The Void Comedy – March 17th, 2008

      On paper it sounds like a crazy idea. Take four comedians; no script; add suggestions from the audience; blend and serve. Yet surprisingly, that simple formula helped make one of the funniest and most highly original programmes of the 1990s, and helped to make Channel 4 the home of intelligent and funny comedy.

      Spanning ten series in the UK (before it was Americanised) and making improvisation look sexy, Whose Line is it Anyway mixed the best of British wit with the anarchic world of the American improvisation circuit. The show featured not just well-known faces on the British screen (Stephen Fry, Peter Cook and Tony Slattery among them), but it also introduced the British to the likes of Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Mick McShane, who were all big players in America. The show also helped to launch the careers of a certain Mr Paul Merton and Ms Josie Lawrence, who now seem synonymous with improvisation.

      With games like Sitting, Standing, Leaning and Theatre Styles, as well as the infamous Hoedown, the show was a heady blend of fast-paced gags, quick retorts and audience suggestions. Much of the charm of the program lied in the sheer impressiveness and speed with which the performers manage to take the different and often bizarre requests and challenges that are thrown at them. While some performers were better than others (anyone who doesn’t laugh at the comedy partnerships of Stiles and Mochrie or Sessions and Merton clearly need to get out and experience life a bit more), the consistency and pace of the show keeps the viewer entertained at a level that modern day equivalents like Mock the Week or Thank God You’re Here could only dream of.

      To celebrate the release of the first two series of Whose Line is it Anyway, The Void managed to blag some time with the bitter, bespectacled American one they call Greg Proops.

What first got you interested in comedy?

      I grew up in the 60s and 70s and there were great comics on TV plus shows like Laugh-In. George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin were huge and comedy seemed like an option to me.

You are probably best known in Britain for being on Whose Line is it Anyway?. How did you first get involved with the show?

      They came out to San Francisco in 1988 to audition American comedians for the show, but I was at a gig in Idaho on the day so missed out. Thank fuck they came back again the next year and I got on. The producer loved yanks.

Why do you think Whose Line… became such a successful show?

      It was new and legitimately spontaneous. Plus the likes of Tony Slattery, Josie Lawrence, John Sessions, Mike McShane and Paul Merton made it great to be involved with.

Is there any particular moment from the show which sticks in your mind for a good or a bad reason?

      Tony’s pants split during a taping and I saw everything. That sticks in my mind for the wrong reasons.

What is worst in improvisation: making a gag that fails or not making a gag at all?

      Failing funny is one of the most important improv tenets.

You have previously lived in London and the UK, how does living in Britain compare to living in the US?

      Well it’s certainly a lot wetter! I love the UK, the people could not be cooler to me over there.

You have also done several stand-up tours in the UK as well as America, which tend to be fairly politically based. Do you have a particular style or brand of comedy that you adhere to?

      I’d probably describe myself as a snotty, sarcastic, caustic humanist. That’s fairly accurate.

Did you have any heroes that you wanted to emulate when you started performing?

      Of course. I don’t think there’s one comedian who could say they didn’t. Mine were probably George Carlin, Will Durst and my late friend Warren Thomas.

Have you achieved everything you want to in comedy yet? If not, what else would you like to do?

      I’d like to travel the world more. Apparently Americans can do that now.

You recently have started posting videos and podcasts online. Do you feel that the internet is comedy’s new home?

      It’s certainly one of them, but I still dig performing live best.

Quick Fire Questions:

Favourite Film?

      Butch Cassidy

Last CD you bought or listened to?

      I listened to Led Zep 2 this morning

Drink of choice?

      Vodka, rocks

Favourite comedian at the moment?

      Lenny Bruce

Which Star Wars character would get your vote if they stood for President?

      Probably my own one, Fode the pod race announcer from Phantom Menace.

If America could adopt one country as a 51st state, what country would it be and why?

      Well, we have already kind of adopted Britain, but you don’t have voting rights like Puerto Rico.

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