“Working With A Script Is More Of A Craft” Interview with Colin Mochrie, Star of BOYS VS. GIRLS

Colin Mochrie scripted?

The icon of improv comedy headlines Michael Stasko‘s latest quirk comedy, Boys vs. Girls. Set in the blistering heat of summer camp drama, the film takes place at Camp Kindlewood, an old school retreat a bit past its prime and, for the first time in its history, forced to be co-ed. Chaos ensues as the camp’s alumnus guys and gals spit and spat for attention and glory. Who will win this battle of the sexes?

Film Inquiry recently spoke with Mochrie about his experiences working on the film as well as his improv career, including his approach to scripted comedy, his role on the set, and the future of Whose Line Is It Anyway?

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Luke Parker for Film Inquiry: This is very much a nostalgic movie. Tell me what attracted you to this project? Were any fond memories of a summer camp involved?

Colin Mochrie: Oh, God no. I never went to summer camp. The first thing was Mike [Statsko], the director, asked me, so that was [laughs] one of the main factors. And also, I’m at the point now in my career where I do projects that I think are going to be fun and have good people. I know Kevin McDonald and we always have fun working together so I thought, well, yeah! And the script was fun, and I thought, why not? I’ve never been part of a genre film before, so the 80s camp movie was just waiting for me! So I jumped in with both feet.

Your character here is the camp director and like him, you’re one of the presiding adult actors on the screen. Can you touch on that experience? Were you kind of a mentor figure on the set?

Colin Mochrie: [laughs] Sure, let’s say yeah! I mean I certainly didn’t go out of my way to give advice or anything.

"Working With A Script Is More Of A Craft" Interview with Colin Mochrie, Star of BOYS VS. GIRLS
source: Mongrel

The cast, as young as they are, are all very experienced. So, the only example I would set is by behavior. I think one of the nice things about Kevin and I is that we’re both pretty low maintenance. We’re there to do a job; we’re there on time; we know our lines; we’re nice to everyone. So in that way, I hope that our professional behavior became something that inspired them.

Now, of course, a lot of people are used to seeing you work on your toes. Do you find scripted comedy to be its own beast?

Colin Mochrie: Yeah, it’s totally different. What’s great about improv is that you don’t really have to make sense. If you actually transcribed a lot of the Whose Line? scenes, you’d go, “this is nonsense!” It’s truly an art form of that moment. The audience and the performers fuse together to make that funny moment.

With scripts, you’re there to get the writer’s point-of-view out and make sure that their message is clear. So yeah, two different muscles.

What was nice about this was that once we got the written part done to Mike’s satisfaction, he would say, “alright, now have fun with it. Make up stuff. See what comes out of that.” Some of that extra stuff made it into the final edit. It’s also nice because Mike was the writer. Sometimes, writers get very precious about what they’ve written and don’t want any changes whatsoever. So it was nice having that sort of freedom to have fun with the script.

You just said that improv works towards building a moment and doesn’t always have to make sense. When working with a script, do you ever miss having that safety net?

Colin Mochrie: Yeah. I found doing plays that you always know where the jokes are. But then there are some times where it doesn’t get a laugh at all, and it just haunts you. It’s like, “this got a laugh yesterday and I did it exactly the same way!” So working with a script is more of a craft, I would see. Improv has its own set of skills that you need, but to be able to get the same laugh on the same line night after night is a different skillset because you have to be totally committed the entire time. You can’t just let your mind wander.

From books to concert halls to TV and to Zoom meetings, which we’ll talk a little bit about later, your comedy has stretched across nearly every platform out there. Do you find any of them to be more challenging than the rest? Is there a sector of comedy you’re not confident in?

Colin Mochrie: When we do corporate shows, those are different beasts. When you have a theater show, that audience has bought tickets to see you. When you’re doing a corporate, you’re sort of shoved in there as entertainment. I always say, “a day without laughter is a corporate.” Don’t get me wrong, a lot of them go very well, but sometimes, if it’s an awards night, for example, people might think, “I’m getting an award, so why am I watching a guy walk like a chicken?” Or after the show, there’s a big party they want to get to or something like that. So those shows are a different thing.

"Working With A Script Is More Of A Craft" Interview with Colin Mochrie, Star of BOYS VS. GIRLS
source: Mongrel

Brad Sherwood and I have been touring for 18 years, and we’ve been doing virtual shows the last two months, which has been great because it gave each of us a creative burst. We found out very quickly that we couldn’t transfer our stage show to Zoom because everything is smaller: the screens and people’s attention spans. So coming up with a way of using the technology so that we weren’t overpowered by it and weren’t constantly thinking about it was a learning challenge for us.

To that point, you’ve said you feel as though you do your best work when you’re out of your comfort zone. With your years of experience doing improv, what kinds of things still take you out of that comfort zone?

Colin Mochrie: Well, in improv, there’s never a point where you’re going, “okay, I know exactly what’s going to happen next.” You’re constantly in survival mode for the entire show. I did a Dungeons & Dragons improv show on Zoom and I know nothing about Dungeons & Dragons, so I was totally outside my comfort zone. But it was so much fun because I made all these assumptions about things my character could do that he couldn’t. I kept trying to fly but apparently, clerics aren’t allowed to fly [laughs]. I still don’t know what the rules are.

But things where I go, “okay, I don’t really have a handle on this” kind of excite me, because that’s where I find a lot of the magic comes from.

Now, you seem to have made the best of a bad situation during this pandemic with your Stream of Consciousness Zoom shows. Tell me, for positivity’s sake, what has been the most rewarding or unexpectedly rewarding part of that experience?

Colin Mochrie: Just doing it. I was disappointed when we first started since it was so different than being in front of a live audience. But we have green screens, lights, and two computers so I can actually watch the audiences’ reactions. And seeing them really enjoying it just makes me feel good because I also thought the show couldn’t possibly be the same for them and yet, they’re loving it!

I think because of this year we’ve had, people are really looking for a way to enjoy themselves, to have just a couple minutes of fun. I love providing that. I didn’t think we were going to be able to. I thought it was going to be a lesser quality show, but it hasn’t and I have to say, due to Brad also, we’ve hit our stride and found a way to have fun that’s really close to our stage show.

You’ve also said that your improv abilities are very natural, and I think most people who’ve watched you would agree. That being said, thinking about the pandemic and the opportunities you’ve made for yourself, would it be fair to compare them to a muscle? Something you have to work out and maintain?

Colin Mochrie: Oh, absolutely. It’s a muscle that atrophies very quickly. If you’re not doing it constantly, the worst thing is that fear comes in, and that stops you from going out there. Catherine O’Hara, who I think is one of the funniest people alive, did a Whose Line? back when we were doing them in England. And she was a wreck because she hadn’t done improv in some time. And I went, “but you’re Catherine O’Hara!” And of course, when she was out there, she was great. But it gets into your mind, so improv is definitely a muscle you have to keep toned.

"Working With A Script Is More Of A Craft" Interview with Colin Mochrie, Star of BOYS VS. GIRLS
source: Mongrel

The latest season of Whose Line? is premiering next month. Soon enough you’ll have to come together to tape more shows. You made it sound like the stage show wouldn’t work with the Zoom format, but has there been any kind of discussion about doing that?

Colin Mochrie: Okay, here’s what’s really weird. We are starting in January, we just got renewed for another season, and they have the shows already. We haven’t filmed since 2019 and somehow, they’ve gotten two whole seasons out of the extra stuff we did. If I could find a way to do this all the time, where stuff that I’m in appears and I don’t have to actually do anything, it would be perfect.

We were actually talking about it, though. Whose Line? is probably the worst COVID show. We have our hands in people’s mouths. We’re incredibly close together. I don’t know how we could do it with social distancing. Maybe through Zoom? But that’s for other people to figure out, not me.

Film Inquiry would like to thank Colin Mochrie for taking the time to speak with us!

Boys vs. Girls is available to stream on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, and the Google Play Store.

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