By Jimmy Geurts – Creative Loafing Tampa – February 6th, 2012

      Though he may be best known as the Whose Line is It Anyway? member perpetually dressed in glasses and a suit, Greg Proops has another title — The Smartest Man in the World.

      On his podcast of the same name, Proops takes suggestions from the audience about any subject and riffs at length on them. Now the comedian will perform at the Club at Treasure Island on Feb. 10 with a set that mixes his standup with his penchant for improvisation.

      In a Jan. 25 CL interview while at San Francisco Sketchfest, Proops discusses The Smartest Man in the World, Whose Line is It Anyway? and which comedian out-dappers him.

CL: As someone who constantly contextualizes and refers back to history, what are your thoughts on the Republican presidential race?

      Greg Proops: Well, I want people to come to the show in Tampa. But I think especially earlier, I think they’re the worst group of people I’ve ever seen stand for office in my lifetime as a voter. I think Newt Gingrich is a mean-spirited troll, I think Rick Santorum is obsessed with homosexuality and is almost completely delusional in that regard. I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad person, he’s just a bland corporate game-show host millionaire drone who thinks it’s his born right to govern us, and I think Ron Paul has some interesting and intelligent ideas, but is crazy. And when we had Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in there … I mean, wow.

      And I’m not sure what they’re running against, quite frankly. I don’t get what Obama’s done has been any different from the Republican agenda in any way. I’m not sure what they’re so disappointed about—the fact that he got some form of health care passed isn’t enough to want him to be out of office, I think. Again, I want people to come to the show in Tampa, so when they read this, they’re going to go, ‘Oh, great.’

What should audiences expect from your stand-up show in Tampa?

      A lot of cheers, regrets, drunken rambling, then I do the show. No, it should be fun. I’ll probably riff, I’ll be off the cuff — I’m pretty spontaneous. I’ll react to Tampa and what we’re doing there. There’ll be jokes, I have material. It’s not all riffs.

As someone who works so much in improvisation, between Whose Line is It Anyway? and your podcast, are you still able to find enjoyment in thought-out, well-written jokes?

      Yeah, of course. I have some routines that I write and I still want to do them, and that’s what I’ll be doing in Tampa. It’ll be a combo platter of those and riffing, as we say. Standup requires that you at some point think something through beforehand, and I’ll have, but I do like to come off the script because it’s really fun for me, and I think it keeps it fresher. I like to freeball it — I like to see what’s going to happen. I feel like if you’re getting the same act over and over, word for word, that bores me more than anything else. But yes, I can find joy in it, and I will be finding joy in it in Tampa.

Where did the idea for The Smartest Man in the World originate from and how did it become a podcast?

      Well, I had no idea I was going to do it. Two fellows who produce Jimmy Pardo’s podcast Never Not Funny and also produce Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies, they came to me about a year ago and said, ‘Do you want to do a podcast?’ I was like, ‘Will anyone listen to it?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we think they will.’ So we didn’t know what to do at first. I knew we didn’t want to interview people because Adam Carolla interviews people and Marc Maron interviews people, everybody interviews people. So the first decision was to not interview people and just do it on my own. Then the next decision was to do it live because I always do it live if I can. You get more of an honest reaction from the audience, and I get more bang out of it. I’m a better performer in front of a crowd because of a certain need for approval.

      The next decision was, well, what’s it about? I talked to a friend of mine — Phil Bowman, he’s a comedian — and he said, ‘You know what you come off like? You come off like you’re just pedantic, you know everything.’ And I said, ‘Really?’ and he said, ‘Yeah. You should call it The Smartest Man in the World. Take questions and you’re always right.’ And I said, ‘That’s hilarious.’ That’s how the whole idea came together.

Are there any topics on your podcast you haven’t really addressed yet that you’d like to sink your teeth into?

      Well, I haven’t talked about what happened with the Italian cruise ship because they were still pulling bodies out of the water this week. So I did a podcast the night that had happened, and I just felt like there wasn’t anything funny yet when there’s still people dying in that regard. And it was a little too early to jump on the captain. But no, honestly I’ve jumped in on everything.

      While I’m in San Francisco this week, I’m going to have to talk about the State of the Union and the Republican race and all that jazz. I’ve think I’ve had a go at pretty much every candidate. I’ll have a go at Obama too — he’s not off the hook for anything. He started the State of the Union last night by saying our wars have made us safer and more respected around the world, and that’s simply not true.

Even though you were born and live in California, you’ve gotten an international reputation in countries like England and Canada. Can you talk about that?

      Well, I was invited to go over to England up to Whose Line? years ago, and I was lucky enough to go and I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world off the back of that. For me, that’s been the most exciting and funnest part of my life, going around to tour countries and stuff. I’m going to England next month and I’m going to do a week at the Soho Theatre and record a podcast there, then Paris and I’ll try to record podcasts in Paris too.

      I just think a lot of Americans don’t go to many other countries and don’t care, and that’s fine. I just feel like there’s a bigger world out there. When you see things like America’s special and we’re singular and all that, and we’re No. 1, I always think, ‘Well, no.’ We may be different and unique, but I don’t understand why it’s important for us to, one, be No. 1, and two, to reemphasize our specialness all the time when the world doesn’t see it that way. The world just sees it like we just keep invading places. Again, this is turning a little more into a political diatribe than I meant it to.

Between being on both versions of Whose Line is It Anyway? and appearing on shows with that cast, how do you still keep it fresh for you?

      Oh, we make each other laugh. I find those guys wildly amusing. I mean, Ryan Stiles, he’s pretty big as far as being funny at doing improv. We also don’t do it like every week. We’re doing it this week, up here with Drew and everybody, and then like you say, going on tour with the boys. I think it’s just that we find each other surprisingly funny and that keeps it fresh for me. I’m wildly amused watching them and we make each other laugh. We make each other laugh and then it stays fresh for the audience. We wouldn’t be out there on the road if it was still stale because I think people would’ve stopped coming. They would’ve gone, ‘This is tired.’

You’ve done some acting in shows like Flight of the Concords. Is that doing that more something that interests you?

      Sure, if I could ever get an audition, I’d be out there in a minute. I don’t think I’m a great actor, but I specialize in weasels, so that part’s fun too.

Do you think you could out-dapper Paul F. Tompkins in a contest between the two of you?

      Well, Paul has the mustache, so it’s you don’t have a mustache. He wears hats too, and I could never wear a hat because of my glasses. He might have the upper hand on that. I saw him the other night and he was wearing a three-piece suit and he had a hat on and I was like, ‘Wow.’ And he had changed into that from doing H.G. Wells as a character. That made me laugh.

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