"If it's really good, I'll watch it and then afterwards get depressed at how good they were. I love watching bad improv because it makes me feel better. I'm just that shallow."
– Colin Mochrie
Guy MacPherson: I've spoken to you twice before. The first time ten years ago, and the second time 2007.
Colin Mochrie: Well, everything seems about the same.
GM: Okay, thanks for the call!
GM: I have since moved near your old high school.
CM: Ah, old Killarney.
GM: What street did you grow up on?
CM: I was at 48th and Fraser.
GM: When you first started improv way back when, it was just something to do, right? You didn't have dreams and aspirations.
CM: Oh, yeah, this was never going to be a career. It was just something I loved doing. Especially as a struggling actor, it gave me a place to do something Fridays and Saturday nights. It kept me in there working on stuff and getting a chance to work with all these great people.
GM: Does it help acting even if you're not improvising?
CM: Absolutely. Without changing lines you can still go, 'I'm going to play this now like I'm pissed off at something' or 'I'm slowly falling in love with the person I'm talking to.' If that fits with the script and what the writer wants. So you can find different attacks of doing things. It really can open you up.
GM: I see so many great improvisers at TheatreSports and other companies around town who haven't made it, but I don't know if that's their goal. They just love what they're doing. Do you think you'd still be doing it if you'd never hit it big?
CM: Um, I think so. I'm pretty sure I would just because, as I say, I love doing it. I'm still having trouble fathoming that I'm working at something that wasn't an occupation when I was growing up. So everything that's just sort of happened has been a bonus. The one thing I'm actually good at and the one thing I really enjoy turned out to be a very nice career for me.
GM: Of course acting was a career, although not a realistic one.
CM: Mm-hmm. No, it never is. I always tell the young ones, if there's anything else you love, do that.
GM: But they can't. I guess if you can't, then those are the ones who should do it.
CM: Exactly. If there's nothing else you can do, and you don't get any enjoyment or you don't feel alive doing anything else, then do it. Your ego's going to get bruised and your psyche damaged, but when it works out, it's great.
GM: You're cutting out because you're getting a call. Do you need to take that?
CM: No. It's no one important. You're the guy, Guy.
GM: Okay. You've done tons and tons of acting, but you're still mostly known for Whose Line? Isn't that amazing?
CM: Yeah, that may be a comment on my acting, who knows?
GM: No, I didn't mean it that way!
CM: No, I think there was a double-edge sword at one point. People were leery of hiring an improviser because they think they're just going to go off-script and it'll just be insane. Whereas I'd say most of the improvisers I know when they're hired to do a script they would never improvise unless asked by the writer or director. Because you're there to respect the script and respect the project and do what you can. And I've been very fortunate that a lot of friends have been getting into a position where they can just hire me to do stuff. And what's great about that is I get hired to do things mainstream Hollywood would never hire me for. I got to play some great bad guys lately where I'm raping people and killing them with shovels, things I would never get a chance to do anywhere else. So I just need a few more of my friends to get successful.
GM: That's the key!
CM: It really is. They've really got to start pulling their socks up.
GM: It's surprising that mainstream casting agents or directors would still think that because I would say probably most improvisers are also actors.
CM: Absolutely. A lot of improvisers are great actors. It may be slowly changing with shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm
and Veep, shows that have that sort of improv feel. I love watching shows like that. I love watching shows where you feel like you're a fly on the wall and you're seeing a secret scene that no one else has seen. I think being an improv actor sort of helps get that across.
GM: Can you distance yourself from yourself and watch those shows and get lost in them, or are you sitting there noticing their choices?
CM: If it's really good, yes, I'll watch it and then afterwards get depressed at how good they were. I love watching bad improv because it makes me feel better. I'm just that shallow.
GM: Your big break was going over to England for Whose Line? Were you just pinching yourself at the time? What did you think then?
CM: At that time, it was just a job. I was excited that, first of all, I had a job. The fact I was going to England was icing on the cake. And then as I started to get more shows, I realized just how big it was in England, it was an exciting time. Every summer I'd go over there. For six weeks, I had this fantasy camp where I was doing something I loved, where people knew me on the street. And then I'd come back to Canada and just be another guy.
CM: Oh yeah. I was doing TheatreSports at that point but I wasn't really doing a lot of acting acting so I didn't really have any big success here. It wasn't until they moved it to the US that I started getting noticed.
GM: I remember seeing the British show.
CM: Oh yeah. The British show was big in the States in colleges and university because it used to be on the Comedy Channel. I guess that was a show that they watched. Once the British one started showing here, I started getting known here and there a little bit. But it really watched when they decided to do the American version.
GM: You recently went back and did a reunion there, didn't you?
CM: Yeah, we just did two weeks in the West End. Clive Anderson was hosting and we had Josie Lawrence and Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood, Stephen Frost and I. That was kind of a pinch-yourself moment where you think, 'I'm in the West End of London just being goofy.'
GM: And how was it?
CM: It was great. It was nice to see the British guys again because I see them so infrequently. It really is just like riding a bike. Everyone just worked so well together and the audiences were amazing. They're talking about making it an annual event. So we're hoping.
GM: People in England still know you.
CM: Yes, which is nice. It's really nice. We did the Edinburgh festival last year, too. I mean, Edinburgh's such a beautiful city anyway, but it was really exciting during the festival time. Yeah, people have always been really nice. I just thank God I don't play a really bad guy on television or something because that could change.
GM: And you haven't aged in the past 25 years.
CM: God bless you! Yes, if you've got glaucoma or something, I really haven't aged at all.
GM: When did you first realize you were famous? Was it over there in England?
CM: Yeah. The first little things of fame where someone would buy you a coffee for no reason except that you were on television. And then the American thing was a whole different thing. Over there it's different. It's much more relaxed. There's much more of a frenzy with the whole machinery of putting on a TV show in America. We filmed our shows and then we had the big up-fronts where all the cast gets together and you're paraded out in front of the journalists. That was the first time I ever had that sort of celebrity event, like all of a sudden I was pushed with people I didn't know and pictures were taken of us. And this was before the show even aired. It was just bizarre and surreal. And then when the show hit, that's when we all got a career out of that show and got our faces out there. So we're all really thankful for Whose Line is it Anyway?
GM: You're an unlikely comedy superstar.
CM: Yes, I have to agree on so many levels. It is kind of odd because I'm a little paranoid anyway so when people are looking at you and whispering, you're thinking, 'Oh, what? Is my fly open?' It's still weird. I just do normal things. I do all the food shopping because I do all the cooking and it's just bizarre when people will stop me and ask for an autograph or something. It's like, 'Oh yeah, it's my job.' It's bizarre.
GM: But you're still grateful.
CM: Oh, God, I am incredibly grateful. I will never refuse an autograph or a picture. I learned that from Drew Carey. We were in Disneyland somewhere and we were having dinner and there were people coming up one after another asking for stuff. He would put down his knife and fork, he'd stand up and talk to them, he'd get his picture taken, whatever. He just said, 'These are the people that gave me a career so I'm not going to take a couple of seconds out just to sign a piece of paper or get a picture taken? I owe everything to these people.' So I think that's a healthy attitude to have.
GM: A good perspective.
GM: You were trained as an actor, you do lots of acting, known mostly for improv. Is improv better than acting?
CM: They're two kind of different muscles. I love the fact that in improv, you're kind of your own master. When we're doing shows, there's really not much the executives can do. We live and fail on our own accord, whereas so many other elements happen if you're acting in a movie, for example. You've got the writer, the director, you have producers, sometimes you have sponsors and they all have their different ideas. Sometimes you're more or less a prop and sometimes the least important part of the product. You could do a great performance and it could easily be changed in the editing booth or cut out completely. So I love the freedom that improv has. I love the big bucks that acting has. I've heard that happens; I haven't quite got there yet.
GM: You are your own man in improv. You are essentially your own writer because it's coming out of your head, so you've written millions of shows. Is it hard not to repeat yourself?
CM: Brad Sherwood and I have been touring for 13 years now and the major focus of when we get together is coming up with ways so that we can never repeat ourselves. It's hard because I've been doing this now for almost 30 years so I'm sure there are times where you'll say something and go, 'Oh wait, that sounds really familiar. Either I've just stolen it or it's something I said years ago.' But we work the show so that we never get the same suggestion, we're always finding different ways of using audience members so that they're always an x-factor that we can't control, and I always try to work with as many different people as I can. Like Vancouver, there's a great improv community here in Toronto and I'm constantly working with the kids, as I call them. Partly because it helps me remember, 'Oh look at them, they're just totally fearless; they're going out there and doing whatever,' and part of it is working with people I don't know and keeping on my toes and making sure I don't make the same choices.
GM: Have you invented any improv games? I know there are thousands out there.
CM: Um... Not really invented. A lot of times adapting. So no. I'm trying to think... no. The closest one, we had this thing called the Torture Game. It was basically a game made up of five other games and we had someone call it. So the first part was Questions Only where you could only talk in questions, then the second part was we could only use one syllable words, then we had to do rhymes like Dr. Seuss, then we had one where the letter S in every word was substituted with a different letter. So that format I guess I invented although all the game had been in existence for years.
GM: Even the new ones are often just variations on older ones. It's like evolution.
CM: Like sketch comedy. I think there's like seven sketches.
GM: I just saw a video of a scene you and Brad did that I hadn't seen before. It involved cameras – the sideways scene.
CM: Ah yes.
GM: That looked great.
CM: The reason we did that was we were hosting one of the galas at Just For Laughs and usually the host has some sort of either big production number or some kind of high production value sketch and we don't have anything like that. It was actually Brad that came up with the idea. There was a scene we used to do in TheatreSports which was the sideway scene. It would basically be us lying on the floor. It was a perfect game for City Stage because the audience was raised so they could see us. So for Just For Laughs we introduced the cameras but it's not something we can really tour with. So they were filming us and then there were screens on the side of the stage that the audience saw.
GM: It looked great.
CM: We were really happy that worked out. It was like one of those things where we've never tried this before, it's the first time we're doing it, it's televised in front of a studio audience, good luck!
GM: You just had a feeling, though. You knew it would work.
CM: It's a great feeling. You know, you always hope that it's going to work but there's always that Titanic part of your mind where you think, well, it seems like a good idea but who knows where the iceberg is going to come from.
GM: Do you have a preference between the big theatres you largely play in and the smaller venues like the Improv Centre that you'll play here?
CM: I love more intimate, I would say maybe 400 to 500. We once did a show for 10,000 people in some university basketball gym, which was insane, Just trying to hear suggestions was crazy. But it certainly gets your energy up when you have 10,000 people laughing. But I do enjoy the smaller venues. It feels much more intimate with the audience and the magic up close, just so they can see there isn't anything we're doing except taking their suggestions and running with it.
GM: I guess it's like the comparison between improv and acting where you go you like the freedom of improv but then you like the money of acting.
CM: Exactly. The big theatres are the ones that are going to book us because they can fly us in and take care of our accomodation or whatever. But every once in a while... I'm doing something in Portland shortly after Vancouver to fundraise for a smaller theatre there. I love those things.
GM: I know you were here last year with VTSL. Do you like to give back, is that it, because you started out here?
CM: Oh, absolutely. Vancouver TheatreSports pretty much gave me everything that I have now. I learned the basics of improv there, I learned how to work with people and how to work with audiences. I'm just amazed that it just keeps doing so well. I think I said last year that I thought when I left, that's pretty much it, they're done. And then you just see these incredible people come year after year. What I love is they keep finding different ways of doing improv, whether it's long form or adapting plays. I love the way people aren't comfortable just with doing the short games.
GM: Each show you're doing here is with a largely different cast. They have a pretty big stable of improvisers and they're pretty great top to bottom.
CM: Yeah, they're pretty good. It's nice, they throw in some old guys for me, people I've worked with, just so I know where to walk to. But then they have these talented young people that are just a treat to work with. And what I love, it seems to be across the board but I always find improvisers are really nice. I don't know if it's because of the art form because you have to be such an ensemble, but it's so rare you find a dicky improviser.
GM: You know, that is my experience, too.
CM: Yeah, they're just sweet, good to their parents, very environmentally conscious.
GM: Every show you do it seems you get to – or have to – kiss a man on the lips.
CM: Yes. I think I alone am responsible for gay marriage. I have made it accessible to the masses.
GM: Is that your life's work?
CM: That's my life's work. I'm done now.
GM: I think we're done now, too.
CM: All right. Lovely talking to you.