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This article was prepared by David McDonough for the May 11, 2005

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Colin Mochrie Is Blissed Out

Colin Mochrie is lucky that Debra McGrath has good taste. In 1986,

when Mochrie, then an aspiring comic actor, tried out for Toronto’s

edition of the famed Second City comedy show, McGrath was the

director. "She told me it ended up between me and the cute guy, and

she went for me," Mochrie says. She must have seen something she liked

– they were married three years later. And Mochrie took his Second

City talents and turned them into prime-time success, on the late ABC

improvisation show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

Mochrie joins fellow "Whose Line?" alumnus Brad Sherwood on Saturday,

May 14, for an evening of improvisational mirth at the Patriots

Theater at the Trenton War Memorial. Mochrie says it promises to be a

free-wheeling evening, totally unscripted, with plenty of audience

participation and enough laughs to leave you pleasantly exhausted.

Mochrie is that luckiest of creatures – someone who is working in a

trade he loves. Comedy is an interesting profession for a

self-described 47-year-old shy man who grew up in Canada, the son of

Scottish immigrant parents.

"We left Scotland when I was six," Mochrie says, "I had a thick

Scottish accent that was so badly beaten out of me that now I cannot

do one to save my life. It’s so embarrassing, with parents who sound

like they just stepped off the boat. I think that was part of my

shyness, and also we moved around a lot when I was a kid (his father

was an airline maintenance engineer), so I never got settled in one

place. Luckily, something like improv came along and gave me a career

and something to do."

His first foray on the stage was the result of a friend’s dare to try

out for a school play, "The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch." "I played

Mervyn Vale, an undertaker. I split my pants onstage, got my first

laugh, and it was like the defining moment of my life. I remember it

like it was yesterday, at that point going, ‘Okay, this is what I

want. I want to do this now for the rest of my life.’ Up to that

point, I wanted to be a marine biologist."

Splitting his pants seems entirely in character for Mochrie. Anyone

who has seen him work on "Whose Line?" knows that he is absolutely

fearless when he is looking for a laugh. He has been known to contort

his face and body into unrecognizable shapes, kiss anyone within

range, imitate a dinosaur, burst into groaners of puns, fake a

fainting spell, and deliver the most adult of innuendos, all with the

air of an innocent puppy who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is

about.

In retrospect, the road to improv stardom seems as if it was

inevitable for Mochrie, but it didn’t always feel that way. After

graduating as the valedictorian of his high school, he studied theater

at Langara College’s Studio 58 in Vancouver. He then became a part of

the Vancouver TheatreSports League.

"A British gentleman named Keith Johnstone started this thing, which

sort of combined improv and sports," Mochrie says. "There was a

referee who issued challenges, two teams of improvisers, and judges

who would award points. It became the big cult thing in Vancouver in

the 1980s, when I started – it became like a midnight show. Within a

year, we began to sell out performances, and then we began to do

productions – we did an improvised ‘Hamlet.’ It was just an amazing

time."

It was also a time when he met an important figure in his life –

fellow improviser Ryan Stiles, who later shot to fame on "The Drew

Carey Show" and "Whose Line?" "He was okay," deadpans Mochrie, "I had

to help him along." Both men ended up in the Toronto Second City

company, where they quickly became legends – in the best sense of the

word.

The list of Second City alumni who became household names is endless –

it begins with Alan Alda and ends with Nia Vialrdos ("My Big Fat Greek

Wedding"), and in-between are, to name a few, John Belushi, Bill

Murray, Mike Nichols, Martin Short, Gilda Radner, Peter Boyle, and

Mike Myers. There simply isn’t room for more, but it was – and still

is – the greatest training ground for improv comedy since Plautus told

his actors, "Just wing it, and I’ll think of something." Stiles joined

Second City in 1987; Mochrie joined the following year. In his book,

"The Second City: Backstage at the World’s Greatest Comedy Theater,"

Sheldon Patinkin, one of the group’s first directors, says, "Over the

years, two of the best improvisers were Ryan and Colin." The book

says: "One night, Ryan Stiles made Deb McGrath (Mochrie’s wife) laugh

so hard during a scene that she peed her pants on stage.

We don’t what it is with the Mochrie family and pants, but "the

laundry bills are enormous," admits Mochrie.

He stayed with Second City for three years, where he ended up

performing with and directing the touring company. In 1990 he

auditioned for the original British version of "Whose Line?", where

Stiles was performing. He didn’t make it, but he tried again the

following year, and was hired to do a few shows.

"I was never a regular until the seventh year (1995)," he says. "Each

year I was signed for one or two shows and then they would add some

more." Not bad, when you consider that the show that was notorious for

showcasing performers who would appear on screen once or twice and

then disappear, never to be seen again. "Yeah, it was like improvising

with the Mafia," says Mochrie.

In 1998 Stiles and Drew Carey, flushed with the success of his

eponymous show, decided to bring "Whose Line" to America. Mochrie

would seem to have been a natural choice for the new cast, but it was

not that easy.

"ABC wanted young, good-looking improvisers; they wanted an MTV VeeJay

to emcee it. Fortunately, our producers said, ‘It really works with

the funny-looking guys.’ It’s always scary when networks get involved

with a show. One of the things I liked was that we had a fair amount

of control. It either went well or sucked because of us. There wasn’t

a lot they could do – there was no script to look over and make

changes, so we held our own destiny. Of course, they put us on

opposite "Friends," so ultimately, I guess they had more power, more

control."

The show made stars of Stiles, Colin, and the third regular, Wayne

Brady. Appearing semi-regularly on the show was Brad Sherwood, who had

also done some of the British episodes. Sherwood had understudied

Stiles some years earlier in a touring version of Second City, and

Stiles had encouraged him to try out for "Whose Line?"

The ABC version of the show lasted until 2004 but was never a big hit.

Its followers, however, are among the most devoted since Star Trek

first brought William Shatner’s hairpiece and varying waistline to the

airwaves. Shatner and Mochrie do have something in common, by the way;

both are hirsutely challenged, and both have been the subject of some

serious ribbing on the subject. "Of me they’re making a Mochrie," he

once sang on the air, and, another occasion, after a series of bald

jokes by fellow "Whose Line?" cast members, he stated cheerfully,

"I’ll be your lightning rod of hate." He adds: "We got trounced by

‘Friends’ and ‘Survivor,’ but everywhere we go we get recognized.

Everywhere – in restaurants, airports. So I like to think that the

rating system was wrong."

"We’ve had people follow us from show to show, from taping to taping.

God bless ’em – it puts a little more pressure on us to keep every

show different; that’s a good challenge. Our fans are really nice,

very respectful. The rabid fans don’t come up and demand that we be

funny on the street. I don’t do jokes, so when someone comes up and

demands that I be funny, well, ‘What’s your job, why don’t you do it

for me?’"

The loyalty of the fans led Sherwood to believe that a live evening of

improv might work. He approached Mochrie with the idea a couple of

years ago, and they have been at it ever since, playing theaters all

over the country.

"I love the live shows," says Mochrie. "It’s the best of all possible

worlds. I don’t have to do anything. I just show up, play a little

cards, do a show, go out and have something to eat, have a few drinks,

talk about how great we were. If the show didn’t go so well, I have a

few more drinks."

Mochrie says he particularly enjoys performing with Sherwood. "One of

the great things about doing this show with Brad is that it gives the

audience a chance to see what a great improviser he is. I think they

are sort of blown away by that. For me, that is part of the joy doing

the show."

Mochrie and Sherwood have about 20 different games they can choose

from in an evening, and most of them involve the audience. In "Crime

Scene," Mochrie is sent out of the theater while Sherwood and the

audience decide what kind of weird crime has been committed and by

whom. Back onstage, Mochrie has to guess, via a series of clues, just

what has happened. Another popular game involves two audience members

doing sound effects for the boys. Then there is "Mousetrap/Alphabet" –

difficult to describe, but let’s just say that it involves physical

pain for Mochrie and Sherwood, and hilarity for the theatergoers.

The duo plays both theaters and colleges and attracts a varying

demographic. "I’m always amazed when I look out and see kids to

grandparents; it’s great. It’s become a bit of a science to pick out

audience members, people to improvise with. We’ve had sweet-looking

grandmother types shout out the most disgusting things."

Mochrie knows he is a lucky man. In his native Canada, he is regarded

as something of a comedy god, and seems to show up on every TV series

produced in the Great White North. Is the CBC really the all-Colin

Mochrie all-the-time channel? "Oh, that’s just put out so that people

will hold me in higher esteem than I should be," he demurs.

He would like to do more acting, though. He has appeared in several

independent films, but says, "’Whose Line?’ gave me a lot of exposure,

which is great, but professionally it never did that much for me.

There’s still a prejudice against improvisers for some reason. I have

no idea why – we’re very lovely people."

Currently, he and his wife are writing and starring in a new CBC

comedy, "Getting Along Famously," a modern update on a low-rent

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor-type couple. Mochrie can be seen

on national TV ads as the Nabisco Snack Fairy. (You were expecting

maybe Smith Barney commercials?) And he does some drop-in teaching in

the performing arts program at Humber College in Toronto, where they

have honored him by giving an annual Colin Mochrie Scholarship. There

is a Chevy Chase award as well, but, as Mochrie admits, "the Mochrie

is more prestigious."

What else is he up to, as if that isn’t enough? "I don’t know. Between

my agent and website is how I find out what I’m doing. I even find out

when I’m going to be home, which the wife likes to know."

Whatever the future holds, you can bet improv will be a big part of

it. Mochrie puts it this way: "When I’m onstage, this is a little

world I’m confident in. It’s usually me and someone I trust totally,

doing something that’s going to work out. In real life, I’m just

flailing like everybody else. But onstage, I’m co-emperor of the

world."

Even foul-mouthed grannies can’t change that.

"An Evening with Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood,"

Patriots Theater, War Memorial, Memorial Drive, Trenton, Saturday, May

14, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $27.50 to $60. Call 1-800-955-5566 or visit

www.tickets.com. For more information, call 609-984-8400 or visit

www.thewarmemorial.com. For more information on Colin Mochrie, visit

www.colinandbrad.com or www.colinmochrie.com.


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