By Kevin Craig – The Flagpole – November 30th, 2011

      “People often ask me,” says comedian/improv extraordinaire Greg Proops, “‘Aren’t you that guy from the thing?’ and I say, ‘Yes. I am indeed that guy from the thing.'”

      The “thing” to which many people refer is most likely “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”- the improv sketch show that Proops was on for 14 years. Proops found his knack for improvisation early in college when he saw an improv group and thought, “I could do that.” The following week, when the group asked for an audience volunteer, Proops “just jumped up.”

      “And that was how it started,” he says. “They asked me to join the group the next day, and I learned to do it… I didn’t actually study with any professional group. I never took a class. I learned from the other kids I was with in that improv group with in college, then I got lucky and got on ‘Whose Line.’ And now I know all those guys – all very good improvisers. And it’s informed my stand-up and podcast, obviously – I just make shit up all the time.”

      In addition to his impressive improv credentials, Proops has countless acting, voice-overs and “as himself” television appearances under his belt. Proops claims to “love it all,” but his podcast, “The Smartest Man in the World,” has gained significant popularity over the past year-probably because the whole show is Proops doing what he does best: flying by the seat of his pants.

      “Right now, I like the podcast the most,” he says, “because I have the total freedom to pitch up and do what I like. And it’s, I think, closer to if you were going to sit down and have a drink with me. The difference being, of course, that I might let you talk if we were having a drink.”

      Proops’ stand-up act is unusual in that, while he plans out the material ahead of time, he still leaves plenty of room for spontaneity. The comic endeavors to connect with his audiences, not to render them “sitting there in breathless wonder.”

      “I really like the ‘no distance’ element of all the things I get to do, like improv and the podcast,” says Proops. “I want everybody to feel like it’s theirs… The times you’re the most moved when you see a band or comic are the times when you feel like there’s no distance between you and them. What they’re putting down, you’re getting immediately. You’re feeling it… and I love that ethos. I think with improv, stand-up, and the podcast I can get close to that.”

      Proops jokingly refers to himself as a “total smarty-boots” in his self-written web bio, but his humor does have a definite air of intellectualism; he often invokes his impressive knowledge of history, literature and pop culture, which leads some critics to write him off as “pretentious.” The comic, however, doesn’t see it that way.

      “I think it’s just that I’m being myself,” he says. “But a lot of people think that if you have any intelligence on display, you’re being pretentious. You know, it’s really not an inexplicable mystery how you gain knowledge. You listen to people. You read books… But in Hollywood, where I live, people often pretend to be, one, younger than they are and, two, stupider than they are, so that they don’t threaten anyone. And I don’t give a shit. I am both old and smart.”

      Although Proops’ high-brow humor has caused him to “lose crowds occasionally,” he’s always aimed to stay true to himself. “My wife is always on my ass about this: just be yourself and be honest,” he says. “Don’t be a pander monkey. If I was a pander monkey, I’d fix everything so that everybody got everything I said… [but] I never play down. I mean, I can; I can be silly and stupid and slapsticky – I love it. But I’ll make an obscure reference, and you have to know what it is. I’ll just tell the audience, ‘Go home. Google.'”

      As a comic, Proops thinks deeply about the words he chooses, describing them as his “chief weapon.”

      “I just feel like people fall for a lot of nonsense,” he says, “with the way politicians use rhetoric. I think comics use rhetoric in the other way – to undermine bullshit.”

      “Holy kittens,” Proops adds, on a similar note. “I don’t begrudge anyone liking the Black Eyed Peas, but they’re fucking terrible. Like a children’s act… I want poetry in what people do, whether they’re trying to make poetry or not; I think it’s a powerful weapon.”

      While Proops anticipates the audience’s “disappointment that the tall guy and the black guy aren’t going be there,” he’ll be doing his act exactly how he wants: unrestricted, intelligent and, at its best, poetic.

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