There's nothing better then watching a good improv show. The best performances combine solid comedy and magic – and I don’t mean Houdini-style magic, I mean Merlin-style. Great improv can seem impossible, or strangely perfect, like the best-written sketch show, but here's the thing: you know they're making it up. It’s a great art form, and for the first time in history its purest form is going to be captured and broadcast thanks to Game Show Network.
Drew Carey’s IMPROV-A-GANZA, which premieres April 11 at 8 p.m. on the Game Show Network, has reassembled the legends of improv comedy (which in most cases means the cast of "Whose Line is it Anyway?") for this latest incarnation of the live improv show format. But while it resembles “Whose Line”, it is very much different, having returned to a more open stage format with less instead of more production. Fans of Whose Line probably noticed that the audience very seldom gave suggestions directly, and the games were very streamlined. Plus any game that didn’t work perfectly didn’t make it to broadcast. Of course this made good production sense when you’re trying to bottle stage improvisation for a television audience, but these changes dulled the full experience. IMPROV-A-GANZA puts real improv on stage with all the trappings, including pulling suggestions from the audience, and the little mistakes that make the games unique.
Before we get any further, here’s a little taste by way of a promo for the upcoming premiere. It’s a little too short to really get a handle on what the show feels like, but consider it an appetizer before we dig into the the meat of what the show really is:
SUPER PROMO CLIP GO!
So as I said before, the show’s format resembles "Whose Line is it Anyway," with a series of games, each with specific rules, which amount to various improvised sketches – some with singing or sound effects, but mostly it's just the improvisers having fun and creating gold from nothing. This show has a different pace, with the time spent getting suggestions from the audience offering a natural break in the action. The format seems looser, and the stage bigger. Ryan Stiles, the legendary improviser who also serves as the shows executive producer, said that the Whose Line stage was so limited by its size that scenes were harder to develop. This stage (the fabulous MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theater) is large and beautiful and the players take to it with a newfound fervor.
Stiles and Drew make a point of drinking lots of water before performing. (cue "the more you know" theme)
Speaking of the players, the cast is the real story (and success) of this new program. Returning to the improv stage from "Whose Line is it Anyway" are incomparable masters Ryan Stiles, Colin Mocherie and Greg Proops who in my mind are easily enough to declare an early victory in the casting. These three men are equivalent of the A-Team of improvisers and have shared the stage from the early days of the UK version of "Whose Line." Even when that show has been off the air, these guys have toured and performed together in their own projects and in a plethora of programs and live shows under the name of Drew Carey. Stiles said of his relationship with Mocherie, and the rest of these “Whose Line” veterans that he has played with them so long he even knows what they are doing behind his back. All of the cast repeated that sentiment, these are not just great improvisers but a seasoned team with tens of years of practice on stage together.
Making eachother laugh is still the key to a good improv teams cohesion.
Of course Stiles, Mocherie, and Proops are not the only cast members, even if I wouldn’t need anyone else (honestly I could watch Greg Proops read the phone book for hours). We’ve also got Brad Sherwood, Chip Esten and Jeff Davis, Jonathan Magnum, Sean Masterson, Kathy Kinney, and the newest recruit: Heather Anne Campbell. It’s a veritable cavalcade of stars, most of which you will note have been hen picked from Drew’s previous shows.
What of the titular Drew Carey? Well he’s eating up the stage in this show, and at half his previous weight. This new thin Drew is a almost shocking at first, but still the same jovial master of comedy. On the improv stage he is still a little green, or at least green in comparison to the living legends he has assembled around himself, but he still brings his best to the stage.
But that’s not all! A whole list of guest stars have appeared in the various stage shows (that were recorded to create this program) including, of all people, Charlie Sheen. Also dropping in is improv legend Wayne Brady, who happened to visit the live show on the day I was in the audience. For a show that shines in its singing games, that episode in particular is going to knock your block of with song.
Speaking of singing games, let’s take a look at an exclusive clip:
Here we find the final and most important difference between this show at its Whose Line predecessors is Bob Derkach the shows music director. While all improv shows have incorporated music, Bob brings this to a new level. Not only does his encyclopedic knowledge of musical styles shine in the various singing games, but he will occasionally respond to the improvisers on stage choices by adding music to otherwise dry scenes. Nothing goes so far to push a scene over the edge from good to great like adding applicable dramatic music. Derkach, who was the music director for Second City, is as legendary at supporting improv with music as Ryan Stiles or Drew Carey is at performing it.
So tune into Drew Carey’s IMPROV-A-GANZA on April 11, and every weeknight on Game Show Network at 8pm (and 11pm). It's well worth your time, and if the show takes off, start saving your cash for a trip to Vegas to watch a live taping. I'm crossing my fingers in hopes of a successful show, not only because it deserves it, but because if it's a hit, then high-level improvised comedy will have captured an audience like never before.
ON THIS NETWORK
(its not your grandmothers network anymore!)