Colin Mochrie’s Favorite ‘Whose Line’ Guests Are Robin Williams and... Richard Simmons?
It’s the final rodeo for the ironman improvisers at Whose Line Is It Anyway? (or is it?), the venerable comedy show that’s continued to ad-lib new episodes since 1998. As production gets underway for a 20th season, who better to consider the show’s hysterical history than Colin Mochrie, the comedian who has appeared on every single dang episode?
And so, I recently spoke to Mochrie about the changing face of comedy, the legacy of Whose Line and some surprising choices for his favorite guest stars of all time.
On Making It to Season 20
Everyone’s a little older, everyone’s a little slower. We’ve got some great surprise guests. But basically, it’s that same made-up, zany fun. The beauty of Whose Line is it really is the cheapest show on television. We shoot 22 to 25 games in a single day. But it’s not like we’re coal miners; we’re running around on stage and goofing around with our friends for a couple hours.
My very first show in the British (Whose Line, which predates the American version), my daughter was two months old. She just turned 32. So it’s actually shocking. We were very fortunate. We were off the air in 2002. And when I was touring with Brad (Sherwood), we noticed our audience was getting younger. And it was because all the kids who weren’t alive during the early days were catching it on YouTube. That was really the reason why it came back on the CW. They noticed that there was this new young audience — although, let’s face it, we’re the oldest show on the CW. We could have sired every star on every other show. But it’s been good. Part of the longevity is you can see how much we enjoy each other and what fun we have.
It’s a perfect TikTok show, you just throw one scene on. It’s a goofy show, and goofy is timeless. Everybody can relate to goofy. It goes across all religions and languages. We’re also shameless, and we will do anything for a laugh. It’s just a bunch of guys getting together and having fun.
On His Favorite Guests
Richard Simmons is responsible for one of the funniest moments on television. He was so committed to what we were doing and obviously had a lot of fun doing it. I truly believe, all humility aside, that is one of the 100 funniest moments in television history.
And for me, when Sid Caesar was on the show. It was like his 80th birthday, and he was fragile — he had to use a cane. But once he was doing this scene with Drew and having Ryan and I translate for them, he was just spectacular. (Back on Your Show of Shows), he did an hour and a half live with a great, great supporting cast and some of the best comedy writers ever — Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks. Anyone who had a hit show in the 1970s and 1980s usually had a showrunner and creator who had worked with Sid Caesar.
Robin Williams was incredibly special to all of us because we all adored him and were mentored by him in a way. He was an Oscar winner, not only amazing in his talent but also in his generosity. He was one of those people who knew all the crew’s names within 20 minutes. Truly a team player.
Even when he would do stand-up, he would improvise a lot. But he was by himself. Here was a chance to throw things off of people. (Outside of Whose Line), I don’t think he got a chance to jump in with an improv group and start improvising. He had so much fun. Actually, his manager was trying to get him off set early because he had to fly back to Vancouver because he was filming One Hour Photo at the time. But it was, “No, no, no, I’d rather be doing this.” He pumped up everyone’s energy 150 percent. There was no way you could work with him and just walk through it. You just were pumped.
On How Comedy Has Changed Since ‘Whose Line’ Began in 1998
Everyone’s a little gun-shy because there’s so much knee-jerking to things. When Brad and I are doing “Off the Cuff” (their traveling tour), off the top, we say we’re not going to take any political suggestions. This started during the Bush years. We found you do something even slightly political, and you immediately divide half your audience. And that’s not what our show is about. We’re not there to do hard-hitting social or political satire. We’re just there to be goofy. So that was different for us, having to make the audience think about what they were suggesting.
We can still push the envelope, and we’ll always do that. There will always be criticism. That’s happened since the history of comedy — George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, etc. It's gotten to the point where we don’t have to worry about being arrested. I guess there’s cancel culture, but I don’t know, is there? People are going to watch the people they want to watch. You just have to be funny. It just has to be smart. It could be smartly offensive, but you have to punch up. You have to make fun of the people who have all the power. The people who are making the decisions on our lives without always conferring with us first.
On What He Will Miss the Most About ‘Whose Line’
I’ll miss the people — not only the people working on stage but the group. We’ve gone through so many things over 30 years. A lot of the crew has been there for the entire time, so we’ve seen marriages happen and dissolve, kids born, and unfortunately, some people pass away. But it really has been like a big family. I will miss that. When I walked in on Saturday (for the final season’s initial taping), I was like, “My God, I haven’t done this in four years!” Then the minute you walk on set, it’s like, “Oh no, I did this yesterday.”
On the legacy of ‘Whose Line’
I’ll remember a show that showcased my only talent and gave me a career. It gave me a chance to do what I love all around the world.
I love the fact that Whose Line introduced improv into the mainstream. Improv had been around for years. You had Second City, of course, but improv was mostly used then to come up with new scenes for the next show. It certainly wasn’t widespread until Whose Line came along. Nobody knew what improv was.
A lot of improv purists hate the show, which I understand. But we never claim that this is the end-all, be-all of improv. I like to call it the vaudeville of improv. This leads you to long-form, to all the different kinds of improv that have been honed over the years. Whose Line was a way to get the audience to go, “Oh, this is what improv is.” Sort of Improv 101.
I think especially young people saw this and thought, “This looks really cool. I want to do this.” They started high school improv troupes. Colleges started improv troupes. There was one at Harvard that I worked with. Karen Chee, who was the head of it, went on to work for Seth Meyers. Improv is a great skill to have — not only if you’re going to do it for a profession, but it’s a great life skill to have. It makes you feel more confident in situations. It quickens your thought process and makes you sharper. And it helps you troubleshoot little problems that you come up with in day-to-day living. You improvise different ways of getting around that obstacle until you find the one that works.