People who watch comedians Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood expect danger.
So there will be danger — and stupidity — on stage when Mochrie and Sherwood bring their improvisational skills to Proctors in Schenectady on Saturday.
“It’s the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Improv Game,’ which is a really stupid game, but the audience loves it,” Mochrie said in a recent telephone interview. “We tried to get rid of it, but they won’t let us do it. There are a hundred large mousetraps on stage. Brad and I are barefoot and blindfolded doing an improv scene. It’s just as stupid as it sounds — I wish I could say there was some sort of satirical bent to it, but no. It’s just a chance to see minor celebrities in pain.”
Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday at 8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $45.75, $35.75, $29.75
MORE INFO: 382-1083, www.proctors.org
The pain’s OK, as long as the audience is in stitches. Mochrie and Sherwood follow the formula of their old “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” television series during their self-titled stage show, taking suggestions from the audience to create outrageous routines.
Part of the show
“We ask for fairly benign yet unusual things, we never ask for topical or political stuff,” said Sherwood, in a separate phone conversation. “We’re not going to do stuff about the cast of ‘Jersey Shore’ or the current political climate, things like that. I think people come to our show to get away from all that garbage, and that’s well-worn territory by stand-ups.”
Members of the audience put the pinballs of this comedy machine in play. They’re part of the show.
“We kind of look to the creative side of people for a starting point,” Sherwood said. “Like something unusual you would find in the attic of an old house and a type of business that would never exist in the world. You’ll end up with Larry’s Freeze-Dried Camel Mart as a starting place, which is certainly a challenge for us because it doesn’t exist.”
Challenge is a key word for the comics. They want to keep their show bouncing off the walls, but also look for ways to improve the improv and keep it fresh.
“Even if we do the same set list every night, because we’re getting different suggestions, the scenes will be different,” said the 54-year-old Mochrie. “When we first started this, we thought ‘Well, we’ve got a limited number of games.’ Because there are only two of us, every year we seem to have a little renaissance, a brainstorming session where we come up with three or four new games.”
The guys have been on the improvisational path for most of their careers. Mochrie said he has never considered his form of comedy work.
“Stand-up would be terrifying for me,” he said. “When we’re doing improv, we’re getting everything from the audience, so they’re invested in what we do. They like to see us in trouble, but they also want us to get out of it. . . . We’re using their suggestions, they’re a major part of the show.
“With stand-up, it’s ‘OK, you think you’re funny, prove it to us.’ There’s a little more animosity there, there’s a little more leeway to suck.”
Sherwood, 47, also appreciates his specialization.
“So many stand-ups are so stressed out by the constant volume of having to devour all the news of the world and trying to synthesize it into a 45-minute comedy act. That doesn’t appeal to us. What we’re doing is completely creative. We’re not trying to perfect a joke, polish it to a high gloss and then repeat it a thousand times when we’re out on tour. We come up with these jokes that we’ll never say again which make this audience laugh. And we don’t have to worry about it because we know we’re going to come up with another joke that makes the next audience laugh.”
Most of the bits work. But all of them?
“Oh God, no. I would love to say yes,” Mochrie said. “But the beauty of improv is it’s always got a 50-50 chance of working out. We’ve been pretty fortunate. We’ve been touring the last eight years and between us we’ve got like 60 years of experience in improv. So our success rate tends to probably be a little higher because we know how to get out of things. And if one bit doesn’t work that well, you’re on to the next one.”
There are never improvisations at home. Mochrie’s comic deadpan face would come out for real if friends ever suggested a game of charades.
“For me, that would be the most horrific evening ever,” he said. “I’m very fortunate that my group of friends are all much funnier than me, . . . so I don’t have any pressure to perform or do anything like that. We do have game nights every once in a while, a little Pictionary.”
Like his stage partner, Sherwood doesn’t worry about bits that bust. He said the comedians always know when jokes or routines bomb.
“If you say something and there’s no noise, you know it didn’t work,” he said. “It’s just like when you were a kid, playing with firecrackers on the Fourth of July. If it didn’t go pop, you knew that one was a dud. You put another one down on the ground and lit it.”
Controlling own destiny
Mochrie is satisfied with his station on stage. But he’d love to be part of a comedy series that became so popular a farewell episode would send everyone home happy.
“I’ve always wanted that, where there are like months leading up to it,” he said. “That being said, I love doing the show with Brad because we’re in charge, sort of, of our own destiny. If it goes well, it’s because of us. If it sucks, it’s because of us. We don’t have to worry about network executives. But if anyone out there in Schenectady is producing, I’m there.”