"I have the soul of a song and dance man but none of the equipment. So I'm always trying to sound good and it just doesn't work. It's not happening."
– Colin Mochrie
Guy MacPherson: I was up all night reading your excellent website.
Colin Mochrie: Oh. Yeah, she does a good job, doesn't she?
CM: Her name's Jesse.
GM: Are you involved with it?
CM: She contacts me. Like, she'll send me questions from the fans. She's mostly in touch with my agent.
GM: A lot of comics either don't have websites or have really useless ones. But there's a lot on there.
CM: I even have recipes, so come on!
GM: I know. It almost makes me want to take up cooking... I asked to interview you. I'd already interviewed, in past years, Proops and Ryan. And I thought, 'Whoever speaks to Colin Mochrie?' Then I saw all these articles. Millions of them. Now I feel like there's not a question I can ask you that I don't already know the answer to and that you haven't heard.
CM: Well, that saves time.
GM: I know that you're shy.
GM: I hear that a lot from performers and I always have to wonder whenever I see them on a talk show talking about this, why would you go into something like show business if you're shy?
CM: Yeah. I think I'll probably need a couple of years of therapy to answer that. I've actually been thinking about this because it's something that people always ask me about. I mean, it is difficult to understand because there are times where I'll be flipping a channel and I'll see myself and be extremely embarrassed by what I'm doing. Yet on stage I'll pretty much do anything to get a laugh. I think it's because when I'm on stage I'm usually surrounded by people I enjoy and who I trust and it's sort of a safe environment so I feel like I can do anything. Whereas in real life I don't have those safety issues.
GM: Which is why you'd never try standup because you'd be up there alone.
CM: Exactly. My thing is, if I'm dying, I'm going with friends.
GM: You're taking everyone down with you.
CM: Oh yeah. I ain't going alone.
GM: So what affect does it have on you in public? Do people think you're a snob?
CM: Uh, I'm very charming. But it is difficult. I think they walk away a little disappointed because I'm not wild and wacky. They almost invariably say 'Tell me a joke' or 'Say something funny'. It's really not what I do. I'm funny with my funny peeps. But by myself I'm not extremely witty or funny.
GM: Well, you've got to be part witty and funny to do what you do.
CM: Partly, but I try to keep it hidden in my real life.
GM: I used to watch Ryan do standup back in the early eighties at Punchline's and he was fantastic, I thought. I always thought, 'This guy's going to be a star someday.' Then he got steered away from that. Were you responsible for taking him away?
CM: No! The first time I saw him I thought, 'How can I hook myself onto this gravy train?' I don't think Ryan ever exceptionally really enjoyed standup. And when he came across improv, that I think is what really sparked his interest. And he, too, enjoys working with people. I don't think the solitary thing was something he enjoyed.
GM: Did you come across improv at the same time or were you there before?
CM: I was there a little before him. He was doing standup; I was with TheatreSports. And my best friend, actually, was sort of hired by Punchline's to start an improv troupe. It was Ryan and Rich Elwood, David Cameron, and Denny Williams. And my friend Jim. And that's I think where Ryan first came in contact with it. And then Jim introduced the two of us and we started playing TheatreSports together. And started this long improv relationship. It's really worked out nicely for both of us.
GM: That's an understatement. Does it ever get old doing improv?
GM: You do the short form, right? Do you ever do long form improv?
CM: Yeah, we have done long form. But usually when we're on tour, we usually just do the short form.
GM: Right. So how many games are there that you could possibly choose from?
CM: Oh, there's scads!... You know, there's hundreds and there's variations. We probably do ten basic games.
GM: And within those, do you ever go, 'Ech, we've done this'? I guess that's the thing with improv, is that it's always new.
CM: The really good thing about this group is we always try and do something different so we don't get into that rut. Because when the improviser is challenged and is trying to find something new, that's usually where the fun begins and the audience really gets into that. Greg Proops and I don't usually do the music. And one year we decided, hey, what the hell. They paid their money; they can't really leave. So instead of having the actual singers improvise a song to this woman, Greg and I did it. And I have to say we kicked ass. I would say it was one of my finest improv moments. I was so excited because I was doing something that I was incredibly scared about and it worked out nicely.
GM: Were you channelling someone?
CM: Once again, it was just working with Greg, it really helped that there was someone up there. I could just sort of follow him and jump in. And the woman we were singing to was darling, so it helped.
GM: Is the hard part about the singing the music or coming up with the rhyme?
CM: For me it's the actual music. Because I have the soul of a song and dance man but none of the equipment. So I'm always trying to sound good and it just doesn't work. It's not happening.
GM: Do you still do it?
CM: Yeah, we do it once in a while. We try to challenge ourselves as much as we can.
GM: You have the perfect name for a comedian.
CM: I always wonder if that was preordained.
GM: Is there any comedy in your family?
CM: No, not really.
GM: Any funny people?
CM: My family's Scottish, so they have sort of that dark humour. Very morbid. It's not light, happy, funny laughs. It's always sort of self-deprecating and any-day-now-we-could-be-hit-by-a-meteor type of thing.
GM: Your parents still live here, right?
CM: Yeah. They live in North Van.
GM: Do you have any siblings here?
CM: I have a brother and a sister.
GM: And you're in Toronto now.
GM: It's quite amazing you can have such a nice career from Canada. Has it hurt you or helped you? Because you're in everything.
CM: It does seem that way. Whose Line was deceiving because it took up three weekends. That was it. And you have shows that are showing every week. So it seemed like I was a lot busier than I actually was. It may have hurt in some ways not being in L.A. because, of course, they have more opportunity in television and films, or whatever. But for some reasons, I think we made the right choice in living in Canada.
GM: Three weekends and that would be a whole year?
CM: That would be it. We would shoot Friday, Saturday, Sunday, each taping would go three to four hours, and from each taping you'd get three to four shows.
GM: And it's gone now, right? It's off the air?
CM: Yeah, it's gone. As far as we know. No one actually told us that we were officially cancelled, but it's been three years so we're getting the hint.
GM: So you just went on hiatus...
CM: ... and they forgot to call us back. We're like those Japanese soldiers they found in the Philippines or somewhere not knowing the war was over.
GM: Do you think that if the show had stayed in England that it would still be on the air.
CM: You know what? It's hard to say.
GM: And any regrets moving it to the States?
CM: It's sort of a mixed bag. I mean, no, ultimately no because when it moved to America it gave us a higher profile and it gave us all greater chances for employment and greater recognizability. The unfortunate thing about doing it on American television is you have to deal with American networks. There was certainly a lot more freedom in England. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted. In America, we had a censor in the booth the entire show because there was no script. And we never quite knew where the line was, what would stop us from getting something on air. They bleeped Ryan saying 'lay' once. And actually bleeped him saying 'hand'. And yet there were other things where I went, 'There's no...'. Brad said something about a 200-pound snatch and they kept that in. So you really had no idea what was going on. There was something you would say that was totally innocuous... I said something like, 'We'll be right back with the adventures of the salty monkey.' And the censor actually stopped and said, 'Okay, what does that mean?' And I said, 'Um, I don't know. I just put two words together.' 'It's like a penis reference, isn't it?' 'Well, no.' So that was frustrating.
GM: On the road you have none of that, right? So you can say whatever you want.
CM: We're fairly clean because our audience is such a wide demographic. We have everything from kids to grandparents. That being said, we have Greg Proops with us.
GM: Nuff said.
CM: Exactly. But we're pretty good. The language probably gets a little bluer than it does on Whose Line but I would say the content is probably just as silly and probably more Benny Hill risqué.
GM: I was reading about the ABC network and how originally they wanted to have veejays and celebrities on. And then they put you up against Friends and Survivor.
CM: Yeah, apparently they're popular shows.
GM: So what were they thinking? And if they found another time slot for you, wouldn't it thrive?
CM: There's a couple of things. I don't think they actually, first of all, knew what they had. I think what they saw was 'okay, this is an incredibly cheap show for us to make and even though it's getting trounced regularly in the ratings by Survivor and Friends, because the show's so cheap, it's still making money for us.' They never actually spent any promotional money on us. They just sort of threw us in there. And even though the ratings sucked, I'm always amazed at how many people recognize us no matter where we go, no matter how small a town or how big a city, people recognize us. So I think there's something wrong with the ratings system.
GM: But you were on all the time.
CM: We are on all the time. I think we could still be running if they sort of played their cards right. Ryan and I kept begging every season, 'please split us up.' We love each other, we enjoy working with each other, but it's been like 20 years now. It's exciting for us to work with other people because we don't know them as well. But they wouldn't go for it.
GM: Split you up on the show?
CM: Just on the show. Could we do shows where we're not in every scene together? Because although it was fun and we do enjoy working with each other and it works out well, after a while, if you're improvising, you're going, 'I'm sure we've done this before. It's really familiar.'
GM: Green Screen is a similar show in concept, right? I haven't seen that one.
CM: I like to think of that as sort of a noble failure. It sort of took all of the elements of improv and got rid of them, the ones that you enjoy. The animation that they put in was amazing. It looked great. But I think part of improv is getting the audience to use their imagination to get them to sort of work with you, and that took away that element by putting in all the backgrounds and everything.
GM: It sounds like an interesting concept. I'd like to have seen it.
CM: It was a very interesting concept. It was actually harder to improvise in because of technical aspects we had to work in a certain area. Also you had to think in a different way. You thought, 'Well, I can't just sit here and talk; I have to sit here on an elephant and wash dishes while I'm talking so the animators have something to do.' So it just added another element to something that's already hard.
GM: What happened with 22 Minutes? You were on for one season?
CM: Two seasons. And it was sort of in the midst of Whose Line. And I just found the commuting was tough. I was in Halifax from Wednesday to Saturday. Then if we were doing Whose Line, I'd be flying off to Whose Line.
GM: In LA.
CM: Yeah. I kind of liked my wife and my son so I wanted to see them every once in a while.
GM: I was surprised to learn that your wife did My Talk Show.
CM: Oh yeah.
GM: I hadn't heard about that since it aired. But I remembered it because I was a fan of Ryan Stiles when he left Punchline's. Then one night I was flipping around and there he is as the milkman on My Talk Show.
CM: My God.
GM: And I'd never heard of it since. And then just last night I read about it.
CM: That was another one where... It was our first taste of Hollywood. She and her writing partner, Linda Kash, had written the show. They loved it, they produced a pilot, they took the pilot down to NATPE [National Association of Television Program Executives], where they sell to all the syndication markets, and they sold like 97 percent in the market. Then the people who were behind it got fired and new people came in and they totally changed it and it just went in a different direction. It was very odd. It was an odd time. I try not to be bitter.
GM: You were part of that show, too?
CM: No, I couldn't work. We moved down there. My wife, Deb, was eight months pregnant. She gave birth fairly soon after we were down there and I was sort of househusband/nanny. That's how I learned how to cook.
GM: That's what I'm doing now. Except without the cooking.
CM: Try the cooking.
GM: I'll check one of your recipes out... Getting Along Famously just aired recently?
CM: We did a pilot that was aired in January. And we got an order for six more so we're writing that right now.
GM: That's a sitcom completely, right?
GM: So no improvisation.
CM: No. We're thinking of maybe adding a few elements, but I don't think so. It'll be mostly written.
GM: A show like Curb Your Enthusiasm and a couple others employ improv.
CM: Yeah, I think Curb Your Enthusiasm is actually 90 per cent improv.
GM: They just have a place they want to reach every scene.
GM: Does something like that interest you?
CM: Oh sure.
GM: That's a different kind of improv, though, isn't it?
CM: It is different. You can't all of a sudden just start walking like a chicken for no reason. It has to have some sort of reality-based part to it. That would be great. That would be interesting; a bit of a challenge not to do your usual shtick to get out of something that's not working.
GM: I just went to a high school reunion on the weekend. I was thinking, you went to Killarney: Have you been to any reunion?
CM: The last one I went to I think was the tenth. A while ago.
GM: Are you the most famous person from Killarney? Are there any others near you?
CM: I think I may be, which is kind of sad. But who knows? There may be some nuclear scientist I don't know about.
GM: Because every school has one. 'Hey, who's the famous person?' So you're it... What's Roland Rossman [high school friend who got him started in theatre] doing right now?
CM: You know what, I was doing a show in California. My best friend from high school lives out there. And I said, 'Where is Roland Rossman now?' I haven't seen him since high school. I have no idea what's happened to him. The last I heard he was in Austria teaching, but I have no idea what's going on.
GM: With improv, you've got to really keep up on pop culture.
GM: I find – as I'm in my early 40s – it is more and more difficult to do this. Because I'm not interested in most of it.
CM: I hear you.
GM: Do you take it like a job, like you have to do this?
CM: Yeah. I mean, I don't... When Survivor came out, I thought, 'Ugh, I'm gonna have to watch this because everyone's talking about it. It's going to come up.' So I started watching it and I actually got into it. And that was the last reality show that I sort of watched and got into. And then all the others I've seen maybe five or ten minutes of each one. Just enough to make fun of it and get the gist of what's going on. And that's it. I think television's really in a sad state these days. Although there are, on cable... That seems to be the place to go. The networks are so intimidated by everyone.
GM: You'd think that cable is doing so well they might clue in.
CM: You would think. Sometimes the business part of this show business I just don't understand. To me it would seem like, well lookit, they're getting all the awards, all the acclaim because they're doing shows that don't really talk down to their audience. They do shows that are only going to appeal to a certain audience rather than try to find something that's going to appeal to everyone and ends up appealing to no one.
GM: They don't try to look for an audience; they do what they do and the audience finds them.
CM: Yeah, it's like they don't have a project first. It's like they say, 'Okay, we need something for this audience. Let's try to mix something.' They never really get the original thing. They go, 'Oh, Seinfeld was great. Let's make different variations of that.' Rather than, every year there's a show that becomes a hit because it's not like anything else. Like Desperate Housewives and Lost this year. I should be running something somewhere!
GM: You should. Maybe the CBC.
GM: But then who would know?... People yell out suggestions. Does anything stick out that you remember as being 'Oh my God, how am I going to get out of this?' or 'What can I possibly do to get out of this?' And then your creative juices just start going and you surprise yourself.
CM: I can't think of anything in particular. The best thing about improv is that once it's gone, it's gone. You can't think, 'What I should have done was...' To me, I just can't remember. Even great scenes I've been involved in, I can sort of remember parts of it but I could never remember what the suggestion was or how we got there. I'm sure there are sometimes where you go 'I got nothing.' And sometimes from that magic happens. The audience enjoys watching you get into some sort of difficulty; they love it when you can get out of that difficulty. So our thing is, even if we have no idea what the suggestion really meant, just go with it with a hundred per cent commitment and hopefully something will come up.
GM: Are audiences getting worse? Or more unruly, thinking they're the star of the show? That's been the case here in Vancouver for a couple years now, that I've found, anyway. I don't know if artists find that.
CM: I look forward to playing there. Um, I haven't noticed that. I mean, it depends from crowd to crowd. There are some that come in just so hyped that we can pretty much do anything and they'll go with us. And then with others there's a little bit of a proving period where you have to prove that you belong on stage. And then there's others who think that they're helping you just by shouting inane things every five minutes. I think generally in society there is a – this is going to make me sound like I'm from the Victorian age – there seems to be a lack of respect and manners. I find it really hard going to movies now because everybody's talking. Like, even through the previews. Yes, I know it's not the main feature but still I'd like to see this. There seems to be no consideration for people in the audience or people on stage. That bothers me.
GM: I know you've done your own two-man tour, but this is a big group.
CM: It's six of us.
GM: Is everyone from Whose Line?
CM: Yeah. We can't call it that because of legal reasons.
GM: So this is like a big reunion for you guys.
CM: It is, kind of. Ryan never goes on tour because he doesn't fly. So this is his way of touring. He pretty much sets up a tour so that everything's within four hours of his house. And we rent a bus and we just drive everywhere. So it is actually a nice chance for us to get together. And especially on the bus you have a lot of time. It's actually quite boring. We play cards or we watch dvd's. It's a fun group to work with and it's always nice to see them. I see Brad all the time because we do a two-man thing. I probably see Greg almost as much. And Ryan, who is actually one of my best friends, I rarely see. He doesn't return my calls; I don't know what that's about.