I let him think for a while because I knew he had the answer. I knew it was a good answer, and he was going to tell it to me. Because when you ask a question, you expect an answer. That’s the way it works...question, answer, answer, question. If he gave the answer, I’d have to come up with the question. That would be Jeopardy. That’s wrong.”
If this dialogue were to be from an actual movie drama, the writer would have been banished to pluck snow in Alaska, but when it comes under duress, with just seconds to make up, Colin Mochrie gets a roomful of audience cracking up.
Mochrie, the balding, bouncy and buoyant Canadian, was, for close to 15 years, a constant on the hit television series Whose Line is it Anyway? Yeah, the show where “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. That’s right, the points are like a salad bar in a strip club.”
Mochrie is in India with Whose Line... gag-mate Brad Sherwood, performing at the Black Dog Comedy Evenings show today at the ITC Grand Central, Mumbai. The two men, on their first visit to the country, also performed in Kolkata on Wednesday.
“I have absolutely no expectations, no idea how the show will go,” said Mochrie over the phone from Kolkata on the afternoon of his first performance.
As an improviser, Mochrie has trained himself not to have expectations, because this field of entertainment is so unpredictable that he cannot possibly guess what’s going to happen. The reason he does not remember any of his gags from the over 200 performances on the show, except when he tried to use “Richard Simmons (the fitness expert who had a TV show then) as a water ski thing” in the section of the show that uses props. “I was bending him in ways I should not have.”
“Improvisation is so at-the-moment that once you are done, you don’t remember it. When I am flipping channels and see the show, I have no recollection of it ever happening,” he says.
With his sometimes tilted gait and frisky demeanour, Mochrie is the perfect foil for the straight-faced, lanky Ryan Stiles, while his long-lasting friendship with other performers, Sherwood included, is evident from the chemistry on stage. He stresses the importance of that friendship: “It’s important to have someone you trust and know is going to be there for you if you are not, maybe, on top of your game. You need for someone to jump in and help you, not desert you.”
Born in Scotland, raised in Montreal and Vancouver, where he now lives, Mochrie dared to participate in a school play when he got his first laugh and was hooked. But it took 20 years in the job for fame to knock on his door in the form of Whose Line is it Anyway?, an improvisation comedy show that usually had four participants, started on television in Britain in 1988, moved to America in 1998 and ran until 2006. Mochrie did among the largest number of episodes in the show. “It was the best job ever. We would go to England for six weeks and work over the weekends; basically, show up an hour before the show, do the show and you are done. Same with America,” he says.
To be able to raise a laugh, he says, is “incredibly addictive. Everyone finds something different funny. With the whole audience laughing at the same thing, you feel kind of powerful. Of course, the show stops and you are back to being a weak little man.”
Calling comedians “self-centred”, Mochrie admits that he is expected to be funny all the time. “It’s like meeting a doctor on the street and saying there’s something wrong with me, can you check? People I bump into ask me to tell jokes and I have none. I work with funny people and make jokes.”
He adds that talks are on to bring back Whose Line.... He would like that, because of what it’s given him. “It’s put me in public perception, opened opportunities in life and helped (me) work with some great people.”
Mochrie and Sherwood perform at the ITC Grand Central in Mumbai today; entry by invitation.