For those who haven’t noticed, improv comedy has taken Columbus by storm in the past few years, thanks in no small part to the efforts of people like Sarah Storer, who quit her full-time day gig to teach and perform as part of the ever-expanding Hashtag outfit.
She’s one of many who grew up with scant few influences to draw on from the world of improvisation in the ’90s, where before Amy Poehler and the UCB gang came along to give the artform a fresh coat of paint, it was the team at Whose Line Is it Anyway? taking mainstream audiences for an on-the-fly ride.
In honor of their tour hitting Columbus this month (10.30 @ Southern Theatre), we had a suggestion: put Sarah on the phone with OG improviser Greg Proops, who’s made a multi-faceted career for himself outside of Whose Line and see what happens.
Sarah: First question: not a lot of people make a career out of improv but you have. So tell me a little bit about how you got started.
Greg: Well, I got started in college. I went to San Francisco State and saw improv for the first time. I had never seen it; I’d seen stand-up but didn’t know what improv was. They got the audience involved and absolutely loved the audience, and I thought, “I could do that.” Much like when the artist is taken by his parents to see the Rembrandt when he’s little and says, “I can do that.” Whose Line came about ten years after that. Luckily they came here and I auditioned and I got on. That was, oh god, 1989, I was four years old…. We’re Doing our 30th anniversary in London this year.
S: That’s crazy. That makes me feel old, ’cause … damn.
G: Tell me about it.
S: This is just an improv nerd question but you’re always doing short form improv. I know there are a lot of improvisers that are like, short form—ugh. Is there ever a point when you’re like, “No more short form. I need to do ‘real improv’ with longform.”
G: [Longform] is just not something we do. And we’re playing for a crowd who’s coming to see us do game stuff. If we did a Harold, [famed longform structure invented by improv legend Del Close], it might not be as successful as it might somewhere else. We do longform things on stage. We’ll do “Greatest Hits” for 15-20 minutes. But we do shortform. Longform is also too much to ask of an audience with what we do, and try to keep it moving for as long as we’re on stage.
S: Kind of along those lines, if somebody has never been to your show, what makes for a really great improv show?
G: Oh, I think audience enthusiasm is everything. We really need the audience to help us. We also try to make each other laugh. If we’re laughing—it’s good. And our goal now is to be as energetic as possible, to get out there and hit it so hard you can’t breathe.
S: Are there moments that stand out to you from your years on the TV show?
G: On the British version, Slattery’s pants split open on the show and he wasn’t wearing any underwear. There’s some things a woman should never see. That was an exciting moment.
S: What do you love most about your job? Not many people get to do improv for a living, so what do you love most about it?
G: Oh, hanging out with the guys. I like being on the road. We’re friends and we eat together and we drink together, and we’re a rock ‘n roll band. And we think we’re funny to each other. Fortunately, I’m in this group and we keep trying to make each other laugh.
S: Anything that you hate about improv?
G: I find it annoying that improvisers hate standups and standups hate improvisers. I do standup all the time. I just made a new album. It’s two distinct crafts. Stand-up, I can focus on what I want to. I can be political. I can grind every axe I have. Improv is a team effort, so you can’t stop the show and do 20 minutes of satire. Improvisers think standups are selfish. Standups think improvisers can’t write. My favorite joke about improv is, “Why not prepare something?”
S: It would make things so much easier.
G: My other favorite saying about improv is when [Whose Line castmate] Chip Esten told me he told his neighbor to watch the show, and a few days later asked his neighbor how he liked it. And his neighbor said, “It’s just a bunch of assholes playing charades.” That one made me cry laughing.
S: Yeah, it’s apt. I mean he’s not wrong.
G: Also, improv groups’ names are just shocking sometimes. I’ve always wanted to start one in Canada called the Toronto Make Beliefs.
S: Oh my god. That’s awful.
S: Last but not least, improv is really growing in Columbus. What might you tell somebody who was like you back in the day and is looking up on stage and thinking, I could
G: You need as much stage time as possible. Play with people who are better than you, that’ll make you try harder. And don’t ever expect to make a living just doing improv. There are very few people in the world doing what we’re doing. But it can lead to other things. Writing, directing—there are a lot of great things to do. Joan Rivers started in improv. Not to mention everyone who’s on SNL. There’s angles. It’s worth doing.
S: I agree. Well, thank you so much for your time. Anything else you think I should know?
G: Just let the audience know when they come to our show, we’re going to throw down as hard as possible. •
CAPA presents Whose Live Anyway? at the Southern Theatre,
21 E Main St., on Tuesday, October 30. For tickets and information, visit ticketmaster.com.