By Tom Cardy – The Dominion Post – May 5th, 2011

      One of American comedian Greg Proops’ many talents is that he is instantly recognisable. It’s as if Proops – best known in New Zealand for his stints on the American and British versions of improvised comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? – is channelling Buddy Holly by way of Salvador Dali.

      “I’m a San Francisco comic and that’s how I was dressing and looking and it carried over to TV at the time,” Proops says.

      “When you look at some of the old outfits, we had some pretty big shoulders and pretty big hair. I’ve got a purple coat, I’ve got a cow waistcoat. There are some pretty wild outfits that get in there over the years.”

      But how Proops looks is only a tiny factor in his career. In fact, Proops’ career has as much been based on not seeing him. He’s as much in demand for his voicing talents.

      He voiced the animated character Fode in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, as well as Bob the Builder for its American broadcasts.

      There’s even a Wellington connection, as Proops made a guest appearance on Flight of the Conchords’ comedy series for the BBC, before also appearing on Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie’s later series for HBO as Martin Clarke “an advertising executive and weasel”.

      “Everything’s been complete luck,” Proops says. “I got lucky with some of the things I was in. I wish I could tell you I’m a really focused person and think about everything really carefully. But I’m not. I’m usually pretty high and trying to goof around a lot. I’ve been fortunate to crash into a couple of excellent things, one of which was Whose Line, which lasted 14 years. That’s blind chance that one.”

      The Bob the Builder stint means he’s “hot with the under fives” and he’s also been “catching the pre teens as well” for the past two years in the flesh in Nickelodeon sitcom True Jackson VP. “They don’t know that I do standup, but one day they will and one day they’ll be old enough to drink in a bar, then they’ll be able to come and see me.”

      And that again is a reminder that Proops’ core work remains standup. This is, after all, the man who has had sold out gigs for 28 years in a row at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

      It all gives the impression that Proops is constantly busy, going by the number of television appearances, occasional movies, even hosting a live comedy talk show in Los Angeles and, of late, producing podcasts. He says he’s no workaholic, it’s just the nature of the business. “You have to generate your own ideas, especially in LA. The podcasts for me have been the funest thing lately because that’s really all me.”

      Improv on Whose Line Is It Anyway? he describes as very different to anything else he does. “I’m lucky because when I do improv I either do it with the Whose Line cast from America or the Whose Line cast from England. I am working with some of the best improvisers. I’m like Ringo, I just show up, you know.”

      He says he’s gotten better over the years at improv from working with them, but it’s a group effort. Standup is where he has the most control and says what he wants to say. This was evidenced when Proops performed at the First Laughs show in Wellington on Sunday to open the NZ International Comedy Festival. In his six minutes Proops poked a lot of fun at his homeland and was more political than we see him on television. He also had the audience in stitches.

      “Live work is where it all happens. For me, it’s the most legitimate. The TV is very useful for getting you out there and if you can do something good on TV it’s even more gratifying.”

      But Proops says comics have it easier than actors in other ways. For one, they can create their own parts. “But [I] am always having to define myself again. I think in show business [you] never, ever stop that horrible process. Once you’re the young guy, then you’re not so young, then you’re something else. I think it’s this age that I’m at and how long I’ve been doing it. I meet people who are in their 20s and I am like ‘the dean’ to them. I don’t think of myself that way, but you can’t help but have some perspective when someone comes up and you realise that you’ve been doing standup longer than they’ve been alive.

      “The fortunate part for me is that I got to do something I like to do. I don’t think a lot of people in the world get to do what they want to do all the time. I would never complain about that. I have the usual complaints that anyone has: why isn’t it bigger, better, this and that. But it’s all down to me, so, as Robert Forster says in [movie] Jackie Brown, ‘at my age you have to accept responsibility for what you do’.”

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