"I'm not there to be your friend. I'm there to be your comedian and that's a big difference. Your friends have really bad jokes and I have good jokes."
– Greg Proops
Guy MacPherson: You're this big Commonwealth star,right? Australia, England, Canada.
Greg Proops: Yes, anyone who's an Anglophone.
GM: You mean speaks English or likes Great Britain?
GP: No, anyone who speaks English. Not an Anglophile.
GM: Geez, you're good.
GP: I AM good. Stay with me!
GM: I'll try to. SLOW DOWN!
GP: Yeah, anywhere they speak English, you can make a buck doing comedy. That's my motto.
GM: You've even played the United Arab Emirates.
GP: I have.
GM: What do they speak there?
GP: They speak English. They speak Arabic, obviously, but they speak English, as well. It was a British protectorate until '71. I also just went there with Drew Carey and a bunch of guys to entertain the troops. We did improv for them.
GM: In the UAE?
GP: In the UAE and Dubai and... well, Dubai is in the UAE, sorry. Also we did Oman and Saudi Arabia.
GM: The previous time you played there, was it for troops?
GP: This time it was for troops but when I played there before it was for, like, British ex-pats. You know, they all work for oil companies over there and they don't get a lot of entertainment.
GM: And how did it go?
GP: Well, it killed, didn't it? I mean, they're grateful to have me there. They're excited that you would come because it's a bit of a hike, so they're pretty appreciative, obviously.
GM: I'm hooked on your show now, I want you to know.
GM: Yeah. I'm hooked on all those dating shows. What is it about them that interests me so?
GP: Well, I think it's the perversity of human nature. The initial question when you start watching it is why would anyone do this? And then you realize it's so that they can be humiliated in front of the whole world and it's for your enjoyment.
GM: They're in on it, is that it? The fact that they want to be humiliated.
GP: Well, the price you have to pay for being on television is to have your life completely ruined and exposed, so I think they're asking for it, aren't they?
GP: Because it's not like they're out there performing, like telling jokes or singing a song or reading a script. They're being themselves, which is probably the worst thing of all, right?
GM: Yeah, as far as they can be themselves with cameras pointed at them wherever they go.
GP: Well, you know how natural you feel when you're on a date with someone that you've been fixed up with through a production company, with a crew of guys and a production company telling you to make the talk sexier. You know how comfortable that is.
GM: Yeah, we've all been through that.
GP: Yeah, who hasn't? You know, they get a hundred bucks and a chance to be on TV. And all these people live in Los Angeles, so, you know, they want to be on TV.
GM: A hundred bucks?!
GP: Yeah, as far as I know.
GM: I wonder if anyone will go on to become a superstar.
GP: Yeah, of course. One of them will and then when they're really big, they'll show their blind date on TV.
GM: Right, like they do with some actors who were on The Dating Game.
GP: Exactly. Of course one of them by sheer chance or luck or some sort of horrible stroke of kismet will end up being a gigantic superstar.
GM: You're sitting there taking pot shots at them, making fun of them, they don't ever come and hunt you down, do they?
GP: Please don't even bring that up, Guy. I'm hoping that they all have a good sense of humour and that they're all good sports. You know, it's all in good fun, isn't it?
GM: The creators of Blind Date created your show, right?
GM: Why would they feel they would have to make another dating show?
GP: Well, they're in the business of making dating shows. They already have the whole operation set up, crews, post-production facility – you know, because we require an inconceivably huge amount of editing, right? Because they take eight hours worth of a date and it takes so much editing to get an 8-hour date down to, like, six minutes, or whatever it is. So I guess they figured a cost-effective way to get another show out of their show was to, since they have the apparatus all in place, to tape dates and everything. Frankly, I think this is a funnier idea than Blind Date.
GM: I find Blind Date a little distracting because you're trying to listen and read at the same time. It's like watching CNN with all those things underneath. You can't pay attention to two things at once.
GP: Yeah, I agree. And it's much funner to have a bunch of people sit around and talk about it.
GM: Exactly. But that brings up another question: An eight hour-date?! How painful would that be?
GP: It's a whole day, man. It's a whole day. It's fairly painful, that's my presumption. And you're only getting the highlights, so imagine the hours of ennui in between that you're being spared.
GM: I think for a special they should have you and your co-host and the celebrities go on a date. Oh, but you're married, though, aren't you?
GP: I'm married, right. I go on dates almost every night.
GM: You're doing your standup here in Vancouver, and you're well-known for being an improv comic. Did you start in standup or improv?
GP: Both. I probably started doing standup first, but I started doing improv in college a hundred years ago. So I've always done both.
GM: There's not a lot of crossover, is there? I mean, the best standups aren't the best improvisers, are they? And vice versa.
GP: Frankly, Guy, not everyone's as incredibly talented and clever as I am and I think that's what holds them back from doing both... No, most people make a choice at a certain point.
GM: Right. I used to see Ryan Stiles when he was here in Vancouver starting out.
GP: Yeah, he was a standup.
GM: He was a great standup.
GP: Was he good?
GM: Oh yeah, he was really good. Then he made that choice to go to improvising.
GP: And Drew was a standup, too, and then, of course, had his own show, and then he learned the improv later. I did standup from a teenager on and also the improv. So I've just been lucky enough to do both, frankly. I guess you just choose whatever seems like it's going to be funner at the time.
GM: And you don't prefer one over the other. You like them both, obviously, because you haven't chosen yet.
GP: I do. They're both so different and so fun in their own way. You know, when you're with all the guys, it's like you're in a band and you can just do whatever you want with each other. You don't necessarily have to carry the ball every minute. And when you do standup, of course, you have to rely on yourself completely.
GM: Improv is so collaborative. You have to be a team player. But in standup, your persona is as a sarcastic, not the friendliest guy, not a people person.
GP: Well, I'm not there to be your friend. I'm there to be your comedian and that's a big difference. Your friends have really bad jokes and I have good jokes.
GM: Doing improv, it's like a little community. You gotta be supportive of your fellow performer.
GP: One would think, Guy... I joke. Of course we are. We have a lot of fun. And the other thing is we really entertain each other, which makes it good. We can always sit back and watch each other and laugh. And that's what makes the show funnest of all, I think. I mean, I love doing standup because no one fucks with you, you're in control, there's no outside influence. You know what I mean?
GP: You create your own world. The thing you can't do is people a world full of lots of people, which you can do with an improv group. You can make a Shakespeare play, you can make a giant thing which is harder to do by yourself, I think. And then you get the different moods. Where would we be without having Colin [Mochrie] come in? Or Brad [Sherwood], or whatever.
GM: They bring something of their own that you have to play off of.
GP: Exactly. And then you get more interplay and you can set up different types of situations. You can do dialogue.
GM: I read that you did the whole Wizard of Oz.
GP: I did, and what a magnificent achievement that was on my part. I played every part in it and I read the whole thing. It was for Radio Four in Britain.
GP: Yeah, I know. And don't think I didn't feel bored by the material. That's a lot of stuff and it's not like it's a story that people don't know, you know? You've got something to live up to there, so I tried to do what I could without besmirching it too bad. I don't think I left it bleeding. It survived my reading of it.
GM: I was reading from a newspaper article of 1998, and I don't know if the joke predates that, but you say in your standup, "This country" – meaning the USA – "is a 13-year-old boy with an erection and a gun stomping around the globe." I was wondering, can you still do that joke in these politically sensitive times?
GP: Why not?
GM: Well, I would say, yeah, why not, but I'm wondering about the people who are listening.
GP: Well, you know, I will probably be doing it up there in Vancouver if you promise not to tell everyone the date of it. I did it all this weekend in San Francisco. Yeah, I still maintain the same point of view even despite after the great tragedy and the war we're waging and all this. I'm not moved from my position, which is that we're immature, overly-violent, imperialistic, and, of course, it's hilarious the way I handle it.
GM: Well, of course.
GP: (laughs) Bush wasn't elected by the American people so for my money, that absolves me of any guilt of ripping on him. He got elected by the Supreme Court. I didn't elect the Supreme Court, therefore he's not my president. I'm not responsible for his shitty activities.
GM: After the first, say, month or so after September 11, were you a little more wary and just in time you've come to resolve that, "Yeah, I can still talk about this"?
GP: Well, yeah, slightly, but I think that your job is – well, I perceive my job as this, let's not use the collective fourth person and say 'your job' – MY job as a comedian as I see it is to react to what's going on and try to be honest to how I feel. I, of course, am sensitive to the audience and am trying to serve their needs, but I'm also not going to try to pretend to be somebody I'm not. I'm a patriotic person. I don't cheat on my taxes. I vote. Putting a flag on your car and all of a sudden telling people that they can't disagree anymore, that's not patriotic, in my view. Dissent is all American. That's why we're supposed to be a democracy because we can dissent. And when you are not allowed to dissent, that's when you're Russia. Or Saudi Arabia, for that matter. So my feelings were, obviously I was shocked, appalled, and saddened by everything that's happened. I just don't agree with Bush's approach after. There was a time where you weren't allowed to say anything about anything. And that's dissipated somewhat. And I think it's only healthy that it should. He actually said at one point you're either with us or against us. And that's not something a president says; that's something a sheriff in a bad movie says.
GM: But that's where he gets his ideas, isn't it?
GP: Well, he has no ideas. Where Dick Cheney gets his ideas from somewhere, because Dick Cheney's the president. He's got that Yelt health. They drag him out every six weeks for five minutes and prop him up in front of the cameras so he can make some declamation.
GM: Your standup act is a little more frank, a little more salty, shall we say, than people see on TV, obviously. You can't say certain things on TV.
GP: Yeah. Exactly.
GM: And I was wondering if that ever hurts you. This is where I think censorship is bad: People see you on TV and think you're clean so they'll go see you live. They bring their kids and go, "What the hell is this all about?" Do you understand what I'm trying to say?
GP: Absolutely. I'm up against it all the time. Especially because they perceive you as that persona you are on TV. Like, on Whose Line, obviously I'm a smartenhammer. I'm the slightly snotty one – but I'm still particularly loveable. And then, of course, live I'm profane. I'm not dirty, because there's I don't talk about sex a lot, but I use profanity and I'm very honest in my political opinions and if they're not ready for that, they could get upset. But most people go with it. I think they're interested to see how your persona on TV is different from how you really are. You know what I mean? Because I was up against this in England for years when I lived there. I toured the island a bunch of times. And I'm up against it here in America, obviously. Because everyone hasn't seen me do standup. They're used to me in other things. It's kind of fun for me to change people's minds or change their perception.
GM: Of, if they do see your standup, it's on a talk show where, again, there's no profanity.
GP: Yeah, and you're neutered a little bit. I mean, if people are upset by profanity, then they shouldn't really leave the house. So fuck 'em, you know? That's the least of my problems.
GM: It's kind of similar to music, where we get these sanitized versions of songs or groups and parents take their kids to their shows and go 'Won't this be fun!' and it turns out it's a wild sex show.
GP: Right, right, right. Yeah, I understand that concern. I would say bring your kids. And be ready for adult language and opinions expressed in an adult manner. I assume it's not 21 or over. I assume anybody can come. And the thing about Whose Line is it turned out to be a family show, which I never really anticipated. It's one of the shows families watch together.
GM: Why hadn't you anticipated that and why do you think that is?
GP: Um, I don't know. Even though in England lots of kids watch the show, which is always a sign that families are watching. I never anticipated how popular it would be with families here, you know what I mean? We have our hardcore group of people that watch us every week. We're up against Friends and Survivor, man. And parents come up to me and say 'our daughter loves your show.' Kids come up and go, 'I watch it with my mom.' There's a lot more of a need for it, frankly, than I thought. Because there's not that many shows you can watch with your kids. Try to explain to your seven-year-old that people are fucking each other over for a million dollars on Survivor. Or someone just said 'penis' or 'whore' on a sitcom, which they do now. I mean, Friends is racier than our show. We do a lot of penis-type humour, but it goes over the kids' heads and you can still enjoy the kind of goofiness that we provide. We're silly. We're not intentionally trying because none of us consider ourselves family-type performers. But we've become a family show, you know what I mean?
GM: How are the ratings? Is it still going strong?
GP: We've been at the same kind of ratings for the whole time that we've been on. We hold our own and it's not coming off the air because it's cheap to make, and when they cancel shows on ABC, they put us in their place. We're a workhorse. And now we're on ABC Family Channel, Comedy Central, we're on, like, three networks now.
GM: And you're not leaving despite moving on and doing Rendez-View or different things?
GP: As long as they'll have me, I'll stay. Why would I complain about it? I started to do it 13 years ago in England and I never, ever, ever thought I'd be doing it now. You know what I mean? You don't start doing something and think it's going to last, really. You figure it'll be over in a year. But it's really been fun. And it's been really lucky for me. I've got to meet Drew Carey and work with him. It's been cool. And we go out on the road, the group of us.
GM: Yes, you were through here a year or two ago.
GP: Exactly. And I think we're back this year.
GM: Are you tired of the references to your hair and glasses? Every article I read mentions it.
GP: Well, you know, people need a hook to write a piece about me.
GM: I'm not gonna use that hook!
GP: Well, you don't have to. They say, 'He's Buddy Holly' or some bloody, fucking glasses reference. But I have definitely chosen to look this way. And I continue to choose to look this way.
GM: Is that in part to be identifiable? Or is that just the way you chose to look and you'd look that way even if you were working in an office somewhere?
GP: Yeah, I like it. I kinda dig the look.
GM: Well, it works.
GP: Thanks, man.
GM: And you say wear a suit because you're an adult.
GP: (laughs) You've read all the stuff!
GM: I've read it all. Is it just when you're working or when you're out on the town, too?
GP: I wear it sometimes when I'm hanging around. I feel like it's showing the audience a little respect. You actually made an effort to show up and wear something. You know, at the theatre, people are paying whatever they're paying. Thirty bucks, or something. It's their night out. They've come to see me, and I can afford to dress up and look like a human being. And also, like I say, I'm a grown-up guy. I'm too old to wear a t-shirt and jeans on stage and pretend I'm twelve.
GM: Yeah, they want to know your money's going to clothing and not to crack, or something like that.
GP: Well, it goes to crack, too. I portion part of the crack budget to clothes.
GM: Was this your style before you went to England? Because they're more sophisticated over there?
GP: It kind of grew on me gradually. When I was younger, I wore wilder clothes. Even on the old Whose Line, a little more rock 'n' roll. But as you cross the 40 line... To be honest, I would dress like Keith Richard if I could get away with it. If I looked like a rock star. If I weighed three pounds, I'd love to dress like that. But I don't look like that, so I dress the way I dress. Also, I'm into that Sinatra, Temptations thing – look sharp.
GM: You got class.
GP: I'm trying to bring a little style into the thing. I like to show a little style because I appreciate it.
GM: How did they get you over to England? How did that happen? And why are you so big there?
GP: I auditioned for Whose Line in '89 in San Francisco and I got on the show that year. They had come to America to look for a test. And the next year, Ryan and Colin joined. And I stayed in England for four years, at one point. I lived there. And I toured the country four times and the Edinburgh festival I've done about eight times. And I've done lots of TV and radio over there. So I think that's why I've been able to capture a little more English crowd. It's a small place for having 58 million people.
GM: We don't have that many in our huge land mass.
GP: No, you do not.
GM: You're an opinionated guy in your standup. What's got your goat lately?
GP: Oh, everything. You know. The Olympic coverage in America.
GM: What's wrong with it?
GP: I don't know if you watch it on NBC at all. My joke is that it took me to the closing ceremonies to realize that there were other countries invited and that it's actually an international event. NBC would give you no indication that anybody else was there. We could finish 16th in an event and that's all they talk about it, is us. For instance, I was watching and a Finn won a skiing event. And they went right to the American who had won the silver. They didn't even interview the guy that actually won the freaking event. And that's the kind of play that they think works with the American crowd. Everything's a big long personality profile. Their mom had a giant elephant head and their dad was born in a corn crib. The whole soap-operafication of sport, which I don't think needs fake drama put on it. Sport is dramatic. People like it.
GM: But you don't think we should get to know the people who are providing the drama?
GP: Absolutely, but you should also get to know the Finns and the Austrians and the Germans and the Russians and the Canadians.
GM: In fact, this year, more than any, the two Canadian skaters who whined their way to a gold medal were big news on NBC.
GP: Oh, sure. And basically, the thing that kept playing here was that the media had pressured Samaranch into bending. And it's probably true in part. Part of why he yielded and gave them the medal was because the perception of the IOC right now is so fucking horrible with the world that they're seen as this horrible, hideous, corrupt organization. They were just trying to make something right, I think, in front of the public.
GM: I think I have an idea why you're popular in Great Britain, other than being funny. Maybe you have a more international scope or outlook than some more insular American comics.
GP: I guess. Yeah, I'd probably agree with that. I can't bear that whole 'We're number one' jazz, you know? Because it's not true.
GM: Who is number one?
GP: Nobody! You go to the rest of the world, and people live their lives in their own little country. They're not sitting around worrying about whether we're number one or not. It's a particular
American concern that we're the best at something. And it's irrelevent, frankly. And also, part of the backlash after September 11th is that somehow we're a victim and we've got to show the rest of the world that we're tough, and all this jazz. It's true that we were victimized, but we're not the only victim in the world... I'm trying to be funny about this, and I'm starting to sound pedantic instead of actually being humorous on this topic.
GM: In your act you will be.
GP: Yeah, well, I thought it would be good in the interview to give you something funny to put down. But Bush had never been anywhere until he became president. Literally. He'd never been to another country.
GP: Yeah. Except Mexico on, like, a weekend. He'd never been to Europe or anywhere. So his view of the world was completely stunted. So I just feel like nationalism is a good thing, but it's a dangerous thing, too. Nationalism makes things like Bosnia happen.
GM: Or Germany.
GP: Exactly. I'm proud to be American and all that jazz. It's just that I don't think that dominating the world proves your number... Oh God! Now I'm just... This is just... I've turned into, like, Noam Chomsky without the humour or the facts to back it up.
GM: Yeah, he's a funny guy.
GP: Is he ever! So there's that. And lately I've been laughing at, we're starting a drug war in Columbia. We're aiding in their drug war, but actually about a hundred million dollars is going to check the oil pipeline. Because one of the biggest problems in the drug war is people freebasing gasoline here in the United States. And I've been watching the war crimes trial with Milosovic, who's running his 'What? I'm the bad guy?' defence. Which is the weakest defence ever.
GM: He might want to rethink that one.
GP: They're like, 'You committed genocide'. "Yeah, well you did some bad things, too.' That's all he's got. There are a lot of things that are up my ass right now. The Oscars. They refuse to give one to a black person.
GM: I think there was one. I think Sidney Pottier got one once.
GP: Yeah, Sidney Pottier's got one and no black woman's got one ever. Denzel's played Stephen Biko and he's played Malcolm X and Hurricane Carter. But they're going to wait until he plays a pimp so that everyone feels comfortable. You know, lots of things on my mind. We may even have a chat about the Canadian pig farmers up in Vancouver.
GM: Oh yeah! A goldmine of comedic material!
GP: The Vancouver police department got all over that one, didn't they?
GM: How have you been following this?
GP: I've been reading the paper and following it on the web. It's because they were women that they were killing.
GM: And sex workers.
GP: Exactly. So you kill a rich white guy and the police are going to be all over it. You kill a woman who's a prostitute and, hey, boys will be boys, you know?
GM: You've played a lot of clubs throughout your career. Now you're playing a theatre, and I guess you're doing a lot more of that as your star rises. Is it completely different? Obviously they're coming to see you specifically. They know you. You go to a club and sometimes they don't know who the comic's going to be. But what about playing to that many people at once?
GP: Oh, I really enjoy it. The timing's different. You can do a lot more broader strokes and you can physicalize more and take up the stage. Like I said, I toured England four times and those were all in theatres. And with Drew, we just did Las Vegas. We played a giant theatre there. We've done that a lot. Last year in Vancouver, we played a big theatre.
GM: Yeah, but that's a whole cast of people. This is just one guy prowling a big stage.
GP: Well, I'm going to prowl a lot. I'm going to get from one end of the stage to the other. I try to make it not broader, but slightly bigger so that everyone can hit it in the back row. And it's a lot of fun. Because people are coming to see you, it's your ball, you know, and only I have the chance to fuck it up and be bad. Everyone wants you to be good, so I'm gonna be good. I think the audience is more uncomfortable when you're bad than you are. There's nothing worse than watching a comic who's self-conscious or nervous so I try to not be either of those things and then everybody feels comfortable.
GM: Will there be other comics sharing the bill?
GP: Hell if I know... I assume there might be a little warm-up set, but I'm really not sure. But I won't cheat you. I'll give you a long show. Not like a Bruce Springsteen show. Not five hours or anything.
GM: The hardest working man in comedy.
GP: Exactly. I promise to collapse at the end and be carried from the stage and be brought back on for one last penis reference.