"It's the easiest job in the world, really. People feed you all day and dress you – like a little baby, you know. All you gotta do is be funny."
– Ryan Stiles
Guy MacPherson: So how are you doing?
Ryan Stiles: Good. How's the weather? Stinky?
GM: Stinky. It was pouring rain today... So where are you now?
RS: I'm in Los Angeles, but I come up there on Tuesday. Back up to Bellingham.
GM: Now, do you live in Bellingham?
RS: I do, yeah. Just south of there. For about a year. You know, when I'm off I live there.
GM: You don't have a place here, do you?
RS: Uh, I own a place in Richmond but my parents live in it. I bought it for them. So I do have one there. But I'm close enough. I can still keep American dollars down there and it's close to Vancouver.
GM: And spend them up here.
RS: Exactly. There's something about getting beer in supermarkets that I kinda like.
GM: So should we identify you as one of us? When did you move here?
RS: I moved there when I was ten. So, uh, '69. 1969 to about, uh, '87 or so. Then I went to Toronto. So I grew up there. So I kind of feel Canadian, I kind of feel American because I was born in the States. But I grew up there, so I'm a little half and half.
GM: What about your parents?
RS: They're kind of the opposite of me. They were born in Canada but they lived in the States for 40 years so they became American citizens. And now they live back up in Vancouver again. So they're kind of the opposite.
GM: Why did they move back?
RS: Um, I think, as they got older – you know, my dad's ninety, and stuff – as they got older, I think the medical and all that. You know. I think they just missed it. And actually my dad got transferred 20, 30 years ago back up to Vancouver. He was in the fishing industry. They just stayed after that.
GM: I've been following you since about '82.
RS: Oh really?
GM: I used to go to Punchlines often.
RS: Oh, so you're an old guy like me, are you?
GM: Almost. You got three years on me.
RS: Oh really? Yeah, we've been doing it a while. Let's see, the original Punchlines I think was like '78 or '79, wasn't it?
GM: I wasn't over here then. I was in Victoria.
RS: Yeah, at the Queen E. You came to the one at, uh...
GM: And I used to think, 'That guy's funny. He should be on Saturday Night Live.'
RS: Well, you know what it was like back then. There wasn't a lot of standup around, you know? People didn't really know what it was, and it was exciting because people would come into clubs. And then it got over-exposed and everybody started doing it and then it wasn't as much fun anymore. But it was sure fun in those early days.
GM: You were doing standup then as well as improv.
RS: Actually, I started doing standup. I got some fake ID made and went into Rich [Elwood]'s club.
GM: How old were you?
RS: I think I was like 18. And then started doing TheatreSports about two or three years later.
GM: And why did you switch? Or did you?
RS: I didn't. I did both at the same time for a while. And while the World's Fair happened there, I did Second City at the World's Fair and still doing standup as well at that time. And then after the World's Fair, after '86, I just concentrated more on improv and went to Second City in Toronto. I wasn't writing any new standup, so it kinda got boring for me after a while.
GM: Because you weren't writing.
RS: I wasn't writing and also because everybody started doing it. It used to be great because you'd go to Toronto and Howie Mandel would come out to Vancouver, and it was just a handful of guys. And then it started to get like 50, 60 guys and it just wasn't fun anymore.
GM: Did you think you had an advantage, then, doing improv, because of your quick wit?
RS: It's a whole different thing, you know? It doesn't involve any writing or anything, and I just liked working with other people better than I liked working by myself. I just really found I was better at it. You just walk in and do it. You don't have to plan anything. It's more fun, I think.
GM: Were you working with Colin Mochrie here as well?
RS: I've worked with Colin since we were both 19. So 23, 24 years, whatever that is.
GM: You guys are the same age?
RS: He's a little older than me, actually. He's about six or seven months older than I am. He looks A LOT older.
GM: I remember watching you even on My Talk Show. You were a milkman, right?
RS: I did a bunch of different stuff on there. But earlier on, I used to write for The Alan Thicke Show.
GM: Up here?
RS: Yeah, up there. I used to be one of the two writers. And I used openings with him. I did about 40 or 50 openings for the shows. And Don Harron, I wrote for that for awhile. I don't know what shows you remember that were up there, but Comedy College, and Downtown Saturday Night, and every CBC show that came along. Fame Game, all those old shows. Did all those.
GM: What made you think, 'Hey, I'm going to give Hollywood a shot'?
RS: Well, Second City opened with a troupe in Los Angeles. They opened a theatre here. So I came down with that troupe. I'd been down here. When I was 19 I moved down here and thought I was a big shot and kinda got blown away real quick and everybody stole my material. And then I moved back down with Second City when they came down and just stayed down pretty well for 5, 6 years, then moved back up there for a while, then got Drew and came back down here for a while. And I've been bouncing back and forth. See, I'm real lucky because I was born in the States so I have American citizenship, which a lot of Canadian guys I think would probably kill for. I'm really lucky that way.
GM: Now you're Mr. Entertainment.
RS: Mr. Entertainment! Yes.
GM: You've done everything.
RS: Well, I'm going to probably do about one more year of Drew then probably move back up to Washington. I can still do Whose Line because we only tape ten weekends out of the year.
GM: The American one?
RS: Yeah. But Drew's kind of a... It's too much of a schedule. I don't want to do that much longer.
GM: So the show will continue and you'll just leave?
RS: Uh, yeah. I think Drew's signed for three more years. But my wife and kids are moving up in June, next month. They're moving up full time. So after that, I'll be coming up, too.
GM: How old are your kids?
RS: Six and eight. I don't want them growing up here. You can't really let them go outside and play or anything, like normal kids do.
GM: They can't do it up here, either, because it rains all the time.
RS: Well, that's better than someone pushing them in a car.
GM: I understand you also have a fear of flying.
RS: Yeah. Actually, I've rented a bus to come up on Tuesday, so it'll take me a day and a half as opposed to two hours.
GM: I've just completed a course called Beyond the Fear of Flying.
RS: Oh really? I've actually been going to a hypnotist for the last two weeks, but mostly for smoking and stuff, more for nerves and smoking and stuff like that. But I'm going to use him for that, too. But I don't really care – unless I have to fly, which I don't right now. When I have to, I deal with it. But right now I don't have to with my schedule and everything. I'll have to again. It just hit me one day. I was fine flying and then the last time I was going to fly back down I couldn't get on the plane. And that's never happened to me before.
GM: I did that once. I flew down to LA and ended up taking the bus back.
RS: I rent the same bus that we use on tours. I think it's Mötley Crüe's bus, so it's all outfitted with satellite TV, so it's nicer than a Greyhound bus.
GM: Except after Mötley Crüe's been in it.
RS: They get there pretty quick. They get there, you know, in a day and a half and that's with stopping over to sleep.
GM: I took the Greyhound route and that in itself could cure someone from a fear of flying.
RS: I've done it before. And I've done a train a few times and I've probably driven back and forth probably 40 or 50 times. I'm not a big flyer for a guy who did ten years three flights a year over to London. I did about thirty flights in ten years.
GM: That show's off now, eh?
GM: That's too bad.
RS: Well, it's all the same people, same production company as the American one. And they make a lot more money over here than they would in England because they only do ten episodes a year in England. So they're making better money so they're pretty happy about it.
GM: Tell me about the show you're doing here. You've done one before – last year, right?
RS: Uh, yeah, we did one last year and actually we just got back last week, we did four nights in San Francisco and four nights at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. So we took it out, maybe two weeks out of the year and it's usually Vegas and... Last year we did Vegas then came up there for one night. This year we did Vegas and we're coming up there to play Vancouver and then Victoria and then over to Seattle because most of the people in the show have never been up there before. So they look forward to it as a little vacation-type thing. Everybody likes working so much that, you know... But it's a good group of people.
GM: Who's in it?
RS: Well, as Drew says, everybody except the black guy and the star. Referring to himself, of course. And Cathy Kinney, who plays Mimi on Drew's show. She comes up. Brad Sherwood and Colin and Chip Eston and Greg Proops, all the people off of Who's Line.
GM: Is there a host? How does it work?
RS: There's no host. We don't do it the same as Who's Line. We don't have a host so we don't have to stop the action. We can just do game after game, you know. That's about an hour and a half. We get the audience to supply all the suggestions and we take people out of the crowd. The games are different than the ones we use on Who's Line. Some of the games are the same. We just don't use a host, we don't give points. It's more of a show, we continue right through with it.
GM: And you don't plan anything?
RS: No. We plan what games we play, we plan the order of the show. But we don't plan what they're going to be about because we take all the suggestions for that. We leave it up to the people there, so they feel 50 percent responsible so they laugh easier.
GM: This isn't a big North American tour or anything, is it?
RS: No. I mean, every year we get this thing where we could play basically the whole summer different dates. A lot of people want to bring it in, you know. We just don't want to tour. It's our summer off. It's the only time I get to spend with my kids. My kids are still in school, so basically I'll come up and do those dates, then they get out on June 15th and then I'm done. Once they're out, I don't do any more work. Then I'm off till August, or something like that.
GM: How do you pick the cities?
RS: Well, we always do Vegas. We do that twice a year, so that was no big thing. Everybody kinda wanted to go to San Francisco this year, so we did four nights there. And then Vancouver – Vancouver's through Rich. Rich asks me every year if I want to do it, and everybody had so much fun doing the two shows in Vancouver last year and it went so quick, that when I talked to people, they were like, 'Well, what's Victoria like? We've never been to Seattle.' And those are basically the three big cities up there, kind of the Devil's Triangle of comedy. Otherwise you gotta go to Portland and start a whole different route. I mean, we had requests from Calgary and Des Moines and Chicago. You could play all summer if you wanted to, but nobody wants to do that.
GM: So it's basically where you want to go.
RS: It's where we want to go, yeah.
GM: How did Sacramento get thrown in there?
RS: Sacramento got thrown in because it was a stop on the way from San Francisco to Vegas. We did one night there. It allowed us to drive for a little while, stop, do a show that night, then drive the rest of the way to Vegas. But Taho wanted us to stop in for three or four nights and play Caesar's there, but you can get carried away and then you never get home. Ten days, that was enough.
GM: Is this going to be a yearly thing?
RS: Um, I don't know. I don't know. I never really plan stuff like that. Last year we got really spoiled because we sold out two shows in four hours, you know? So when it took a week to sell out the first show this time, Rich and I were all, 'Ooh, it took a week!' But we got really spoiled. Victoria sold out quick, Seattle sold out quick. But we just added a second show to Vancouver so I'm hoping that sells out. I hope we left enough time for it.
GM: Now, Drew Carey won't be with you. But how did you hook up with him in the first place?
RS: I auditioned for his show. And, you know, he says he won't be with us, but he showed up one night in San Francisco, and then he did two nights in Vegas. He doesn't want to be billed, that's the thing. But if he's in the neighbourhood, he'll drop by. I knew he'd come to Vegas because that's his favourite place in the world. And we were playing at the Hard Rock, and he loves it there. And there's no way he's going to come and not go on. But yeah, I just auditioned like everybody else. The usual route. That was six years ago so we've gotten to be pretty good friends by now.
GM: How do you explain his success?
RS: He's just really likeable. He's not threatening to anyone. Women kinda look at him as a big teddy bear, and he's kind of a jockey kinda sports guy to guys. He's not threatening to anyone, you know? And basically, he's pretty honest because what you see on TV is basically how he is. I mean, even the Enquirer doesn't write about him anymore because, you know, he doesn't hide the fact that he goes out with strippers. It's not fun to write about him because admits to everything. But he's just a normal guy. I think that's his popularity.
GM: And likeable.
RS: And likeable. From the midwest, an ex-marine. He's an Everyguy.
GM: He's Everyman.
GM: Now, your character is Lewis Kiniski, right?
GM: Is this, by any chance, a tribute to Canada's "greatest athlete" [Gene Kiniski]?
RS: Well, you know, I had just Lewis for the longest time and then they did an episode where they needed a last name and they said they wanted it to be kind of a Slavic name, so I kept thinking of Hunky Bill's Perogies and I couldn't remember his last name. And I was always a big Kiniski fan, so it's kind of an ode to Gene. Not the sons, the old man. Because I know the sons wrestle now, too.
GM: I didn't know that.
RS: Yeah, oh yeah. They're down in Blaine, or someplace. I think they live down there. I know Gene used to have a lot of property down in Blaine. He was always my favourite wrestler. He always reminded me of my dad. My dad's kinda like that.
GM: How do you explain the Oswald Harvey?
RS: Oh, they just reversed that.
GM: I know. Was he somebody's favourite assassin?
RS: (laughs) Yes, exactly. Well, his name was always Oswald, so that was an easy one. There's no explaining anything on this show, believe me! There's no rhyme or reason to anything.
GM: Now that you're all over TV, when are we going to see you in a movie?
RS: The problems with movies... I did a lot before I got Drew. But again, the problem with movies is you have to do them during hiatus and, much to the chagrin of my managers, I just tell them I don't want to do that. I've had a couple of offers over the last couple of years to come over to London and do a play in the West End and stuff, but it takes up 13 weeks of the summer. And when Who's Line's going, I work Drew from Monday to Friday and Who's Line Friday, Saturday, Sunday so I never see my kids. So it's kinda important that when they get out in June I kinda have time for them. And we go up there to the lake and put the boat in the water and we just waterski all day. You know, it's only a month and a half out of the year. That could very easily be filled with something else but then I'd never see them at all.
GM: After another year on Drew, maybe you will have time for the movies.
RS: Then I can pick what I want to do because I'll be up there and, like I said, Who's Line is only ten weekends out of the year and if I want to go down and do something for a month or whatever, it's not like I have to be here, you know? But right now, when my kids move up, I'll work three weeks and see them for a week, work three weeks and see them for a week, you know. So, yeah, I'm sure the day will come when I'll do more stuff like that. But I'd like to do my own shorts and my own little independents and stuff.
GM: Like you did those commercials a while back.
RS: Yeah. If I do something, I'm gonna back it so I can do what I want to do. I used to do a lot of AFI films down here, student films and stuff. You weren't getting paid so you had freedom to do what you wanted to do. Colin does a lot of those, too.
GM: Are you just amazed at your success? I know it's taken 20 years.
RS: I never really... I always look at it kind of like a job. I know I'm getting paid well for doing a job and I can support my family and stuff, but I think you gotta realize that sooner or later you get fired. This doesn't last forever. My accountant says it's surprising how many people she handles that have that series for ten years and when it comes time to pay taxes, they haven't got any money because they just blow it all. So you've got to kind of stuff it away and wait for the time you're not getting work and realize what it is. It's the easiest job in the world, really. People feed you all day and dress you – like a little baby, you know. All you gotta do is be funny.
GM: That's not hard for you. Does it get harder?
RS: No, it gets easier.
GM: Does it?
RS: Yeah. I mean, when you first start doing, like, Drew, we had no idea what our characters were or who we are to each other. As the years go by, it just gets easier and the writers learn how to write for you and it gets easier and easier all the time.
GM: What about with the improv?
RS: Oh, it's easier all the time. It's more fun. We have more fun doing now than we have before.
GM: You have to really stay on top of everything, don't you?
RS: Well, we do that anyway. I mean, if we weren't getting paid doing Who's Line, we'd do it in clubs anyway for free. So there's no difference. When Drew's back on and we're working, we go down to the Improv. Every Thursday night we're down there. So it's no different than that. It's something you'd pay to do anyway. You'd pay to be on stage.
GM: You don't ever dig out your old standup routine, do you?
RS: I try not to. (laughs) My mom's got them all, I'm sure, but I try not to look at them anymore.