Monday, November 29, 2004
What do striped toe-socks, the Pillsbury Doughboy, asparagus, rap songs, mousetraps and words that rhyme with "muck" have in common? They were all part of the wacky, wonderful improvisational world of Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood Sunday night at the Lied Center. Mochrie and Sherwood - regulars on the television program "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" - treated the audience to a whirlwind of word games, a plethora of put-downs and a smattering of slapstick.
Mochrie and Sherwood encouraged audience participation in some delightful and funny improvisational games. Although "Whose Line" has been off the air for a while, fans recognized games like "Verse" and "New Choice." In "Verse," the comedians challenged one another to tell a story in rhyming lines. Thus they had to rise to the challenge of "esophagus," "Acapulco" and "muck," which eventually did lead to its expected conclusive rhyme.
In "New Choice," they brought three young people from the audience on stage and gave them horns. Mochrie and Sherwood again began telling a story, but each time either of them heard the honk of the horn, he had to stop what he was going to say and make a "new choice," taking the dialogue in a different direction. Another favorite was "Sound Effects," in which two audience members were charged with making sound effects for either performer as he spoke. Sherwood also demonstrated his talent for musical improvisation and created a rap song about an audience member he dubbed "MC Bear."
One of the evening's funny and lengthy bits - reminiscent of the board game Clue - required Sherwood to confess to a crime created from audience suggestions. Sherwood had to decipher Mochrie's clues and confess that while wearing a muumuu, striped toe socks and a witch's hat that made him invisible, he goosed the president, exposed himself to a blind person and deflated the Pillsbury Doughboy in an albino's tanning salon in "Tanituba" with a bar of soap.
However, the hilarious piÃce de resistance came at the end of the evening when Mochrie and Sherwood improvised a dialogue beginning each exchange with consecutive letters of the alphabet while negotiating their way blindfolded and barefoot over a stage covered in mousetraps.
Almost every game began with suggestions from the audience, ensuring that the exchanges between the performers had not been rehearsed. However, that did not hamper their creativity. In fact, the spontaneity created more fun, and barely a moment passed during which the audience was not rolling with laughter at the verbal machinations required by each unexpected shift in the sketch.
Of course, the unexpected is part of the magic of an improvisational experience; and amazing, successful performances rely on the performers' ability to read one another. Great comedic teams thrive on understanding exactly how the other person thinks, listening carefully and anticipating the direction of the conversation, making the unexpected conclusions seem somehow just right.
Mochrie and Sherwood excel at this process because of both experience and innate ability.
Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.