I saw two of the quickest minds in improv theatre perform this week and they were hilarious. Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, stars of the former TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, headlined a sold-out fundraiser at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on Monday night (Feb. 21). Joining them were local improv actors Gary Jones, of Vancouver TheatreSports, Veena Sood, who trained at Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, and stand-up comedians Christine Lippa and Denny Williams.
Williams started with a tongue-in-cheek thank you to Charlie Sheen for enabling Stiles to perform; Sheen’s TV show Two and a Half Men, which features Stiles, has been on hiatus while Sheen is in rehab. The evening’s actors, most of whom know each other from decades ago in Vancouver’s stand-up or improv scene, fell easily into teasing banter, repeat gags, and scenes of impromptu irony or outrageousness.
With his trademark dry comments, Mochrie narrated two comic tales from his life while the others reenacted the events. One was his first kiss, shared in a closet with a seven-year-old named Heather in Scotland, while playing the game “post office.” Lippa, Williams, and Sood gave that lots of body contact and bawdy innuendo.
The second story followed when Jones asked Mochrie about a time when he thought he was going to die. Mochrie recounted a true experience: while on a passenger jet with his wife and son, an engine malfunction forced an emergency landing. His wife, a nervous flier to start with, took his hand from across the aisle, and said: “I love you,” thinking that this might be the end. In response, Mochrie just shrugged and made a face. (He says now it was because he didn’t think the incident was that serious.)
With jiggly feet and mischievous flair, Williams aptly portrayed Mochrie’s son, who, of course, had to go to the bathroom, while Sood gave a great overly dramatic good-bye as Mochrie’s wife, reaching her arm across the aisle to clutch his hand.
At times, it was hard to hear some of the lines because the audience laughter was so loud. I haven’t laughed so hard so often in a long time. The two-hour show, with a break, included de rigeuer volunteer participation and yelled-out ideas from the audience. Two young female volunteers, chosen from rows in the front, provided quirky sound effects for a helicopter, chainsaw, and other objects while Jones and Mochrie acted out a woodsy scenario as loggers.
I remember seeing Mochrie and Stiles perform decades ago at Granville Island (or maybe it was The Cultch) when they were part of the Vancouver improv theatre scene. Even then, their facial expressions and quick responses stood out. Williams spoke with obvious fondness of old times at Vancouver’s stand-up venue Punchlines, shared with Stiles. (For trivia lovers, Stiles met his wife at Punchlines; she was a waitress there.)
This week’s one-night-only event was a homecoming, of sorts, for Stiles and Mochrie. (I found out, through quick Internet research, that Stiles lives outside Bellingham, Wa. when he’s not in Hollywood. He’s even opened the Upfront Theatre, a small theatre in Bellingham dedicated to live improv comedy. Kudos to him for providing a new arts venue for local talent.
All of the performers generously donated their performance time to help out The Cultch. In these harsh days of arts cutbacks, that means a lot. Thanks to The Cultch, whose executive director went to high school with Mochrie, the stellar performers, and everyone else who made Monday night such an uproarious good time.