19 Great ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ Moments for Each of Its 19 Seasons
As Whose Line Is It Anyway? gets ready to kick off its 20th and final season, it leaves behind an incredibly long legacy of inspired improv. Calculate the number of scenes per show times the number of shows per season times 19 seasons and you get a heck of a lot of comedy. “Stamina has been my watchword throughout my career,” Whose Line? ironman Colin Mochrie told us previously. (He’s appeared on every single show). “I was always planning to hang in until everyone else quit or died.”
Thankfully, everyone is still alive and joking as we celebrate 19 thrillingly spontaneous moments from the previous 19 seasons of Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
Living Scenery with Richard Simmons
“Richard Simmons is responsible for one of the funniest moments on television,” Mochrie told me earlier this year, and who am I to argue? This scene from 2003, which requires two of the improvisers to become an arsenal of inanimate props, shows that Simmons was more than an energetic diet-plan pitchman. The dude had some legit comedic chops, as he plays into a horndog persona that has everyone on the floor.
One brilliant aspect of Whose Line is its ability to incorporate amateurs into scenes — and somehow turn their complete lack of comedic ability into something that’s just as funny as what the professionals are doing. The two ladies providing the sound effects for this Tarzan scene are simultaneously terrible and Emmy-worthy.
The best improv games are deceptively simple, like this one that allows the comics to only speak in questions. It’s harder than it looks, and as the audience slowly comes to appreciate the degree of difficulty, the funnier it gets.
It’s always amusing to see Mochrie attempt a hoedown. “If you’re a fan of my work,” he says modestly (and accurately), “you know the musical element of improv isn’t really in my wheelhouse.” Mochrie more or less talk-rhymes his way through these things and yet makes it work. This particular hoedown makes our anniversary list for clean-up hitter Ryan Stiles, who can’t quite sing his way through his own jokes.
The brilliance of Whose Line’s film-noir games is that they gave Mochrie and Stiles small moments to break free from the scenes and talk directly to camera, a bit that rarely misses. When an audience member shouted out the suggestion that this particular film noir should take place in a lingerie store, we knew the scene would be money in the bank.
Scenes from a Hat
“The hat” wasn’t really necessary for these scenes, which was usually based on some version of “Things you can say about a _____ but not your partner.” (In this case, the blank is filled in with “movie.”) Here’s a naughty little Whose Line secret — even though it was touted as a show one could watch with the entire family (and it was), the improvisers were pretty fluent in sexual innuendo. Games like “Scenes from a Hat” were designed to see how close to the line the comics could tiptoe without crossing over into depravity.
While Whose Line was improvised, that didn’t mean the show wasn’t above teeing up its stars for some easy layups. “Weird Newscasters” was a game that allowed Drew Carey to do just that — if he knew Chip Esten had a funny Snagglepuss imitation, then “Snagglepuss as a newscaster” might be the assignment. Less of an automatic slam dunk in this scene is Stiles’ role as a weatherman who doubles as the “rise and fall of a Hollywood legend of the silver screen.” It’s a tour de force.
Props with Robin Williams
Mochrie’s favorite guest star of all time shows up to play some Props. “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,” Mochrie explains. “He was one of those people who knew all the crew’s names within 20 minutes. Truly a team player.”
Another audience-participation game that somehow gets funnier the worse its amateur participants are. Foolproof!
A number of favorite Whose Line games have a guessing component, like this one where Kathy Greenwood has to figure out who her unusual party guests are. That extra element of “who am I?” is always fun, even if Mochrie gives Greenwood a viable case to take to human resources.
Let’s Make a Date
We’re putting these two scenes back-to-back as a little peek into how the comedy sausage is made. While this Dating Game parody is ostensibly about choosing an eligible bachelor for a night on the town, it’s essentially the same improv game as “Party Quirks” — once again, Greenwood has to interact with unknown characters to determine their ridiculous identities. It’s like Shakespeare said, “When you get down to it, there are only nine improv games.”
Whose Line employed a number of crazy-impressive musical talents, most notably Wayne Brady and Brad Sherwood. While many improvisers could probably fake their way through a blues song or a histrionic opera parody, there’s a high degree of difficulty in Sherwood’s ability to instantly deliver a frantic French can-can number. Viva le Sherwood!
If You Know What I Mean
Once again, family favorite Whose Line provides a little something for sleazy Uncle Larry with an entire game devoted to sex jokes. One of the funniest parts is watching Canada’s Dad Mochrie deliver unlikely punchlines like “I’ve been busy squeezing the melons, if you know what I mean.”
Sometimes, you discover gold where you least expect it. In this case, it’s when Carey wanders into the audience and finds retired lunch lady Leigh to be the focus of Brady’s raunchy stripogram number. Somehow, Brady ends up being the one most embarrassed by his own bumping and grinding.
The concept behind this Whose Line game is a little morbid (why couldn’t the inanimate actors be “mannequins” instead of “dead bodies”?), but it’s another can’t-miss audience-participation gem. No talent needed here except for the ability to close your eyes and do nothing. This scene cracks us up as once again, Mochrie shows off his lascivious side. Remind me why we let the kids watch this?
With superhero movies ruling the multiplex, why wouldn’t Whose Line get in on the action? Carey is funny as the cantankerous host who can’t believe how cold it is in the studio (“there are witches backstage dipping their breasts in hot coffee”), a true-life situation that becomes a crisis only Cottage Cheese Man and his super-pals can solve.
Number of Words
Like “Questions Only,” “Number of Words” is harder than it looks, with each improviser given a concrete number of words for every line of dialogue. For example, Mochrie can only speak in two-word sentences, Brady has to use three, Stiles… Oh, it’s easier just to watch. As a rule, games that take a while to explain don’t work very well, but check out this Mummy scene to see how hilarious a well-played “Number of Words” can be.
A Whose Line scene named after itself? It’s ready-made for the quick wits of Stiles and Mochrie, a game that requires its players to pull random lines of dialogue out of their pants and seamlessly integrate them into the scene. The element of the unknown makes this scene sing — that and the fact that sometimes, a guy just has to shut up and touch the monkey.
Fittingly, let’s end with a show-stopper. This game requires the comics to stop mid-scene and use their last line of dialogue as the launching pad for a Broadway-style production number designed to bring the people to their feet. Most often, it’s not the improvisers’ musical prowess that wows us (well, it is when we’re talking Brady or Sherwood), but like many a plucky Broadway player, you can get a long way with enthusiasm.
To prove it, let’s all join in a raucous chorus of “Without a Hole, Where Would You Be?”