I wanted to share with you a bit about the US version of the hit TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway. There have been too many people I have met at this university that have never heard of it, so I thought a blog-post on the topic may be appropriate — perhaps even desperately needed.
The format of the show is quite simple: four performers act out scenes, songs, and play character-based improv games. The host awards arbitrary points and randomly selects one / two out of the four to ‘win’ in that episode. The three performers that appear in just about every episode are:
1) Colin Mochrie—He is known for his deadpan and most random one-liners. Points of comedic insult include his baldness, his Canadian-ness, and his propensity to be assigned the feminine roles in any skit.
2) Ryan Stiles—He is known for his Carol Channing impression and his impressive height. Points of comedic insult include his Carol Channing impression.
3) Wayne Brady—He is the ‘musical guy’ on the show. Brady improvises all kinds of musical content off-the-cuff and his skill with song is impressive. Brady isn’t insulted often / well, but there was that one time…
The crux of the comedy really seems to spring up organically from all kinds of places in this show. Perhaps most important are the chemistry of the performers and the host, the lovably tubby Drew Carey. When Carey laughs, his entire face lights up in such a way that it is impossible to laugh along with him. (Consider this clip as testimony: of course, it is inherently hilarious, but Carey adds so much to it at around 3:40. Carey’s own gaffes in his limited attempts at performance also are hilarious.
Yet at the heart of it all lies what I like to call the “WTF” factor: the random hilariousness that comes with this kind of comedy. For example, Ryan and Colin on a fake interview banter never fails to create worthy humor—whether they are trying to come up with cool transitions that have to do with exotic birds or a failure to communicate as some sort of ‘rap thing.’ Failure—purposeful breaking—seems to be an wonderfully executed trend in this show, and also works well with the musical titles that have been deliberately or accidentally broken.
Three such examples of musical WTF follow: 1) this clip arose from boredom with the song’s premise of ‘saying the wrong name in bed,’ 2) this one featured a totally unexpected one-liner from Colin (who knew bloody stool could be so funny?), 3) and there was the crazy, but incremental, build-up of a man whose ‘passing gas was his fame’.
(Musical and normal) WTF FTW!
Along with the WTF, comedy also seems to prop up from everyone doing everything just as they should. Even from normal, not so hilarious formats in themselves, unexpected and hilarious constraints pop up from nowhere. Here is one example with a game called Stand, Sit, Bend—where performers act out a skit, but one must be sitting standing, or bending all the time. Another comes from a game where three performers must make up a song one word at a time. Who knew that the ‘you’ would have such a structural consistency?
Then come the guest stars: David Hasselhoff’s stupidity, Stephen Colbert’s rap skills, Richard Simmons as props, and the ode to the female bodybuilder all are unforgettable. The last two, especially, have had the audience in tears.
Finally, of course, the audience. Who could forget the wonderfully clueless older women that are forced to participate in Sound Effect skits? These are ones where audience members must come to the stage, and give sounds to the things Ryan and Colin do. One consists of a skit where they must defend the Queen (of England?) from a barbaric army. When one of the audience members must portray the queen, the one line—’oh my god’—had me in tears around 1:45. Another wonderful example of audience incompetence is the entire skit where Colin is pregnant on a roller coaster—and the random things that happen to him as he attempts to give birth. The WTF factor is huge here as well.
So there you have it—the reasons why I love Whose Line Is It Anyway (WLIIA): the WTF factor, the spontaneously arising comedic structure, the great cast chemistry, the deadpan one-liners, the childishness and the complexity of the humor. The list goes on and on.
After you get hooked on these clips, I doubt you will be able to disagree.