Brad Sherwood discusses Improv comedy, being a security guard, and his current tour with Whose Line is it Anyway alum Colin Mochrie.
When did you develop an interest in comedy?
I’ve liked being funny since I was a kid. I was always a funny kid. A lot of my family members were humorous. A sense of humor was a way of life.
What were you like in school?
I was kind of a class clown. Trying to make people laugh all the time. I wasn’t a disruptive hyperactive class clown. I was just the funny guy saying stuff, not the one to pull pranks.
When did you first discover Improv?
I saw a group when I was in college. I was in a sketch group at the time and we went to see this three men group perform at a little club. I was blown away by how funny their act was. Later, I got involved in an Improv group when I moved to Los Angeles after college. I’ve been doing it ever since.
What was the name of the sketch group you were involved in during college?
The Generic Comedy Troupe and our slogan was, “Just Plain Funny.”
What sort of sketches would you perform?
It was a live Monty Python style Saturday Night Live type thing. Premise driven, goofy sketches that were two to six minutes long. We created our own little Second City and performed in clubs and theaters in our area.
Do you remember any of the sketches that you would do?
There was one called Commando Delicatessen. Everyone that worked there was in fatigues and interrogated the customers as though they were prisoners of war when taking their order. We’d crawl on the floor to their tables.
Is standup comedy something that you considered at that time?
I did standup a couple of times, but it didn’t appeal to me that much. I didn’t care for having to do the same act over and over again. I think standups actually have more of an adversarial relationship with audiences where as we have more of a collaborative relationship with an audience.
When did you first perform Improv in front of an audience?
My first real show was with a group called Go For Broke that I joined out in Los Angeles and we started performing at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood. That was a blast. We had a full crowd and did a great show.
What were the next few years like for you after that?
I was with a bunch of different groups. Go For Broke, Theater Sports, and I did Second City. I was very active in the Improv community in LA. I was doing shows four or five times a week at different theaters and clubs.
What were you doing at the time to support yourself financially?
I was working in TV production for part of that time, working behind the scenes as a gopher for TV shows. Delivering scripts and stuff like that. Then I got a couple of acting jobs and started living off of my work in television and commercials.
When did you get involved in Second City?
I got involved when they brought Second City out to Los Angeles. This was in the 90s out in Santa Monica. I joined the workshop there and got into the touring company as an understudy in the main show.
Who else were you touring with at the time?
My tour company had Andy Dick, Mark Decarlo, and Megan Cavenagh. She was in a League of Their Own. Mark has a show on the Travel Channel, Taste of America with Decarlo.
Where did you go from there?
I continued to work and do television. I’ve done lots of TV over the years. Then I got onto Whose Line, did three years on the British version and all the seasons of the American Version. In the last five years I’ve been going out on the road doing live shows.
How did you get involved with Whose Line?
I knew Ryan Stiles. I worked with Ryan in Second City and was actually his understudy in the main show. He told me that the producers of the British Whose Line were coming to town and told me to audition.
When were you a security guard?
That was my first job when I moved to Los Angeles. I worked the graveyard shift on the top floor of a high rise in down town Los Angeles.
When you become a security guard, what sort of preparation goes into that?
You have to go down to the wardrobe office in downtown LA and they give you a blue blazer that fits you, a white shirt, clip on tie, and gray pants. They say go to this address at midnight and sit there until eight O’clock in the morning. It’s that difficult to get that job.
There was no training?
So, you wouldn’t know how to kill a man twelve different ways with your thumbs?
I already knew how to do that and I never had to use it. It’s one of the skills I picked up working in Improv.
Were you often dropping things from the top floor?
I think they were wise enough to have all of the windows closed so that I couldn’t do that. I spent a lot of time sitting on the couch and watching David Letterman.
When you went over to England to film Whose Line, what was that like?
It was fun. I had never been to England before, so it was a fun working vacation. We had a lot of down time because we would shoot on the weekends and then have the rest of the week to hang out in London.
To your knowledge, does Whose Line hold the record for tallest Improv collective?
Yes, our mean and average height is taller than every comedy group. We outrank Monty Python, I believe. They have a lot of short, squatty people. Ryan is 6′ 6″, I’m 6′ 4″, Colin is 6′ 2″, Greg and Chip are six foot. Wayne’s kinda short. I think he’s 5′ 10″. He’s a shrimp.
How did it feel to no longer be the tallest person in the room?
I got used to it. I’ve been working with Ryan for so long. It’s kind of nice to have someone that sticks out as an actual freak. It places me in the category of normalcy. I figure that as long as I hang out with him, if something’s going to be bumped into by a tall person it’ll be him first and I can learn from his mistakes.
Other than Whose Line, what else were you involved in at the time?
I was still doing live comedy in and around Los Angeles. I did a sketch comedy show called The Newz. It was a half hour sketch show that was syndicated. Did sixty-three episodes of that. That was a really fun and creative project. I’d fly down to Florida to shoot that.
What changes have you noticed in Improv since you’ve started?
Now, with having had Whose Line on American television for the last eight years, there’s an awareness of it throughout the country that didn’t know about it before. It used to be something that was around in comedy clubs, theaters, or if someone went to see Second City’s Improv set, but normal people didn’t know much about it. Now it’s being taught in theater classes, curriculums in high schools, grade schools, and colleges. It’s an integral part of performing. Now most colleges have an Improv troupe or team.
What changes have you noticed in comedy in general?
I don’t think there’s much of a change in comedy as far as standup and sketch are concerned. There’s always going to be sitcoms and standups. There are different types of standups. There’s the character standups, angry, observational, prop standups. Same with sitcoms. There are family ones, wacky sitcoms. It’s not a formula that’s going to get completely reinvented.
Do people often send you recordings of themselves doing Improv?
Thank goodness they don’t. I’ve been lucky enough to never get a recording of someone doing Improv.
How do you deal with people approaching you in the street?
I just say hello. I don’t get recognized often. When people do recognize me or Colin, they’re very nice to us. We’re such nice people during the show and we are ourselves on the show, so we have an air of familiarity. It’s not a creepy Brad Pitt thing where we have a bunch of stalkers. And we’re not like Jean Claude Van Damn where people try to size us up and see how tough we are.
Do you watch Improv?
I do it nonstop, so I don’t necessarily watch it. I have friends that do shows here in Los Angeles, so if they’re starting a new format I might go see it.
Which Improv games do you enjoy?
I like the ones that work best on a particular night. We play a bunch of different games in our show and we’re always rotating new things in. It’s ever changing. Sometimes there’s a game that doesn’t work well and then another night it ends up being the funniest part of the show.
Are there any, then, that you dislike?
I wouldn’t do them if I disliked them. There are hundreds of Improv games out there. Some are teaching tools to learn the skills of Improv, some are acting games to get you out of your shell, and then others are performance worthy.
How do you feel about short form Improv Vs. long form Improv?
I like them both. Most people start out in short form and then evolve into doing long form. Most groups that stay together for more than five years end up trying out long form. But I think audiences, for the most part, enjoy more of the games format of Whose Line.
What do you think of the Green Screen show?
I like it. It’s a fun project to work on. One of the coolest things about it is that we shoot our segment and then it gets sent off to animators and then we don’t get to see it till it airs. We have no idea what they’re going to animate with us, what style they’re going to use, or what jokes they’re going to add that are visual. It’s exciting.
Will there be an Improv documentary that you’re involved in?
If there is one and they ask me to be in it, I would be involved. I would bet that, eventually, there will be one, maybe, along the lines of The Aristocrats where people discuss it. Someone, once, did shoot an Improv documentary that I was a part of. It was for Canadian TV and they interviewed many people, but I didn’t get to see it.
Tell me about Wiener Takes All.
I’m not officially involved in it. I was in a light beer commercial years ago where they had this add campaign where they were combining sports with one thing to make another. They did wiener dog races. They were racing dachshunds drag race style and since then wiener dog owners have started holding annual races. They listed me in the credits because of that commercial.
How did the Brad and Colin tour come to be?
We had been performing together with the All Stars a lot. I had been doing a two-man comedy show around the country and having success with that, I asked if he would do this two-man show. I had been perfecting this two-man show and we could take it to big theaters. We gave it a try, went out, did a successful twenty shows, and we’ve been at it for the last three years.
How do you feel about doing a two-man show compared to something like Whose Line?
It’s fun. We get to be on stage the entire time and it’s less ways you have to split the money.
How did you decide whose name went first on the marquee?
We decided that age would come before beauty and talent.
How did you come up with the World’s Most Dangerous Improv game?
That was a game that I used to play with Theater Sports. We played all sorts of wacky games that were stupid, dangerous, and difficult. That was one that I thought would translate well to our live shows.
Who sets the traps?
The stage crew at the theater. That’s their penalty for having us come to their theater.
Do you have a special arrangement with mousetrap manufacturers?
We should as soon as possible. If we do a hundred shows a year that means a hundred different cities have to buy a hundred different mousetraps. That’s ten thousand mousetraps that we’re adding to the books of the mousetrap company.
What happens to the mousetraps after the shows over?
A lot of them fans grab, we find some after the show, or the stage crew sweeps them up and throws them away.
Are there any other hazardous Improv games out there?
We play a game called Moving Bodies and sometimes you get hurt doing that because you have other people moving you. I got a fat lip the other night doing that. Someone slapped me with Colin’s hand and it caught me right in the jaw.
What are the origins of most of these games?
Every game that happened on Whose Line already existed out in the world of Improv from Second City, Theater Sports, or Comedy Sports. These are all games that have been around for decades and have been good teaching tools and performance games. It’s a mater of finding the ones that work best for our shows or Whose Line. Some work best when they’re filmed because they’re more visual, while others depend on how many people you have in the show. There are many different factors.
Are there any that you’ made up yourself?
I came up with a game called New Choice. It was originally a teaching tool from when I was teaching Improv at Theater Sports. You have someone on the sidelines, two people are doing a scene, and while they’re doing the scene you have someone say, “New choice,” or ring a bell. When they do that, they have to rewind and they have to come up with a completely different way of saying what they just said. It’s fun because you get people out of their head and they start to ramble off unusual things from their subconscious.
How do you prepare before going up on stage?
Usually Colin and I play cards. There’s nothing to really prepare when you don’t know what you’re going to be doing.
What do you recommend to someone that goes to one of your shows and wants to get pulled on stage?
There’s no guarantee to be pulled up on stage. We look into the crowd for people that don’t look like they’re carrying weapons or are drunk.
When you travel to a casino, will you play the Drew Carry slot machine?
I certainly hope so. I’m looking forward to that. I remember a year and a half ago he was very excited that this machine was going to be coming into business. I’m sure that he has one at his house. Maybe I should go over there since he doesn’t live very far from me.
What other projects are you currently involved in?
This is the main one. This has been taking up a lot of time and we’re making a really good living doing it. I’m always looking for more work and we may have the Green Screen show being picked up by Comedy Central next season.
When you travel from city to city, what is it that you do during the daytime?
We don’t have a lot of time. There’s more than one plane trip sometimes, getting to the hotel, and then the sound check. We only have one or two hours of downtime when we get to the hotel. Usually we’re trying to get food from room service or take a nap. There’s nothing glamorous about being on the road.
Are there any projects that you’re contemplating?
I’m not contemplating anything at the moment. I think that no one in this business thinks that what they’re doing at the moment’s going to last forever. You do what you’re doing now and when that stops making money you move on to whatever the next project is. For most people, it’s really hard to create your own work in show business unless you’re like John Travolta or Mel Gibson. We’re not at the level where we can say, “I’m going to write, produce, and film my own movie.”
Is teaching Improv something you’ve given thought to?
I used to teach when I was in Theater Sports. It was a self-run group and the people with the most experience taught the people that were just coming in.
Are there Brad Sherwood rumors that you’d like to start or dispel?
It’s hard to spread really good and gossipy fodder about someone that’s forty and lives with a girlfriend and her dog, spending most of their time at home and not on the road. I don’t have a very glamorous life where I go out, party, and get myself in trouble.
Do you enjoy being an adult?
I enjoy being an adult. You have to be one. I’m making money to do things like pay my mortgage like an adult, but I make my mortgage money by going up on stage with Colin and acting silly. I’m an adult being paid to act like a child. It’s the best of both worlds.
What exciting content will you be adding to your site in the future?
My personal website needs a major over hall. The problem is that my web master is a very good friend of mine. I’m paying him to do it, but I’m not a taskmaster. I’m letting him do it when he gets around to it. We have a really good site calledColinandbrad.com that lists all of our tour dates, has reviews of our shows, and photos. That was done by some fans. Colin’s site is better than mine.
Have you got something you’d like to bring to the attention of our readers?
I implore people to come see the show because seeing Improv live is a fun experience. As fun as it is to watch it on TV, live you’re seeing comedy and a magic act at the same time because it’s being made out of thin air.
Does that mean, then, that you won’t be recording any of your specials with Colin?
Probably not. We did a live one in Vegas one year that Showtime aired. That had some really great stuff in it, but it’s really hard to capture the spontaneity and everything that’s happening on stage with cameras. It’s like going to see a band live and seeing a recording of that band live. It doesn’t compare.
What is the current status of Whose Line?
It’s in reruns. They edited some new episodes from archived footage, but we are not taping Whose Line anymore.
Does that mean it’s gone forever?
I wouldn’t say that. There’s always a chance that someone might want to bring it back and it doesn’t necessarily have to be ABC. It’s a great show with a working, successful format. ABC didn’t foster it the way it needed to be. They put it in a dead time slot against Friends and Survivor, but the minute they put it on ABC Family it became the top rated show on that network.
Do you know if there will ever be a Whose Line DVD?
I’ve noticed that, aside from that show Alias, ABC has not really marketed a lot of their television shows like all of the other networks. Like FOX, they put out DVDs of commercials they’ve aired. That network puts out everything.
If it were to come out on DVD, would you provide audio commentary?
That would be a great idea. It would probably be us trash talking each other while watching it together, going, “You look fat. Shut up!” It would be a whole other Improv.
Have you got a message you’d like to leave our readers with?
The most important point to get across is that seeing Improv live is a completely different experience. If you like Whose Line, you’ll love the live show.
Visit Colinandbrad.com see when Colin and Brad will be stopping by your town and to read Brad’s answers to the silly questions the people send to him.