You’ve witnessed their shenanigans on VH1, TV commercials, movies and the long-running improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? But have you seen them live? For the last six years, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood have toured with their show An Evening With Colin Mochrie And Brad Sherwood (check their site for upcoming tour dates), where the dynamic duo takes their experience with comedy improv and encourages audience participation, including the sound effects game that was so popular on their long-running BBC/ABC hit show. But the best part of the night is the mousetrap game, where the duo alternate singing lines of an opera — the theme determined by the audience, each line beginning with a letter of the alphabet picked by said fans, then going in backwards order — while also walking the stage blindfolded through a minefield of mousetraps. You can imagine how absurd and painful it gets. And how funny.
Given their pedigree with improv, Mochrie and Sherwood have made a career out of throwing themselves to the wolves. Despite the unpredictability of a show or audience on any given night, they thrive on performing live without a net. Luckily, ADD was not as tough an audience when we sat this humorous twosome down in their hotel to discuss their long-running act, chemistry and love for spontaneous comedy. I also chatted with them for a new Stage Directions cover story entitled “MacGyvers Of Improv,” the extended online version of which can be found here.
Of all the people you’ve worked with, how did you two develop this chemistry, decide to work together and take this show on the road?
Brad: We’ve done different [improv] incarnations with bigger groups, but some of the guys were busy or don’t like to fly, and we’ll go anywhere. We’ve worked together for so many years…
Colin: We don’t like sharing stage time.
Brad: The bigger the group the less we’re on stage, so we thought, if there are only two of us we’re on stage the whole time.
Have you been doing a lot of press while you’re here in New York?
Brad: We just did the Fox News show and walked back here.
Colin: All we really wanted was you.
Excellent. How was Fox News?
Brad: It’s weird. I think it was [for] their weird online news outlet. So who’s actually watching an online live Fox TV show other than shut-in conservatives?
Did you perform at a White House gala in 2007?
Brad: It was the Congressional Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. It wasn’t the White House one, it was the one being sponsored by Congress. So technically we were being hired by Democrats. I just want to put that out there. We were performing for the President, but we were hired by Democrats.
I’m assuming you weren’t quite in line with the last administration at that point?
Brad: I have never been in line with that administration.
So how do you get up and perform in front of people like Karl Rove, whom you might not like, and manage to make it work without politicizing it or creating any tension?
Colin: It’s pretty easy for us just because we never do political humor. I think when you improvise political humor it just becomes pretty much black and white, like, “Oh, they’re stupid.” That kind of thing. You can’t really satirize it like Saturday Night Live or other people who can spend time writing the sketch and fine-tuning it. Ours would be broad strokes. It’s really not our strength. We just tend to go for the silly.
Brad: Our show is goofy and very apolitical. We came in the year after Stephen Colbert did his skewering of Bush, so I think everybody on both sides of the aisle were interested in having a fun, light, apolitical comedy act, which is what we are. We went in there to make people laugh and didn’t have a political agenda. We weren’t sermonizing in any way, and we just did really goofy, silly stuff. We got great feedback. Everyone said it was the funniest thing that they had at one of those things. Usually it’s standups who generally don’t do political humor but feel compelled to write a complete political set for that event, so they’re doing stuff that’s way out of their comfort zone and doing stuff that’s making half the audience feel uncomfortable at any given moment, depending upon what their political bent is.
You may not be political, but you’re not completely safe either. Although you joke on your site that your show is family-friendly, unless you’re afraid of balding men.
Colin: The show has such a wide demographic, and we have a lot of kids and families in our audiences.
Brad: We have the widest demographic for any comedy show: 7 to 70.
You may not have raunchy humor, but there is racy humor. Even some of the improv stuff on Whose Line, Just For Laughs and various TV appearances you have made is not all G-rated. Some of it is PG content that almost pushes R-rated material.
Colin: It hits that spot where it kind of goes over the younger people’s heads but the parents get it.
Brad: Most of our stuff is [double] entendre. If it’s racy it’s vague enough that it’s not specifically filth. It walks that line where the adults know what we’re talking about, but the kids have no idea that there’s even a dirty reference going on.
Like when you spilled red wine during the “lie down” sketch at the Just For Laughs festival and made a porn reference with the spillage.
Colin: Yeah, those kinds of things. Good, clean family humor!
Modern comedy has become more adversarial, which mirrors the way we are as a society. We have become more confrontational with each other. It’s been said that a lot of standup comedians have issues. Do you guys fit into that stereotype of trying to work something out on stage?
Colin: There is nothing going on with us.
Brad: I think improvisers as a breed tend to be more social because everything we do is interactive and requires more than one person, whereas standups tend to be a bit more misanthropic and asocial. They comment on and have an angry perspective on the world and talk about how everything is stupid, whereas what we’re doing is creating right there on the spot, and it’s a communal event between us and the audience. It’s a totally different mindset. Improv is for people that play well with others, whereas the social outcasts tend to be the standups, where they have their bitter take on the world and comment on what is wrong with it.
I get crankier as I get older.
Brad: I think the reason people get angrier as they get older is that as you get older you get wiser. But as you get older the world becomes full of more people that are less wise than you, so the population of people that is dumber than you continues to grow. As you become more enlightened the world continues to fill with less enlightened people. Your perspective is just so frustrating when you have these morons who are text messaging while they’re making your café mocha. It’s this new techno age of bonehead children who are completely asocial and think the world owes them something. I think that’s what frustrates you as you get older.
That’s your rant!
Brad: I was doing standup.
Are there any roles that you guys would like to do, either comedic or dramatic, that would be different from what you’ve done and that would allow people to perceive you differently?
Colin: I don’t know if people would accept us as anything else at this point.
Brad: I’d like to play one of those villains in those Jason Statham type movies, like The Transporter. I think because I’m tall and look a little bit dour that I’d be good as the big guy that walks around with a trenchcoat and a gun.
Colin: I would love to do an action movie just because action heroes look like they could beat up a terrorist with their bare hands. Look at them. But with me it would be a surprise.
Or you could be the ringleader of a big bank heist.
Brad: I wouldn’t want to be the hero. I’d want to be the bad guy. The henchman to the little, evil, weaselly guy or the aloof, I’ll-kill-you-if you-look-at-me-wrong guy. Cowboy movies – I would like to be in violent, Clint Eastwood style spaghetti westerns.
There are so many entertainment choices now that everything seems to have been done, so it seems harder to capture an audience’s attention.
Colin: It’s been hard to be original. Every idea has been done. If you look at comedy, Saturday Night Live is doing what Sid Caesar did – a 90-minute show every week with live sketches. It’s just finding that different point of view, and after awhile everything becomes new again. I’m hoping that people forget some really good ideas so I can use them in the future.
Brad: Bryan, I was looking on your site, and you are a serious metalhead.
[Throws the horns] What about you?
Brad: I’m a total metalhead.
What groups did you see when you were younger?
Brad: I saw the Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, Triumph, Iron Maiden, all the good ones. But I never saw Judas Priest or AC/DC.
I saw Judas Priest in ‘84.
Brad: Those are two embarrassing admissions. I didn’t get to see them, but I saw pretty much anybody else.
Colin: I’m kind of shocked that you haven’t seen AC/DC.
How is the economy affecting your touring?
Brad: We’ve noticed the economy has affected our show, too. Luckily for us, comedy is the one that survives the most during recessions and tough economic times because people want to go laugh. They may not spend a big ticket to go see a play or a lot of movies or a band, but they need to laugh, so comedy shows are the best.
Colin: With us, it’s two guys and two stools.
Brad: We’re a cheap show to mount.
Colin: We have no overhead.