"My career's just been basically wandering into one situation
after another having no clear-cut idea. I mean, once I left
high school I had wanted to be an actor and that was my goal. And
I sort of got away from that into improv."
– Colin Mochrie
Guy MacPherson: You just got back from New Zealand, I understand. Were you performing there?
Colin Mochrie: Yeah, I did a couple of TheatreSports shows, but mainly it was a holiday. I visited a friend.
GM: Had you been down before?
CM: No, it was my first time.
GM: Have you been to Australia?
CM: Never been to Australia.
GM: I've always wanted to go to New Zealand but the flight is prohibitive for me.
CM: It is kind of long. I'm too old, I realized halfway through.
GM: What do you do on a flight like that?
CM: Watch a lot of movies, take sleeping pills and drink.
GM: (laughs) Sleeping pills and drink is a nice combination.
CM: Seems to help.
GM: You started out at Vancouver TheatreSports League, right?
CM: Yes, I did.
GM: Did you ever think you'd be able to parlay it into the type of career you've had?
CM: No, it's still a bit of a shock. When I started doing it we literally had to pull people out of McDonald's to come see the shows. And then it sort of got a cult following. It was just something I always loved doing. I never dreamt it would turn into a career.
GM: Were you working elsewhere at the time?
CM: How did that work? Um, I don't think so. I guess I'd been doing some parts in plays. But I think once TheatreSports started taking off that became sort of a full-time job and actually started paying very well.
GM: We're talking early '80s?
CM: Yes. My first game, I think, was in 1980.
GM: Is that where you met Ryan Stiles?
CM: Yes. Actually, through a mutual friend. My best friend, who I was just visiting in New Zealand, was part of the TheatreSports group and he had been hired by Punchlines to start an improv group there. And Ryan was doing standup at Punchlines and got involved and through my friend Jim we met and started working at TheatreSports together.
GM: Jim who?
CM: Jim McLarty.
GM: You know, I was reading on the internet last night and it's full of mistakes. Did you know this?
CM: Oh, absolutely. I've heard things that I go, "Oh, really? Well...".
GM: It said you met Ryan at Second City. So I had to verify that.
CM: No. There's so many stories. There was one story, and I think it was actually started by Ryan himself, that we dropped out of school together and went into comedy (chuckles). And I thought, "Well, that's just wrong."
GM: He dropped out of school, but not you.
CM: No. I graduated. I was school valedictorian.
GM: Well, there you go. You gotta set the record straight on that!
CM: Exactly, c'mon!
GM: Do you see a lot of these kinds of mistakes?
CM: Every once in a while when I'm doing interviews. People usually go on line to get some background and they ask me something that often just confuses me. Apparently for a while I was writing a cookbook, which I didn't know. Things like that always pop up.
GM: My dad was a jazz musician, which is bottom of the barrel in the fame game. Yet every article I've ever read on him, there's a mistake. And I've always thought, if there are mistakes with a virtual unknown, imagine how many mistakes there are with people who are written about and talked about all the time.
CM: Exactly. As long as they're interesting, I don't care.
GM: True. And they were always benign mistakes with my father. I just go, "Oh, that's funny" because it's not true.
CM: Yeah. I guess there are worse things they could say about me than he's writing a cookbook.
GM: (laughs) "That bastard is writing a cookbook!" When you started out, were you goal-oriented?
CM: No. My career's just been basically wandering into one situation after another having no clear-cut idea. I mean, once I left high school I had wanted to be an actor and that was my goal. And I sort of got away from that into improv.
GM: But you're doing a little more acting now, aren't you?
CM: I do, yeah. I do a little more. It's hard, I think, for improv guys to actually get acting work because people are leery about you changing lines. I think writers get worried when they hire an improv guy. But my thing is is the writer's words are gold and unless somebody asks me to improvise, I always stick to the script.
GM: There are more loosely-written or improvised shows on now, like Curb Your Enthusiasm.
CM: Yeah. There seems to be a lot more shows going that way. Sort of the almost docu-comedy feel.
GM: You're hosting Are You Smarter Than a Canadian Fifth Grader.
GM: Is it ongoing? Will this be a regular thing or just a limited run?
CM: I have no idea. We did five shows and I guess they'll see how it went.
GM: What did you learn?
CM: I learned I'm not smarter than a fifth grader but I am bigger than them so that really helps. That was the most work I think I've ever done in my life. It just seemed I was constantly having to do something.
GM: Like what?
CM: You have to keep the kids under control, keep them interested. You have to calm down the contestants to keep them interesting. You have to entertain the audience that is there and still keep the tension of the game going. So there was no rest. As a basically lazy guy I found it a lot of work.
GM: It's the thing now for comics to host game shows.
CM: It does seem to be going that way. Especially with the Whose Line guys. Drew's got two of them, which is just like him. He always has to go one better than the rest of us.
GM: Ryan's holding out, though.
CM: Oh yeah. He'll hold out till something... I'm sure it'll involve drinking.
GM: In Canada, we say 'grade five', not 'fifth grader'.
CM: I know.
GM: What's up with that?
CM: I know there was a lot of discussion about it, which kind of made me laugh, but I don't know why they decided to go with 'fifth grader'. I guess 'Are You Smarter Than a Grade Fiver' just doesn't roll off the tongue.
"I'm certainly not a fan of his politics in any way, but in the Oval Office he was very charming. You can sort of see he really believes in what he's doing. I don't know if that's scarier or not."
– Colin Mochrie
GM: What's Karl Rove really like?
CM: Uh (laughs), well, he was fine for the couple of minutes I met him. The whole thing was just surreal for a little Canadian improviser to all of a sudden be doing a rap with Karl Rove. Then the next day he called us and invited us to the White House. He took us around. We went into the Oval Office and President Bush and Vice President Cheney were there, so we talked to them for a while. It was just surreal.
GM: Who's "we"?
CM: Brad Sherwood and I.
GM: Did you get flack for doing that from all the lefty Hollywood types?
CM: There was a certain amount of flack. I don't know, we were hired to do this gig and it just happened to be one where the president was going to be at. It was odd. I'm certainly not a fan of his politics in any way, but in the Oval Office he was very charming. You can sort of see he really believes in what he's doing. I don't know if that's scarier or not.
GM: This was the correspondents dinner, right?
GM: They always hire entertainers for that.
CM: Yes, they do. It's a different one from the one Stephen Colbert did. I can't remember who they had the year before us, but they always have some sort of entertainment in there. We certainly weren't the only entertainment.
GM: So there's no reason to assume that the entertainer has to be a supporter of the president.
CM: Oh, exactly. We were basically there to entertain the news corp. It was pretty much every reporter. Brian Williams of NBC was there, and Wolf Blitzer. So, as I said, the president was just sort of one of our audience.
GM: Did you come up with the idea for a rap ahead of time and have to pass it through people to be approved?
CM: Strangely enough, we didn't have to tell them what we were doing. So we just came up with two games that had good audience participation in it. The first game we did was the sound effects game and we picked Brian Williams from NBC, who was actually very funny and the scene went really well. So Brad thought, okay, we're going to have to top this somehow. So, God bless him, he walked over to Karl Rove and I just stood there going, "What's he doing?"
GM: Karl Rove doesn't talk to people!
CM: Yeah. And the fact that he actually came up, again, surreal. So from then on, the next three days were totally surreal. It's the only word I can use to describe it. It just did not feel real in any sense.
GM: I guess it would feel different if you were performing for the prime minister.
CM: I guess so. When I was doing 22 Minutes, we would go to Ottawa a lot. Chretien was the prime minister then. It just seemed much more relaxed. I actually walked up to him. No one would tackle me and put me to the floor and stick a gun to my head. He just seemed so much more accessible.
GM: Exactly. They wander into his house in the middle of the night.
CM: I was just lucky he didn't have an Inuit carving.
GM: I once saw Joe Clark and his wife just walking down Georgia Street and I thought, you'd never see that in the States with an ex-president strolling down the street and nobody even noticing who it is.
CM: It is bizarre. I like it, though.
GM: How did you wind up coming here to work with Urban Improv?
CM: I had met Roman years ago through a mutual friend out here. Improvisers have a common language so we sort of band together. He had asked me to do it last year but I was unavailable, so I really felt that I did have free time this year so it was the thing to do.
GM: Another vacation? Coming home.
CM: Well, I'm only there for the day.
CM: That's the kind of jet-setter I am.
GM: And then off to where?
CM: Back to Toronto. I have other gigs I think.
GM: You're mostly working with Sherwood these days?
CM: Yeah. Where are we? Florida, I think we go to, and Virginia, and we end up in Aspen over Christmas.
GM: Aw, that's too bad.
CM: It is, it's rough.
"I loved working with Ryan but after about twenty years you go, 'Come on. I'm pretty sure we've made this up together already.'"
– Colin Mochrie
GM: Have you worked with any of the others in Urban Improv? Many of them in TheatreSports.
Randy Schooley is a bit older. Do you know him?
CM: Yeah, I know Randy. Ellie Harvie I've worked with. And Roman. I think that's it of the people I know. I knew he was going to look around and see if there were any of the people still living from my day.
GM: I wonder who that would be.
CM: I have no idea.
GM: It must be fun to work with new people. You're so well known for Whose Line and then working with Sherwood so frequently. And then you come here and get to work with all these new people. Do you get to work with new people much?
CM: Every once in a while. When I did the show in New Zealand there was one person I had worked with before and all the rest were new. That's kind of exciting. I mean, I loved working with Ryan but after about twenty years you go, "Come on. I'm pretty sure we've made this up together already." So it's always nice to be thrown in there with new people with their points of view. It really keeps you on your toes.
GM: I guess there are pros and cons. Because with somebody you know so well, there's a shorthand.
GM: A certain look you give them and they know where to go with it.
CM: Exactly. Certainly with Ryan, it got that way. I would say probably 90 percent of the time I knew where he was going in a scene. But when I didn't, I had such complete trust in him that I was like, "Okay, I'm sure it's all going to work out." And that's the thing you have to remember when you're working with new people, is that they're all improvisers. We all have the same language so just trust and believe that it's all going to work out in the end.
GM: But there are various qualities of improvisers.
CM: Yeah. All these guys are great. And they're funny. That's the important thing.
GM: How was it in New Zealand? Were they all top notch?
CM: Yeah, there was a lot of great people. You know, you try not to psyche yourself out. Or at least I do. Because even though we speak the same language, a lot of terms were coming up, local references, that I had no idea what was going on. But the beauty of me is I stay committed. And even though I make a wrong choice, I stick with that wrong choice until the end. So it still worked out. And they were all very funny and very sweet people, which makes it a lot easier to have fun.
GM: Do you ever teach improv?
CM: No. I'm a horrible teacher. I just can't do it.
GM: Just in general, or with improv?
CM: Pretty much anything. I usually end up [saying], "No, do this." I just show by doing. I guess the problem is I really have no idea what I do. So it's really hard to teach that to someone.
GM: You were just saying how you stay committed even if it's a bad choice. Are those words of wisdom you would give somebody?: "Don't sweat it if you make a bad choice. Embrace it."
CM: Yeah. And the beauty of doing improv is you're always with someone. They're there to help you out. My big thing is just make sure you're always listening to the other person because they're going to give you gems that you can work with and just remember if you're going to die on stage, you'll never die alone. Take as many people with you as you can.
GM: When was the last time you played a little venue like a restaurant?
CM: It's been a while. Well, actually, Brad and I did a show in a school cafeteria once. That was a couple of years ago.
GM: It's extra fun, I think, for fans to see a big TV star so close up, rather than in a big theatre.
CM: Yeah. Maybe I'll raffle off touches to people. Gimme five bucks and I'll touch you.
GM: That Corner Gas episode where they made fun of you for... No, not making fun of you...
CM: No, they made fun of me.
GM: ... for being on everything. Did you ever think of being over-exposed? Or was it just taking what you could get while it lasts kind of thing?
CM: A part of it was it just seemed like I was doing everything. When I was doing Whose Line, that was three weekends of my year so there wasn't a lot of time invested with it. 22 Minutes, that was a little more because it was like every week. But I think at the point I did the Corner Gas, I had like five shows going. But two of them were cartoons where I go in for an hour a month and record my voice. Then there was Whose Line, which, like I said, was a couple weekends. So it always seemed like I was doing more than I was. But actually I was always panicking because I had these large gaps where nothing was going on.
GM: So it just seemed to us like you were ever-present.
CM: I apologize for that.
GM: It was a great little cameo. But did you have to fly to Regina just to walk past Brent for the shot?
CM: I did. I was there for a day. I like to fly into places for a day, do my stuff and leave. I'm like one of those Western heroes. Almost like the Lone Ranger.
GM: On your website, you answer questions about anything. These aren't just improv questions. I was reading last night somebody asking you a personal question about what they should do in their life.
CM: I know. I always feel bad about answering those ones because, as I say, I'm not really trained in these things. I try to help but really, I'm just a guy who makes up stuff on television.
GM: I just wonder about a person who has a question about their life and says, "Let me ask a celebrity I've never met."
CM: Yes, exactly! "I'm having trouble with my marriage. Maybe I better call Tom Cruise."
GM: How much time do you spend on your website?
CM: I do nothing.
GM: Do you actually answer the questions yourself?
CM: Yes, I actually answer them. I have a web mistress, which sounds so dirty but I like it, and she sends me in the questions. They've just sort of remodelled the sight so she just calls me every once in a while for advice or approval for certain things. It's great. It keeps me out there when I'm not on everything.
GM: It is nice that someone's updating it. So often you go to a website and it's three years old.
CM: Yeah, she's great. She really keeps on top of things. There are even recipes on there you can try out.
GM: I heard you're writing a cookbook!
CM: (laughs) Yeah.
GM: Maybe that's where they got the idea from.
CM: Now I feel I'm going to have to write one.
GM: Well, you are a good cook, though.
CM: Yes, I am. I'm a very good cook, much to my wife's happiness.