Colin Mochrie has made a career of making it up as he goes along – literally.
An accomplished comedic improviser who’s worked with the famed Second City troupe in Toronto and featured on the ABC show “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”, Mochrie talked up the mantra of improv, “Yes, and …,” during a recent phone interview. “Yes, and …” allows improv performers to suggest a scenario that their scene partner must agree to – no matter how ridiculous – then build on. It’s a technique he will use when he joins Brad Sherwood on stage for a show April 30 at the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts.
Question: You guys have been doing this for a long time and been to a lot of places. When you take suggestions from the audience, is there a common phrase that comes up all the time, or is it all over the place?
Answer: At these kinds of shows, usually people yell out gynecologist or proctologist, which we have yet to take. We will never take that. Most of the prep work we do for our show is try and figure out ways of getting suggestions that we’ve never had before so every show is totally different.
Brad and I find the show works best when we’re constantly on our toes, have a hard time catching our breathe or are in a constant state of panic, so we’ve worked the show so there is no comfort level, because that’s when the magic happens.
Q: I imagine some nights are better than others, but do you find you have a lot of shows when you get backstage with Brad and go, “That was magic?”
A: The beauty and curse of improv is that once the scene is over, you can’t remember anything that went on. You do remember the things that went horribly wrong, but you rarely remember the good times. We’re heading into our 14th year of touring together, so we have a pretty high success just from the fact that we worked together so long. We kinda know what we’re doing, and the audience is so pumped because they know the show and us. It’s usually just a really fun night that, so far, our batting average is pretty good.
Q: You’ve had such a long improv relationship with Brad that it almost sounds like a marriage.
A: Absolutely. It really helps when you’re improvising that you totally trust the person you’re improvising with, because basically, they’re all that you have. The people in the audience pay good money to see a show, and we don’t have one when we walk on stage. You really depend on your partner. I totally trust (Brad), so if he’s heading off into a direction where I’m not quite sure what it’s about, I’m willing to follow along to see what happens.
Q: You’re a veteran of Second City, but now there are many high-profile improv groups like UCB and ComedySportz. Do you know if these other groups have different techniques to improv, or does it all come down to “Yes, and …”
A: Yeah, the basic rules are the same: Listening (to your partner) and “Yes, and …” The formats change and the people who work together may change, but the basic rules don’t change. You need them to get a scene going to make your partner look good, and that needs to go across the board.
Q: Since you work with “Yes, and …” all the time, in your normal life do you enjoy saying, “No?”
A: Actually, in the last couple of years, my wife and I made the conscious decision to say, “Yes, and …” more in our lives. If you had film of one day of your life and reviewed it, it’s actually surprising how often you say no to people. By saying yes to things we weren’t quite sure about, it’s taken us to these great places. We met great people, we went to the Congo for two weeks, which two years ago we might have been a little leery about but it ended up one of the best trips of our lives. If everybody said yes more in their lives, the world would be a better place.
It sounds so simple, but it’s really hard. Brad and I were hired by G.E. to teach a bunch of their executives improv because they were having trouble as a team. We spent two hours just trying to get them to say yes. Once somebody finally did it, you can see the light go on for everybody.
Q: Were these executives from the United States?
A: Yes they were.
When: 8 p.m. April 30
Where: University at Buffalo Center for the Arts