By David Wolinsky – Chicago Decider – March 25th, 2009

      Greg Proops is probably still best remembered as the bespectacled and loud-shirt-wearing performer from both the British and American iterations of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the improvisational “game show” that was unceremoniously canceled in 2006. This 17-year chunk of his career has understandably overshadowed his other endeavors, which include stand-up and a recent role in Flight Of The Conchords as a big-shot executive for the manufacturer of a for-women-only toothpaste. Because of his résumé, Proops has amassed his fair share of wrong impressions in the entertainment world. To help clear the air before his pair of stand-up shows at Zanies on Thursday and Friday, Decider asked Proops to set the record straight on a couple of mistaken notions about himself—including whether he owns an ocelot.

Misconception: Whose Line isn’t improvised.

Greg Proops: Often when you speak with a journalist—and I’m not including you—or civilians of any kind, they all say to you, “I could never get up and do that.” [Comedians] want to get up and do it, because we’re sick and we need the attention of strangers, and we need their aggravation and their approval every 15 to 30 seconds for one hour a night.

Decider: But when Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie performed here in 2008, they cherry-picked their suggestions and seemingly had formulas for their scenes. How do you explain that?

GP: When improv groups do that, they’re trying to make it a little easier for the folks to go into unfamiliar territory. I prefer to do it either way. I don’t care. Unless it’s something we’ve beaten into the ground, like if you ask for an occupation and they give you “doctor,” and you’ve done doctor a thousand times that week. Even though the audience doesn’t know it, we will often go, “No, can we have another one?” because we’ve done it too much lately. Just to give them a break so that we don’t do the same fuckin’ show over and over.

But on Whose Line, we did improvise everything, and we were given where we were going to stand and what game we were going to play in, because it was on TV. People say idiotic things like, “Did you guys ever not have a good night?” And it’s like, “Yeah, it was on TV, so they cut that part out.” It’s the miracle of television.

But we really did make it up and, yes, there were writers… [they] didn’t write anything we said. They would write the jokes Drew would say, and they would write the scenarios: “You’re William Shatner and you’re at the Grand Canyon” or whatever fucking nonsense they came up with. So, yes, there was a bunch of writers, which I always found hilarious, that you would have writers on an improv show.

Misconception: That celebrity guests on Whose Line were welcomed.

GP: I enjoyed doing Whose Line. But I never liked when they would stunt cast it on the American one. Like sometimes there’d be a female bodybuilder or a girl with a snake or fuckin’ Jerry Springer or something, and I always felt slightly insulted, like, “Are you kidding? I’m making stuff up off the top of my head here, with no script, and you bring out Jerry Springer?” Who’s turning in to see Jerry Springer on Whose Line? What extra audience is the woman with the snake pulling in? It basically took time away from whoever was in the fourth slot, which was me and Chip [Esten]. I always felt slightly like, “Really? I don’t come to your house and bring some sort of fuckin’ fire-eater ’cause I don’t think you’re entertaining enough.”

Misconception: He isn’t as smart as everyone thinks he is.

GP: [This started] because, as you’ve noticed over the last 15 to 20 years, people are illiterate idiots. The Inter-web might be the least fact-checked thing in the history of mankind. We’re almost to the medieval level of being able to create your own myth, because you can just spew utter nonsense over the Internet and everyone buys it. People read Wikipedia and then tell me things that they read on the Internet about me, and I go, “You’re kidding.”

D: Like what?

GP: Oh, I say I have an ocelot and it’s a joke, but I’ve had so many news programs in this country say, “So what’s it like, having an ocelot?” And I’ll say, “It’s marvelous just to see them run free. When feeding time comes and they’re mulling, it just warms your heart.” People will really believe fucking anything. You may have noticed this. It’s not just me. Look around.

D: Are you sure this isn’t just because you wear glasses?

GP: Oh, right. One: I have glasses. Two: I’ll use polysyllabic words sometimes because I’m verbose. Basically, I’m writing a long novel and I’m writing it one joke at a time because I’m too lazy to sit down and write a novel.

Misconception: Wayne Brady is as wholesome as his public image suggests.

GP: [Laughs.] We’re throwing out Wayne Brady’s careeer as well. That’s imperative to the public. He’s never here, but the thing about when he does my [variety] show at Largo is people get to see another side of him—kind of like [his foul-mouthed appearance on] Chappelle’s Show. Obviously he has an edge and he’s a grown-up man with opinions. I know his public image is pretty family-friendly, but he’s a little looser around me. I don’t know how to describe it. He throws down a lot harder and is a lot more adult. So, when he does my show, people are really delighted because then I also make him sing and he’ll get up and improvise the song, and then people are really blown out because not only was he funny off the top of his head, which he is, but he can also do those improv things, too.

Misconception: He’s no longer performing.

D: Actually, you stated this misconception as, “Why do I continue when it’s clear there has been no improvement?”

GP: [Laughs.] People will ask me straight-up a question that’s like asking a woman her age and weight. They’ll say, “How long have you been doing this?” I’m at the 30-year mark of doing this, and frankly, you’d think I would be funnier. You’d think I’d have more ideas at this point, after 30 bloody years of telling jokes, and that embarrasses me I guess. It’s my weakness. [Adopts mocking tone.] “Really? Thirty years, Greg? And you’re still entertaining the notion that people are liking this?”

D: So why do you continue when it’s clear there’s been no improvement?

GP: I have no plan B, and I have no skills other than getting up onstage and being an asshole playing charades. Also, my ego’s so huge that I really can’t do anything else. I don’t even like stop signs. I hate taking orders of any kind. I worked in a law office. I’ve had a dazzling variety of shitty jobs. And I just hated them. So I don’t have any choice really but to keep going.

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