Eight questions for improv comic Brad Sherwood

The 'Whose Line is It Anyway?' star talks candidly with The NewsHouse about creating comedy on the spot and making people laugh for more than two decades.

Armed with nothing but their imaginations, comedians Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie have been delivering laughter to cities across the United States since 2003.

And their next stop happens to be here in Syracuse.

Sherwood and Mochrie, famous for their roles on the popular improvisational comedy program Whose Line is It Anyway?, will perform their stage show, “Two Man Group,” at The Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater on Thursday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m. Using suggestions from the audience, the duo will create hilarious original scenes that delight both children and adults.

In an exclusive interview with The NewsHouse, Sherwood, 49, talked about his journey to improv stardom and life on the road with one of his best friends.

You’ve been doing improv for a long time. When did you first realize it was something you wanted to do for a career?

Sherwood: I started acting when I was eight, so I always knew that I wanted to be some type of a performer. I didn’t really find out about improv until I was in college. I went to see a show with a three-man improv group, and I was just blown away by it and was hooked ever since. I moved out to (Los Angeles) out of college, got into an improv workshop and group and never stopped after that.

Your big break came when you were cast on the British version of “Whose Line.” Now, you’ve had the chance to perform on three different versions of the show. What has been the most rewarding part of that experience and working with such talented performers?

It’s been really fun, just because I love doing improv and it’s my favorite type of performing. To get paid to do it live on the road with Colin and do it on the "Whose Line" shows has just been amazing. "Whose Line" has brought improv to the awareness of American culture, so it’s cool to be the old guard of getting this art form out to everybody in the world.

Colin Brad

Why do you think the show has been able to maintain its immense popularity for more than 20 years?

I think something that’s fun about improv in general is that you’re seeing comedy, but you’re also, in a sense, seeing a magic act. It makes you laugh and it fills you with wonder. "How did they do that?" It’s more impressive than watching funny stand-up. They’ve written that act and they keep re-writing it, changing it constantly, whereas we’re flying on the seat of our pants. It also has a broad popularity with different age groups. Kids that are 8 or 10 years old watch it, and their parents and grandparents like it. There’s no stand-up that is that broad in appeal.

You’ve been touring with Colin for 11 years now. Why did you two decide to pair up and tour live?

The thing is that when you’re touring with 10 or more people, you don’t get to be on stage as much. You play a game and then you sit down and watch two games. Colin and I are stage hogs, so we wanted to be onstage the whole time. I had been touring for a while with a buddy of mine doing a two-man show in comedy clubs, and so I approached him and said, "I’ve sort of figured out a way to do the show with just two people. You want to take it on the road and give it a try?" We did a two-week tour, and it went well so we both said, "Let’s keep doing this."

How do you balance the demands of the tour with “Whose Line” and some of your other comedy projects?

I think we both agree that (this show) is the best job that we’ve ever had. It takes a lot of priority. We obviously move our schedule around when we’re shooting "Whose Line," and Colin has lots of other gigs that he does in Canada. The traveling part can be exhausting, but when you get to do your dream job and traveling is the only problem, it’s not that big a deal.

Does it ever cross your minds that you’ve made millions of people happy through the years just by doing something you enjoy so much?

It doesn’t usually cross our mind until we meet somebody after a show that says, "I just want to thank you because a family member was really sick, and we used to watch 'Whose Line' when they were in the hospital." Then it sort of brings it back into perspective because we think we’re just being jerks and trying to entertain. We forget the importance and the therapeutic value of laughter for people with hard times in their life. Sometimes, it’s just to make someone spit milk through their nose, but for other people it really is important.

Obviously the show is completely dependent on suggestions from the audience. Can you really do anything to prepare?

The only thing we do before a show is write up a set list of games that we’re going to do that night. We always try to vary that up and come up with new games, especially when we go somewhere we’ve been before… As a true purist improviser, you should be able to take the worst suggestion and make it as good as the best suggestion. That’s your job. We trust in our ability to turn into gold anything that we’re doing.

For someone new to improv or unfamiliar with the genre, what can they expect Thursday night?

Expect to see how our brains work to turn these unusual suggestions into something funny. It’s almost like you’re handing a chef a bunch of crappy ingredients that couldn’t possibly make good food, and we’re turning it into something delicious.


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