What: “Whose Live Anyway”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.
Admission: $38 to $58 through etix.com or the theater box office
How tough is it to keep a straight face when acclaimed comedians are trying their hardest to make you laugh?
That’s the wrong question to ask Greg Proops. He doesn’t even try.
“I just break,” he said. “I don’t bother to stay in character. If I find it funny, I’ll laugh.”
So you can expect a few laughs out of Proops on Saturday, when he heads to Toledo’s Stranahan Theater for “Whose Live Anyway?,” a traveling version of the long-popular television show of almost the same name. Proops is one of four improv comedians who sings, dances and ad-libs onstage for an hour and a half during the show, interacting with audience members and playing off the spur-of-the-moment antics of fellow comedians Joel Murray, Jeff Davis, and Dave Foley. Ryan Stiles will not appear due to illness, according to a news release.
There’s no host to steer the evening, but, as in the television version, the show is structured around individual games whose subjects are largely drawn from shouted audience suggestions. Premises include “sound effects,” where an audience member or two are tasked with supplying the ambient hums, twitters, whoops, and the like that the comedians play off in the bit, and “greatest hits,” where the comedians dream up and then sing lyrics on the fly.
“We just try to break each other up on stage and make fun of each other,” Proops said.
And that, to some extent, is part of their appeal.
“The thing that people really enjoy is that we’re not characters,” Proops continued. “We’re ourselves. We’re Greg and Ryan and Jeff and Joel.”
“Whose Line Is It Anyway?” has been drawing laughs from television audiences since 1988, when it debuted in the United Kingdom. It crossed the pond to the United States in 1998, picking up Drew Carey as the host who tossed out bits and meaningless points for nearly a decade.
A hiatus began in 2007, and then, in 2013, The CW rebooted “Whose Line” with Aisha Tyler in the host’s stand.
Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and Stiles, each of whom a longtime fan would have recognized from the show’s prehiatus days, returned to the show and are regularly featured in episodes alongside a rotating fourth comedian.
Sometimes that’s Proops, sometimes Davis and often another comedian entirely.
Proops has been around since the beginning of “Whose Line,” making his debut in the show’s first season in the United Kingdom. He recalled in an interview with The Blade that he was recruited from a “terrible gig” in Idaho by producers who had a hunch that North American talent would jive well with the British show.
He’s remained a recurring guest through the show’s nearly 30-year television run, as well as appearing at each stop of the traveling “Whose Live,” maintaining a standup comedy career and hosting a hit podcast, “The Smartest Man in the World.”
His longstanding roots with “Whose Line” mean that he’s been joking with comedians like Stiles, also a veteran of the earliest season of “Whose Line” in the United Kingdom, for decades. He said he can see the effects of that history onstage.
“It’s just a familiarity,” he said, “We can bounce pass to each other backwards without looking.”
To see the show live is, in Proops’ eyes, even more fun than seeing it on a screen. Without cameras, lights and frequent pauses so that crews can position themselves for just the right angles to create the smooth edited television version of the show, “Whose Live” tends to take on a more organic, more energetic feel.
There are also more opportunities to bring up audience members, some of whom Proops said he’s seen get more laughs than the comedians onstage.
“Whose Line Is It Anyway” is often credited with introducing and popularizing improvisational comedy among audiences that might not otherwise have been familiar with it. For newcomers to the comedic genre or longtime fans, Proops said “Whose Live Anyway” is a good bet.
“If you haven’t seen improv before, this is a good pace to start,” he said. “We go fast and furious.”
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