Com­edy king ap­plies his tal­ents to the writ­ten word

Toronto’s gi­ant of im­prov com­edy Colin Mochrie of­fers a unique take on clas­sic nov­els

Richmond Hill Post - - Comic Stripped - By Mark Bres­lin

Im­prov com­edy is easy to do poorly and hard to do well. The thrill of watch­ing the mind game of cre­ation loses its hold if the comic doesn’t have a near-in­fi­nite bag of tricks at his dis­posal.

Toronto is home to one of the best im­pro­vis­ers in the world, the es­teemed Colin Mochrie, star of Whose Line Is It Any­way?

The supremely tal­ented funny man is en­joy­ing another bold mo­ment in the spot­light right now, with the re­turn of Whose Line Is It Any­way? The show, prob­a­bly the only suc­cess­ful im­prov series in tele­vi­sion his­tory, en­joyed a long run in the ’90s in the United King­dom be­fore the Amer­i­can ver­sion ap­peared in 1998 and ran un­der the lead­er­ship of Drew Carey un­til 2006.

Mochrie was a stand­out player in both ver­sions. It made him fa­mous, but it’s an odd kind of fame. An im­pro­viser can bury him­self so deeply within the char­ac­ters and sce­nar­ios he cre­ates that his own char­ac­ter can seem va­porous and chimeri­cal. What makes Mochrie so good? For one thing, he brings a gift of un­der­state­ment to a genre of com­edy known for manic, flail­ing, over­cooked per­for­mances. There’s an el­e­gance and ease to him, an al­most aris­to­cratic mien that con­trasts with so many other play­ers in the scene.

You can still see him per­form live with co-star Brad Sher­wood at any num­ber of large venues across the coun­try. You can also see him at lo­cal events with his wife, the sub­limely tal­ented sketch ac­tress De­bra McGrath. I al­ways catch them, out of the cor­ner of my eye, still hold­ing hands af­ter all these years.

This fall, he’s delv­ing into another art form. Due out this fall is Mochrie’s first book, Not Quite the Clas­sics.

Most co­me­di­ans, when they write books, write thinly veiled au­to­bi­ogra­phies, but Mochrie’s am­bi­tions are more lit­er­ary.

There’s an im­prov game called “First Line, Last Line,” where an au­di­ence mem­ber shouts out a first line of a sketch, a sec­ond au­di­ence mem­ber the last line. Then the per­form­ers con­struct a scene that fills in the gap. What Mochrie has done is ap­plied the idea to fa­mous nov­els and po­ems.

The dozen chap­ters are not par­o­dies of the orig­i­nals, but whim­si­cal flights of fancy that go wher­ever his mind takes him. The texts he uses in­clude Sher­lock Holmes, Ge­orge Or­well’s 1984, Slaugh­ter­house Five, The Great Gatsby and oth­ers.

I liked his take on the po­ems he chose, in­clud­ing “Casey at the Bat,” with the base­ball story trans­posed to hockey, and a great punch­line at the end of the story. But my favourite piece is “A Tale of Two Crit­ters,” which some­how takes the Charles Dick­ens novel and twists it into a mono­logue by the Coy­ote of the Road­run­ner car­toon. It’s bizarre and very funny.

My favourite bit is from his skewed take on Kurt Von­negut’s Slaugh­ter­house Five, about the un­luck­i­est man in the world: “Billy Jonah was the un­luck­i­est man in his­tory. Un­luck­ier than Tsu­tomo Ya­m­aguchi, who was hav­ing break­fast in Hiroshima at 8:45 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, when the A-bomb det­o­nated and de­stroyed his apart­ment build­ing. Tsu­tomo sur­vived, but three days later he trav­eled to Na­gasaki to con­va­lesce.”

I think even Von­negut him­self would have ap­proved.

Colin Mochrie taps into his sur­real sense of hu­mour in his new book

MARK BRES­LIN Post City Mag­a­zines’ hu­mour colum­nist, Mark Bres­lin, is the founder of Yuk Yuk’s com­edy clubs and the au­thor of sev­eral books, in­clud­ing Con­trol Freaked.

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