By James OcOnie – New Zealand – March 21st, 2004

      Off stage, most comedians are as entertaining as a cup of cold sick. But Whose Line Is It Anyway star Greg Proops, who’s about to bring his Horrible personality’ to New Zealand, manages to keep his sense of humour while talking to JAMES McONIE.

      It mightn’t be enough to phone Ripley or tell Houston there is no longer a problem but, believe it or not, a comedian being funny in a press interview is a breakthrough.

      Off-stage, amid dim lights, comedians can be a dreary lot. Naturally they are skeptical and wary of journalists after having too many of them ask the dreaded questions “Got some jokes?” and “Where do you get your ideas from?”

      But there is one man, a maverick, not afraid to be funny for anyone who calls him at his Hollywood home, not afraid to ride alone, or even side-saddle for that matter. By now you will have probably seen the photo on this page and realised I’m talking about Greg Proops.

      You may have seen him on TV improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway (both British and American versions) but he is coming to the New Zealand International Comedy Festival late next month to perform stand-up solo – something most locals wouldn’t have seen.

      “No, and they’re going to be gravely disappointed,” he says. “They’re going to say He’s so cute and funny on Whose Line; I didn’t know he was poison and full of hatred. I talk a lot about American pop culture and politics, and sort of the demise of the Roman Empire that is the United States. I will of course be taking special time out to be discussing New Zealand or as we know it in America, Middle Earth.” He digresses. “I actually expected Peter Jackson to win the Oscar and why not, it’s a large undertaking . . . getting him to the stage.

      “Listen, he owes me money. I sat through The Frighteners. OK – he owes me a couple of hours of my life back.”

      Apart from four dates in Auckland and Christchurch, Proops will also host the opening night gala on April 30 and promises to tune in to his audience. “I care very much about where I am. I played the Melbourne International Comedy festival several years ago.

      “I like Australians, a bit red-necky, but they’re all right. They’d make sheep noises when a New Zealand comic would come on stage, which I didn’t think was the most sophisticated thing an audience could pull together at such short notice. But I’ve been anxious to come down there for a long time. We went to the New Zealand Consulate today and got our visa and it was the easiest, funnest experience I’ve ever had at a consulate. They made me do a little bungy jump which was a little weird. I wasn’t quite ready for that one.”

      Despite Whose Line’s bag of tricks, he insists his shows will be just Proops, not props. “Props are the death of wit. I will be only using my horrible personality to propel the show forward. But I’m hoping to do some warm-up dates rather than just show up and say Hey everybody, I’m from the world, what’s going on people?”‘

      Proops is prepared to turn his acerbic wit to subjects that matter. Expect no mercy for George W Bush. Proops is political, a liberal from San Francisco, and therefore reasonably correct.

      He’s proud of his hometown and in particular the mayor who recently allowed same-sex marriage. “He’s on the right side of history. History will bear you out that supporting people’s rights to be married to each other is a good thing. After letting Britney Spears get married, and Robert Blake (US TV actor accused of killing his pregnant wife), maybe it’s time to let homosexuals have a chance. I don’t think the sanctity of marriage is something heterosexuals have proved over time.”

      The fact Bush is anti-gay-marriage doesn’t surprise Proops. “We’re in the middle of two wars right now, our economy’s going to shit and it’s been proven that the president lied about the weapons of mass destruction and what does he come up with, gay marriage – that’s pretty much where we’re at. It’s like waving a flag and saying Look away from the accident’. That’s why I love the mayor of San Francisco, he didn’t take a poll. He just did it.”

      Proops happily, and angrily, rails against bigoted stand-up comedy staples. “There are three things you learn in comedy: homophobia is funny, making fun of women is always funny and making fun of Asians. If it’s any other ethnic group, you’re in trouble.”

      Despite his anger, or perhaps because of it, Proops finds himself in demand. He has appeared on TV quiz show Hollywood Squares and he travels around North America and Europe, performing stand-up and improv (his LA group includes Whose Line host Drew Carey). “I’m really, really lucky that I get to play with pretty much the funniest people in the world on two different continents.” He’s a regular on TV, as a panelist on a discussion show called Tough Crowd and a voice on a cartoon called Striperella with Pamela Anderson.

      “(Anderson) is superhero at night and by day works at a strip club. Exotic dancers go out and solve crimes. It totally takes the piss and it’s kind of lurid. It’s on a network called Spike TV. It’s hilariously called the first network for men, as if all television isn’t orientated towards men, which I love. Basically they show Dukes of Hazzard, Star Trek and Pamela Anderson.”

      On Tough Crowd, it’s not just the ’50s hair and glasses that make Proops stand out. “I’m the only liberal on the panel, so basically you get called a faggot about two seconds into the show. They want to make you upset but I just laugh. Guys prepare these jokes and they pore over these jokes and you get on the show and they do the joke and the joke’s fucking awful and you think That’s all you’ve got? Jesus Christ’.”

      He is a believer in the sanctity of spontaneous wit. While in New Zealand, if a local improv group wants him to join in, he’s keen. That’s where it began for Proops, as a 19-year-old university student. He watched improv and believed he could do better, sat up the front for the next show and made his debut as a volunteer from the audience.

      “I did all the plays at my high school. I was a performer and I was on the yearbook staff and I was on the newspaper. I spent the whole time worrying about was I cool and this and that and when I got up to get my diploma I got a hand from everybody. I guess they acknowledged I was the class wisenheimer.” And the yearbook said he was the person most likely to do what? “Um, probably the person most likely to tell the vice-principal where he could buy pot, or electric puha, if you will.”

      Even in a showbiz world of amusing names, you don’t get much better than Proops. “My name was Jackie Smith but that’s so ethnic I decided to change my name to something that sounded more scatological . . . I’m joking of course. I was always Proops, sadly that’s my name. Believe me, it’s not that much fun growing up with the name, but what can you do?”

      In LA, it’s easy to let fame change you. Not Proops. “I have a pool in my bedroom and I have a lap-dancing stripper pole in my kitchen. I have 47 cars, all of which have hydraulics which bounce up and down. I have a goat farm adjacent to the house and of course I have the croquet school I run here.”

      But Proops does tell a cautionary tale of fame concerning Jennifer Lopez. “A comedian friend of mine worked on In Living Color for eight years, and J.Lo was a dancer on that show. He saw her a year ago at The Ivy, which is a fancy restaurant in LA, and said Hey Jennifer, do you remember me?’ She said, No, I don’t remember anyone from that show.’ And he went, Other you should you see a therapist or something because we’ve known each other for 10 years.’ He said he ate lunch with her every day for three years.”

      Proops shone as host of US dating show Rendez View which was eventually axed in the September 11 aftermath of budget cuts. He and celebrity guests analyzed a couple on a date from drip-fed video footage. It was a rare thing in Hollywood – a comedian given creative control. So don’t blame comedians when they appear in bad movies, says Proops. Blame the business.

      “Show business is like The Sopranos. You’re in this family but everyone in this family is trying to kill you. It’s not like let’s all work together and try to make this as good as you can.’ If you succeed then someone’s going to try to cut your legs off at some point and bury you in a hill in New Jersey.

      “When you see comics who are funny and then they end up in the movies and they’re not funny, there’s a million reasons why. Robin Williams is a really gifted comedian, and he’s in, what, four or five really funny movies and about 30 movies that make you want to kill yourself. It’s not necessarily his doing.” But business is business. “There’s a certain point where you’re just a f⤓-ing whore and you’re just churning yourself out for cash but I think we all want that opportunity in life. Heaven knows that’s what we’re here in LA for.

      “There is no other reason that you’re in LA than to make money and be famous. If you wanted to be a serious artist you could do that anywhere, so I try to do both because I cannot ever play by anyone’s rules. I’ll just run around the world and do my thing because when you’re working here it’s good fun and when you’re not working here it’s just ridiculous. Like I say, if you kill one person each day, one day you might be famous.”

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