Colin Mochrie can’t remember what day it is. He’s just touched down in his home town of Toronto on a Tuesday and he’s got live shows in LA starting Thursday, before traveling to Michigan for shows, and then filming some more Whose Line Is It Anyway? episodes.
“I have people [who keep up with my schedule], I can remember nothing,” says Mochrie about keeping up with it all.
But as one of the world’s funniest and most well-known improv comedy artists, Mochrie has made a career of going with the flow.
Whether it’s starring in the British or American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? or touring with fellow improviser Brad Sherwood, or popping in to work on his craft with the young improv actors at Toronto Second City, Mochrie’s life is based around making things up as he goes. But he knows he can’t just rest on his laurels and rely on his vast experience, he has to constantly perform for audiences to stay at the top of his game.
“It really is like a muscle, if you don’t use it, it gets flabby and you get tentative and scared and that can kill you,” says Mochrie.
Once Mochrie discovered improv while studying theater in Toronto, he realized it was the perfect craft for him.
“I’m basically lazy, so I didn’t have to learn anything, which was a big plus,” says Mochrie. “But there’s also something exciting about going in front of an audience and having nothing and using them and the people you are working with to come up with a show.”
Mochrie was born in Scotland, but moved with his family to Canada when he was a child. He’s widely known in the US as one of the stars of Whose Line Is It Anyway? but he has been in a number of films, tv shows, and countless commercials in Canada.
Whose Line? Returns
Mochrie, along with Ryan Stiles, Wayne Brady, host Aisha Tyler, and other famous improvisors have recreated Whose Line? for the CW Network. The original show was canceled by ABC in 2003 after six years on the air. ABC Family continued to run episodes for years afterwards, keeping it in the public consciousness much longer after the network show was canceled.
The show returned on the CW Network in 2013 and will begin its third season on its new network on April 17, 2015. Mochrie says the only difficult thing about picking up the show again was figuring out how to make fun of host Aisha Tyler.
“We had Clive Anderson in the English version of the show who was balding and had no neck so it was easy to make fun of him, and we had Drew Carey in the US version who was overweight at the time, so that was fun,” jokes Mochrie. “But with Aisha it is different because she is this beautiful woman who is a total nerd that’s into video games, kind of like a dream girl. But we’ve found ways to insult her so that’s good.”
The show features celebrity guests that sometimes have little or no improv background, which makes for interesting shows. Mochrie says that some guests have been great, while others must have realized they made a mistake once they got on stage. But it’s always in good fun and the shows are always entertaining.
Mochrie knows what it’s like to bomb on stage though, as anyone who has performed in front of live audiences as much as he has would have experienced.
“The beauty of improv is that you always remember the horrible moments and you never remember the good ones,” says Mochrie. “There are times where it just doesn’t work. I like to blame the audience because I like to shift blame, but usually it’s because of me. I wasn’t listening or maybe I just didn’t have it that night.”
Benefits Beyond the Stage
Improv isn’t just an exercise in being funny onstage, it’s an exercise in listening to others and going along with what they say. Lessons that, Mochrie says, can benefit people off stage as much as on stage.
“Brad and I were hired by GE to teach their executives an improv class and it amazed me because every scene was negative and was stopped. They were saying ‘no’ to the person, they weren’t going along with their ideas, they weren’t listening because they had their set ideas of what they wanted to do,” says Mochrie. “When they finally got it, it was amazing how everything just bloomed, the scenes came alive, they made sense and it was a good lesson.”
Mochrie believes the real-life applications of improv have improved he and his wife’s lives dramatically. They began employing the “Yes and..” principle of improv, where one always goes along with what is suggested, in their own lives.
“We’ve said ‘yes’ to things that previous times we would have been leery of and it’s lead to these great adventures where we have met interesting people,” says Mochrie.
Mochrie does couch the “Yes and…” principle by saying it must be within reason because it could go wrong. Anyone who has seen Yes Man with Jim Carrey knows that this idea could be great in many respects, and dangerous in others.
Going with the flow and listening to others and accepting their ideas has given Mochrie a lifetime’s worth of memories and laughter, not to mention a flourishing career.