Sometimes in lockdown, we can feel like nothing matters and that social norms about “proper times to drink” and “waking up before 8 a.m.” are just made up. Nobody knows that feeling better than the cast of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, who have been convening weekly over Zoom like a coven of improv comedy witches to drink and banter. Does your horrible lockdown life feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants? Then look no further, because these guys are practically the masters of that.
All seven Zoom chats are on Wayne Brady’s YouTube channel. Colin Mochrie looks like a grandpa calling to wish you a happy birthday, and Ryan Stiles, in his beard and sweatshirt, looks like a retired NFL coach who joined the Amish — perfect quarantine company for a lazy afternoon and a strong drink. The chats are some of the most casual, honest portrayals of celebritydom you’re likely to get in 2020, plus the gang offers some great insider baseball and behind-the-scenes stories for hardcore fans.
Everyone from the CW revival of Whose Line is there: Colin, Ryan, and Wayne, host Aisha Tyler, and recurring fourth-chair comedian Jonathan Mangum, who serves as the group’s techie, are reading comments from the live chat and teaching Ryan how to work Zoom. (They never figure it out.) Each call also features that night’s guest, be it Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Chris Lee, Jeff Davis, or Gary Anthony Williams.
The Zoom conversations are unpretentious and unstructured, and nobody cares about having a nicely furnished backdrop. Colin drinks red wine from the corner of his living room. Ryan rocks in a La-Z-Boy. And everybody’s drinking, all the time, and casually throwing shade at the network. And Greg makes vodka tonics! And smokes joints!
They’re celebrities, I guess, albeit more laid-back than we’re used to seeing this year. In 2020, it seems the only media we’ve seen produced by celebrities have been late-night shows in James Corden’s garage, cringe-inducing covers of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and Ellen DeGeneres bemoaning being cooped up in her palatial home. But the Whose Line crew is more open and honest. Ryan, for example, talks about how he probably got coronavirus back in February — he had all the symptoms — and several Zoom calls later, they learn that Whose Line producer Dan Patterson had been fighting COVID-19 for weeks.
Ryan opened the Upfront Theater, a small improv-focused venue in Bellingham, Washington, in 2004, and due to the pandemic’s impact on the economy, he had to shutter the place. Reluctant to sink more money into getting it on its feet, he’s trying to transform it into a nonprofit. And Aisha, with a wonderful new cocktail every call, advertises her company, Courage + Stone, which donates proceeds to the United States Bartenders Guild to help out-of-work bartenders. Get drunk for charity!
Comedy In The End Times
You can only watch Eurovision Song Contest so many times before it feels like it’s ill-suited for the moment, but the Whose Line cast chats are light entertainment that, refreshingly, aren’t trying to make you laugh. Each lasts about 40–60 minutes and uses the Zoom format to make you feel like you’re talking to your friends.
No improv games here. Instead, they answer questions from the audience. Colin and Ryan belittle Wayne for having three shows airing at the same time (Let’s Make a Deal, Whose Line, and Wayne Brady’s Comedy IQ). Ryan doxxes himself in the first call by making his username his full email address. And there are stories aplenty, from Chip’s childhood trauma to Ryan’s farting on British Airlines and blaming Bryan Adams. (“Why would you serve chicken vindaloo on a flight?”) Aisha talks about dating Sam Rockwell in high school, which is how she got into improv, and Colin remembers learning to jet ski on mushrooms.
Wayne chats The Masked Singer, which — spoilers — he won in season two, clad in a fox outfit reeking of man-sweat. He talks about working at Disney as a teenager, breakdancing on Main Street in a sweltering Tigger costume, a trend for the Whose Line comedians. Jonathan also dressed in an animal suit for a commercial years ago, and Colin was the mascot for Fred’s Chicken in Vancouver. He went to radio stations doing promotions, he says, and though they were strictly radio interviews and all he could do was cluck, he still had to wear the chicken suit.
Vegas Audiences Suck
Watching the gang discuss their careers and Whose Line work completely ego-free is one of the joys of the Zoom chats. Wayne, for instance, talks about growing up in the hood as the only kid who watched reruns of Ernie Kovacs and The Goodies. Jonathan remembers him and Jeff auditioning for Whose Line for years before being cast. And they’re happy to talk improv tips and which skits made them crack up the most (for Colin, it was Wayne’s strippogram to a lunch lady).
For fans, the chats are full of insider secrets. Wayne talks about how the transition from the UK to the US meant that they were able to eschew the more problematic games, like Accents. (And African Chant, Foreign Film Dub, and Scene to Rap, thankfully, were phased out for the 2013 revival.)
And their least favorite games? Ryan hates Secret, Portrait, and Newsflash, along with Helping Hands, especially when Colin makes him chug a jar of cocktail onions and their juice. It’s also probably not the most sanitary game, especially now — “There’s so many things on that show we can no longer do for so many reasons,” Colin wisely observes, as Whose Line is roughly 20 percent kissing one another on the lips and Colin tickling Wayne’s genital region. For his part, Colin also hates Helping Hands and Hoedown. Jonathan loves Forward Reverse, but that’s probably because he and Wayne drink three Red Bulls per taping.
It’s not just insider baseball for their show — Aisha, who was on Friends for nine episodes, talks about how that series had two studio audiences that they would swap out halfway through a taping. There were lines around the block to get in. And if you left to use the bathroom or have a smoke break, they locked you out and funneled in another audience member to take your place.
They all hate the idea of performing on cruise ships, especially post-coronavirus. “It’s really like a one-night stand,” Aisha says. “I don’t want to look at you at breakfast. I don’t want to wait for your Uber to come while you see if you can make an egg sandwich in my kitchen.” And Ryan talks about the dreadful Las Vegas audiences for Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza — nobody in that crowd was sober.
It’s August now, and the miasma of Zoom calls has set in. The video freezes, the audio glitches, the dogs in the background, the desire to just sit in the corner of your living room and drink — anyone who’s been Zoom-calling for the past half a year has felt the dreadful reality sink in. And it’s pleasant to watch the Whose Line crew take that flawed atmosphere and spin it into a format for some casual hangouts and calm comedy.
As we all stay locked indoors, we thankfully have decades of Whose Line and all its iterations to binge. Many were short-lived, including Improv-A-Ganza, with its rowdy Vegas crowd; Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show, in its madcap animated impracticality; and the moderately successful pair of the British Fast and Loose and the celebrity-focused Trust Us with Your Life. And then, of course, the two American versions and the old UK rendition of Whose Line, the golden goose so awkward and bizarrely successful that it’s more like a golden platypus.
In all its easygoing, light entertainment, Whose Line is ideal quarantine comfort food. You can subsist for days on Scenes From Hat compilations alone. Even in the Zoom call convos available on YouTube, there’s a warm, fuzzy feeling you get from a program in which the jokes aren’t scripted and just happen organically. So maybe mix yourself Wayne’s drink of choice (Arnold Palmer with honey Jack Daniel’s) or Ryan’s (pure blueberry juice) and throw on a cast chat. It certainly beats your Zoom calls with your boss.
Are you a Whose Line fan? Of course, you are if you’re reading this. What skits and games of theirs have been getting you through the quarantine?
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.