Expect lots of one-of-a-kind acts of lunacy when the four stars of “Whose Live” — Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Jeff Davis and Joel Murray — return to the State Theatre on Oct. 27. The Ithaca Times spoke to Greg Proops and Joel Murray about all things impromptu.
As a performer, Greg Proops has been a cast member of the original UK version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” He did vocal work for Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” and co-hosts his podcast “The Smartest Man in the World.” He talked about the backstory of “Whose Live,” Zoom shows and new rules of the road.
Ithaca Times: How many years has “Whose Live” been a thing?
Greg Proops: Well, we started going out with Drew [Carey] in 1999. And then it kind of evolved, we were a big group then. I like to call it the Preakness, because we had 10, 12 people in the group. And then we kind of winnowed it down to six, and then it was me, Chip [Estin], Jeff and Ryan. And then Chip left, of course, to do [the TV series] “Nashville,” and then Joel joined
IT: So Joel is now Ronnie Wood?
GP: Right, he’s got 10 years in. Jeff was the new guy before that. I’ve been working with Ryan for, golly, on TV for over 30 years, and on the road for over 20 years. Drew took us out and Ryan kind of put this group together. We haven’t been out since March 8of 2020. We had 100 dates on the road in 2019. And then in 2020, we’d done a couple dates in the Northwest in February, and then I went and did a couple of stand-up dates. And we went out the first weekend in March in Washington state, and then the next thing, we came back to go on a southern California run: Lancaster, Santa Barbara and whatnot. And my wife said, “Why are you going?” Because she knew this was gonna happen. And I said, “Because I’m in a group,” right? And we all got on the bus and went and picked up [musical accompanist] Bob [Derkach] from the airport, and Ryan. And about 1 o’clock that afternoon, the governor of California said there’ll be no gatherings of over a thousand people. So we went to lunch without our masks, because it was still that time, and then we got back in the van and drove back to L.A. And I took all the booze and cookies that we had stored.
GP: And then we haven’t worked since then. I mean, we did two or three Zoom show thingies, but I don’t think Ryan liked them very much. I’ve been doing Zoom stuff every month, because I’ve had to keep my audience together. I was appreciative of our agent because a lot of people started going out on the road a few months ago, and people have had COVID and there have been issues. Because it’s not solved.
IT: We were supposed to be one of the dates last year. And you guys saw four paychecks just fly away into the wind.
GP: [laughs] I don’t know the rules at this gig, but it’ll probably be masks or whatever. And we’re being really careful. We’ve all been inoculated, we send our tour manager vaccine cards. We’re not gonna schmooze with people after the show, we’re not gonna have the crew in the green room, we’re taking it seriously, like grown-up people. I mean, you can get it. You’re not immune to it because you tell jokes. None of that has any bearing on COVID.
The New Guy: Joel Murray
Joel Murray, brother of Bill, is a Second City alum, and a founding member of the Improv Olympic in Chicago. He played alcoholic copywriter Freddy Rumsen on “Mad Men,” and his feature film credits include “Monsters University,” “God Bless America” and “One Crazy Summer.” He was also the voice of Cheetos mascot Chester Cheetah from 1986 through 1997. He spoke about COVID, how he joined “Whose Live,” and being the new guy.
IT: We got Greg’s version of how COVID shut you guys down. Is everyone in the Murray family okay?
Joel Murray: Yeah, we’re okay now. We had a fabulous golf trip to Ireland, and a couple of us got it. Not myself, but everybody’s fine now. They were all vaccinated, but that’s neither here nor there. Before we got the tests coming back to the States, it was the best trip of a lifetime. And then all of a sudden, we found out a couple of us had COVID.
IT: I was talking to Greg about last year, when you got on the bus and got off the bus.
JM: We went down to San Diego, and we were gonna play Escondido, and right before we were about to check in to the hotel — we stayed at the Rancho San Bernardino down there or something, nice, expensive place. And right before we were gonna check in, we said, “We should just call and see If the gig’s still on.” And Gavin Newsom had just shut down California, and any kind of shows. So we had liquor for five days on the bus, and we started to immediately drown our sorrows.
IT: I understand that when “Whose Live” got shut down, Greg took all the cookies and booze off the bus.
JM: He took all the cookies and booze?
IT: That’s what he said.
JM: Yeah, I had faith I would make it through. I might’ve walked out with a bottle of Scotch. I didn’t have the wherewithal or the forethought to grab all the cookies. I think Greg did get those. He generally walks off the bus with all the booze anyway.
IT & JM: [laughs]
IT: You replaced Chip Estin in the group in 2012. I’m trying to work out if that makes you Mick Taylor or Ronnie Wood.
JM: Exactly. And that’s why I changed my hair style, so I could make that decision myself. Yeah, I filled in for a weekend, and I think yesterday was actually the nine-year anniversary of when I filled in for a weekend.
IT: What is your “Whose Live” origin story?
JM: Ryan Stiles used to have a golf tournament up in Seattle, and I’ve been friends with Ryan since Second City [in] Los Angeles. I want to say Jeff Davis was there. But we did a show, and I guess I did well that night. And a couple weeks later, Ryan said, “Hey do you want to fill in for Chip for a weekend?” And it’s been a nine-year weekend now. So you don’t know what day of the week it is.
The show is fun, it’s like the television show, except for there’s a lot more audience participation. You do get a chance to come up on stage and play in some of the games. So dress accordingly, you know. You don’t want to embarrass yourself with what you’re wearing.