When asked what makes his fellow cast members of hit TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” such great partners in improvisation, Greg Proops drily responds, “I wouldn’t say they’re great.”
But in all seriousness, longtime performer Proops knows it’s the super-human wit of him and his fellow comedy masters like Ryan Stiles that has kept the improvisational comedy show a sensation for a collective 30 years, first on a British network before its hit runs on ABC and now The CW.
“I didn’t think when we first started that we’d be doing this 30 years later,” Proops says. “I think the thrill for people watching is that we really are making it all up. It’s the camaraderie between us, and that we’re all ourselves. I’m Greg, Ryan is Ryan. People see me on the street and they say, ‘Hi, Greg!’”
This live version of the show – featuring “Whose Line” veterans Proops, Stiles, Jeff B. Davis and Joel Murray – will involve constant audience participation, including audience members pitching prompts and interacting with performers on stage.
“I definitely like the live show better,” Proops says. “We hit the stage running and there’s a lot more audience participation. Every crowd is new, and it’s challenging.”
A Storied History – with Lots of Laughs
One of the longest-running cast members of the “Whose Line” television cast, Proops first appeared on the original British show in 1989.
“I was just a child then, of course,” he teases. “This really appealed to me because of the risk of doing an improv show live.”
Little did he know it would appeal to television audiences, too.
The show lasted a full decade in Britain, with little more structure than off-the-cuff skits about weird newscasters, quirky dating games and romantic songs created for audience members on the spot.
The show eventually transitioned to the U.S. thanks to cast member Ryan Stiles, then a co-star on “The Drew Carey Show,” who convinced Carey to pitch it to ABC.
“The producers were worried about what we were going to do. They said, ‘But there’s no script,’ and there was that argument,” Proops remembers. “I don’t think they expected it to be as popular as it was.”
Taking the Show on the Road
Touring with a live version of the show was the brainchild of Stiles in 1999.
Remaining popular for 20 years, the live show has proven as big a hit as the TV series, says Bob Derkach, the live show’s music director since its inception.
“Every show that we do is exciting and fresh,” says Derkach, who first met Stiles when both performed with The Second City comedy troupe. “Invariably, there will always be 100 moments that are fantastic.”
Derkach personally has the pleasure of improvising the back-up music for each show’s improvised songs, which span genres like R&B, soft rock, ‘80s glam, country and more.
“I have to listen to the lyrics the cast members come up with, and from that, formulate an arrangement and lead them into a chorus or another verse,” he says. “When you’re on the spot like that, it’s so much fun to jump into a style and see where you go.”
The Key to Great Improvisation
If the thought of going on stage without knowing what’s going to happen makes you nervous – Proops has the answer.
“Listening is the most important thing,” he says. “And don’t edit yourself. Just jump right in, and you’ll say something funny.”
Proops looks forward to hearing audiences’ prompts in Vegas, he says.
First, keep it clean – and no need to provide a whole story, as “we’ll figure that out,” he says.
“Keep it simple and intelligent. We’re not afraid to do Sherlock Holmes. We’re not afraid to do Shakespeare,” he says. “Every show, we set out to be as funny as we can and hit the ball out of the park.”
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