Whether or not you consciously know it, improv comedy has a deep connection to almost everything that makes you laugh—from the hallowed halls of the Second City to the Upright Citizens' Brigade's fostering of countless big-name comedians.
And there, somewhere in the fray, or perhaps floating ominously overhead, has stood Whose Line is it Anyway?, the British program of improvisational comedy games that premiered there in 1989 wound up in America a decade later under the moderation of Drew Carey, and again more recently on The CW with Aisha Tyler of Archer fame. The show churned out comedy stars like Wayne Brady and Greg Proops and made big names of quick-witted comedy stalwarts like Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie, a pair that comes to Santa Fe this week for their Scared Scriptless tour.
A veritable cornucopia of familiar games from Whose Line, new ones Sherwood and Mochrie have developed over 16 years of touring together and 30 years of friendship, Scriptless is the culmination of a lot of hard work and comedic know-how.
For some (I'm one of those some), this news will be exciting; for others, improv conjures vision of college student nonsense perpetrated by talentless 19-year-olds stumbling their way through references to bullshit. All Sherwood and Mochrie ask is that you keep an open mind.
"I don't think anybody wants to see bad improv," Sherwood tells SFR. He missed our first scheduled phone interview, but that's OK because I've been watching Whose Line since the womb and he can do what he wants. "Amazing improv, that's hilarious, but it lives and dies by people's first experiences. If you go see a stand-up, and they're not funny, that doesn't mean you'll never see stand-up again. If you see bad improv …"
Lucky, then, that Sherwood and Mochrie are brilliant and part of the semi new guard that merges American, British and Canadian humor sensibilities. For
Mochrie, a native of Canada, it might come down to geography.
"We were fortunate enough in that we got the best of American and British comedy, and we really seem to understand both forms," Mochrie says of his homeland. "American humor could be more observational and acerbic; Britain could be more surreal, like Monty Python. And we seem to have melded some sort of humor from those two."
Sherwood, meanwhile, grew up in Santa Fe and attended Santa Fe Prep and Santa Fe High, so it's anyone's guess as to why he's so funny. (Jay kay.)
"[After college] I moved to LA, and was working in production when a friend of mine said I should do this improv class he was taking," Sherwood reminisces. "I always say it's like the heavens opened up and this was what I was supposed to do—like someone handed me a martial art."
But it's also about keeping spry—years of touring would keep any improviser sharp—and punching up. In 2017, Mochrie's daughter Kinley came out as trans, and as he was defending her right to exist, he was also learning to undo years of comedic and personal conditioning.
"When my daughter came out, I posted [about support] on Twitter, and I received an email from a gentleman in London who ran an LGBTQ+ improv troupe who said congrats for being so supportive, but could I be more aware of the homophobic and transphobic things I do on Whose Line? And it was sort of, 'Oh, yeah. It's the lazy laugh to go with,'" Mochrie says. "I'm fighting 60 years of conditioning—I've never been consciously racist or transphobic, and yet, some of the stuff that has come out during my improv was because of the time I grew up; you get a lot of positive feedback, but there's a flip side where you can say one thing that immediately destroys a whole segment of the population."
Mochrie says that because of this, he's evolved as a performer and comedian. He's been mindful of how his words affect people: "It makes you work harder and work toward not doing the lazy joke," he says. "You get laughs without denigrating a section of the population." He's also been known to call out comics for transphobic material.
As for the Santa Fe show, expect proven Whose Line games like sound effects and the moving body (Google them if you don't know; laugh a little), audience pariticpation and, if the audience is lucky/feeling sadistic, the mouse trap game which, without spoilers, is probably every bit as painful as its name implies. Still, there's a sibling-like camaraderie onstage that doesn't always occur naturally in the comedy world. In that industry, there is cutthroat competition and the brutal race to the top. Sherwood and Mochrie, however, have risen, smartly, in tandem.
"I hate to use the word competition, because it has the negative aspect, but we're trying to one-up each other to see who can have the most fun," Mochrie says.
"I think it teaches you not to take failure as a setback, but to turn it into something funny," Sherwood says. "Improv teaches you that there's an infinite number of choices you can make."
Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie: Scared Scriptless:
7:30 pm Friday March 15. $40-$58.
Lensic Performing Arts Center,
211 W San Francisco St.,