Comedy stars (and married duo) Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath will be at Centrepointe Theatre on Monday, December 5th.
Colin was on the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes for two seasons, and he performed on the British Whose Line is it Anyway? for nine years before joining the American cast. Debra is known as the mayor in Little Mosque on the Prairie and from the Ron James Show.
Apt613 interviewed Colin Mochrie. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: I was curious, how does one work harder in improve?
Mochrie: It really is doing it all the time, it’s like a muscle. I know if I stop for a couple of month or weeks I feel a little rusty. You have to refresh yourself with the rules and make a conscious effort of “OK, tonight I’m going to be very aware of what my partner’s doing and accept everything he says.” But there is no magic exercise or anything.
I’m shocked that after a few weeks you feel rusty!
No, I was lying to you. I’ve never felt rusty…
You can feel a little unsure, it’s one of the reasons why I try to work as much as I can with new improv troupes in Toronto. I try to work out with them not only to keep my hand in there, but also it’s great to work with people you’ve never worked with before. That really hones your skills.
Because they’re a new variable, eventually you start finding patterns with the people you work with?
Absolutely, I mean I’ve worked with Ryan for almost 40 years, we grew up together in Vancouver. Brad Sherwood and I have been touring for 14 years. The great thing is, you totally trust that person because you know them so well. But there is that thing of trying to keep it fresh and trying not to repeat anything that you’ve done. When you work with someone that much you sort of know… MOST of the time, where they’re going.
The trust thing is huge, I was curious how you got these non-improv people, like the executive producers, to trust you guys.
They don’t really trust us, the non-improv people. The producer of Whose Line is a bit of a control freak. So I’m personally thinking an improv show may not have been the way for him to go. Of course he does trust us to good extent. But if we just went totally off the rails, I think he would just panic. “You know what? We’re not going to take any of your suggestions. We’re going to take something from the audience and just riff on it.” I think he would have a heart attack.
Because you’re a master at improv, is control an issue in your life? I assume you have full control over 99% of the situation you’re in.
I have more control on stage than I do in real life. When I’m on stage this is a world that I’m creating with my partner. I know my partner and I trust them, I know they have my back and it’ll work out. I don’t have those reassurances in real life. I mean I do with my wife and my friends on a day to day basis, but I’m not going to trust that cop not to give me a ticket.
You can’t talk yourself out of situations?
No, you would think that these skills would transfer to real life! But no, I never win an argument with my wife, I can’t talk myself out of anything.
I don’t believe that! Maybe not your wife, who’s also hilarious but I don’t believe that this hasn’t given you some ultimate confidence or something. People see you as unstoppable in a way, I can give you any topic and I’m not going to be bored listening to you.
Oh, sure you will! You’ll see! The one thing I’ve learnt from this is to relax more and accept things as they come. Accept the things I can and cannot change and work with that. As a rule, I don’t get frustrated or thrown by things. I still can’t win arguments but I can accept things as they come along or bad news and try working with that.
That’s so mindful! ‘Learn to accept the things that you can and cannot change.’
Yeah… it’s a hard one. Because everybody wants control in their lives in some way but there are some things that you just can’t. Like flying, there was a point where I had a real fear about flying, but there’s absolutely nothing I can do. So am I going to spend that entire trip worried that we’re going to crash or am I going to believe that everything is going to be fine. So far it always has. It’s really all you can do.
Is that trusting the situation?
I think it’s giving up. I think it’s trusting a situation. Trusting other people. Trusting the pilots to do their job, trusting the people in the tower to be aware. It’s all those things you don’t actually really think about. I’ve had two emergency landings and it’s all worked out, and I think that actually helped me. These were bad situations but it all worked out because these people are good at their jobs and know what they’re supposed to do. So that’s kind of relaxing.
The worst possible situation happened, and you saw how they handled it and that helped you build more trust. Trust has been brought up a lot in our conversation already, I didn’t realize but there’s a level of vulnerability… what are the things you can’t control in your life?
These are all my opinions of course, but I believe you can trust and control who you are and how you’re reacting to certain situations. Both Deb and I asked ourselves why don’t we actually use the rules of improv in our lives. The ‘Yes, and’ rule in which you accept things and build on it, and listening.
We both made conscious efforts to use those in our lives because they’ve actually lead to some great things and actually strengthen relationships. I believe that. You can control most things in your life. Things like disease and addiction you need outside help but you can control the way people see you and how you react to people and how you build your relationships.
How many years were you hustling before you got on television, Colin?
Well, I count the American Whose Line as when I kind of made it because the show got profiled and we all got known from that show. And I was forty when that happened. So it had been a few years improvising, doing plays, corporate shows, small scenes in a movie. All the things any actor does to survive.
I can only imagine. Because before Whose Line, you had to do it constantly. You had to give up hanging out with friends , partying. You almost have to give up life experiences that your peers are having to be a master at this things.
Yes, in a way, although I was in theater school for years. When you’re in theater school you live theater and you have sort of a skewed view of the world, because those are the only people you’re seeing. All these people that have the same drive and want to do the same thing. So I always try to meet new people, and work on my social skills.
I tend to be a people-watcher anyway and more of a listener at a party rather than a partaker. My favorite thing is just to sit, and listen to people tell great stories. Because I think part of me also uses that for acting and for improv so there’s always little things that stick with you. You don’t realize it until you’re in the middle of a scene and it sticks out at you “Oh that was from that party with Jim when he was talking about…”
That’s really interesting, the fact that if you only hang out with theater people you have a skewed idea of the world. You said that you had to push yourself to stay a social person?
Yeah, because when you’re an actor in school everyone is so dramatic! They want to be experiencing all these emotions because they want to use them in their work. But everything is so dramatic! There’s always tears, love, passion and you realize… that’s not always out there. I mean it is, but people aren’t showing it. That’s what makes film and plays interesting when you know someone is going through emotional turmoil, but keeping it hidden, only showing a glimpse of it. In theater school there’s no glimpse of it, you get the full thing.
Are there any secret to listening to people that you’ve developed or learned?
I don’t think so, for me it’s almost staring at the person. I’m looking into their eyes and I’m listening to them. Some people you just don’t want to listen to… but you can always find something interesting about people I find. And again the more you listen the more you get used to it and also I think sometimes you have to hold down your ego a bit. A lot of times in social situations you want to get your point across or you want to be seen as the life of the party or whatever. But sometimes you have to be comfortable listening to what other people have to say.
I can only imagine the ego, at your level of improv, is just completely gone.
Well… no. Everybody is working for the good of the scene, and you’re there to make your partner look good. But you still have an ego and there is a competition to be “I’m going to be the one who’s going to support the most” or “I’m going to be the one whose incredibly straight-lined so they can get the laugh” and of course you also still want your laughs. We’re probably all in it for the attention, but one of the things I loved working with Ryan is he took as much joy setting you up for a joke as he did telling a joke. I learned that from him.
Colin Mochrie and Deb McGrath will be at Centrepointe Theatre on Monday, December 5th, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $45 and are available online.