv, you've got to really keep up on pop
culture.
CM: Yeah.

GM: I find - as I'm in my early 40s - it is more and
more difficult to do this. Because I'm not interested
in most of it.
CM: I hear you.

GM: Do you take it like a job, like you have to do
this?
CM: Yeah. I mean, I don't... When Survivor came out, I
thought, 'Ugh, I'm gonna have to watch this because
everyone's talking about it. It's going to come up.'
So I started watching it and I actually got into it.
And that was the last reality show that I sort of
watched and got into. And then all the others I've
seen maybe five or ten minutes of each one. Just
enough to make fun of it and get the gist of what's
going on. And that's it. I think television's really
in a sad state these days. Although there are, on
cable... That seems to be the place to go. The
networks are so intimidated by everyone.

GM: You'd think that cable is doing so well they might
clue in.
CM: You would think. Sometimes the business part of
this show business I just don't understand. To me it
would seem like, well lookit, they're getting all the
awards, all the acclaim because they're doing shows
that don't really talk down to their audience. They do
shows that are only going to appeal to a certain
audience rather than try to find something that's
going to appeal to everyone and ends up appealing to
no one.

GM: They don't try to look for an audience; they do
what they do and the audience finds them.
CM: Yeah, it's like they don't have a project first.
It's like they say, 'Okay, we need something for this
audience. Let's try to mix something.' They never
really get the original thing. They go, 'Oh, Seinfeld
was great. Let's make different variations of that.'
Rather than, every year there's a show that becomes a
hit because it's not like anything else. Like
Desperate Housewives and Lost this year. I should be
running something somewhere!

GM: You should. Maybe the CBC.
CM: Okay.

GM: But then who would know?... People yell out
suggestions. Does anything stick out that you remember
as being 'Oh my God, how am I going to get out of
this?' or 'What can I possibly do to get out of this?'
And then your creative juices just start going and you
surprise yourself.
CM: I can't think of anything in particular. The best
thing about improv is that once it's gone, it's gone.
You can't think, 'What I should have done was...' To
me, I just can't remember. Even great scenes I've been
involved in, I can sort of remember parts of it but I
could never remember what the suggestion was or how we
got there. I'm sure there are sometimes where you go
'I got nothing.' And sometimes from that magic
happens. The audience enjoys watching you get into
some sort of difficulty; they love it when you can get
out of that difficulty. So our thing is, even if we
have no idea what the suggestion really meant, just go
with it with a hundred per cent commitment and
hopefully something will come up.

GM: Are audiences getting worse? Or more unruly,
thinking they're the star of the show? That's been the
case here in Vancouver for a couple years now, that
I've found, anyway. I don't know if artists find that.
CM: I look forward to playing there. Um, I haven't
noticed that. I mean, it depends from crowd to crowd.
There are some that come in just so hyped that we can
pretty much do anything and they'll go with us. And
then with others there's a little bit of a proving
period where you have to prove that you belong on
stage. And then there's others who think that they're
helping you just by shouting inane things every five
minutes. I think generally in society there is a -
this is going to make me sound like I'm from the
Victorian age - there seems to be a lack of respect
and manners. I find it really hard going to movies now
because everybody's talking. Like, even through the
previews. Yes, I know it's not the main feature but
still I'd like to see this. There seems to be no
consideration for people in the audience or people on
stage. That bothers me.

GM: I know you've done your own two-man tour, but this
is a big group.
CM: It's six of us.

GM: Is everyone from Whose Line?
CM: Yeah. We can't call it that because of legal
reasons.

GM: So this is like a big reunion for you guys.
CM: It is, kind of. Ryan never goes on tour because he
doesn't fly. So this is his way of touring. He pretty
much sets up a tour so that everything's within four
hours of his house. And we rent a bus and we just
drive everywhere. So it is actually a nice chance for
us to get together. And especially on the bus you have
a lot of time. It's actually quite boring. We play
cards or we watch dvd's. It's a fun group to work with
and it's always nice to see them. I see Brad all the
time because we do a two-man thing. I probably see
Greg almost as much. And Ryan, who is actually one of
my best friends, I rarely see. He doesn't return my
calls; I don't know what that's about.


 
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