Improv comics Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie try to swap out the games they play in their live shows as often as possible to avoid getting bored.
But there’s one bit they’ll probably never be able to retire.
It involves the duo exploring a relatively mundane premise while walking, blindfolded and barefooted, around a stage that has been covered with more than 100 armed mousetraps, Sherwood said in a phone interview.
“I think it’s a total regression to childhood,” he said, referring to the audience’s visceral reaction to the sketch. “The entire audience is squealing and howling. I think we’re tapping into that part of the brain that appreciates the Three Stooges.”
Sherwood, Mochrie and the mousetraps will take the Honeywell Center stage in Wabash on Friday, Dec. 11.
For more than two decades, Sherwood and Mochrie have been on-again, off-again cast members on the on-again, off-again TV series, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
The first TV edition of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” debuted in 1988 on Channel Four in Great Britain. A second American incarnation of the show has been running on the CW since 2013 and has been renewed through 2016.
The series and its offshoots have made stars of Sherwood, Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, Wayne Brady, Greg Proops and Chip Esten.
When Sherwood and Mochrie decided to team up 13 years ago for a live show or two, they had no idea it would lead to a tour lasting until 2015 and beyond.
“It has never stopped,” he said. “It has never officially stopped. Yes, the tour does slow down a bit in the summer, but we go out every spring and fall.
“I believe it’s the longest running two-man improv show on the planet, which I admit is a narrow category,” Sherwood said.
The reason these two men teamed up instead of two of the others has to do with their “similar comic sensibilities,” Sherwood said, and the fact that they “get along really well.”
What makes a Sherwood/Mochrie show different from most other fare available at venues of the Honeywell Center’s size is the extent of the audience participation.
Audience members are asked to set up premises and join some skits.
“We have such a different relationship with the audience,” Sherwood said. “It’s as if we are locking arms with them and saying, ‘Let’s go on a journey! We’re going to make this funny together!’
“It’s not like a stand-up routine where you cross your arms and say, ‘I hope this guy’s funny,’” she said.
Asked if improv is the “trust fall” or “Outward Bound” of comedy, Sherwood said, “I think that’s a very good description. We do depend on each other that way. We’re like two comedic martial artists. We have to be prepared for anything.”
In a sense, Sherwood said, bringing audience members up on stage is not so much about increasing the humor (at least not directly) as it is about increasing the challenges.
“A really good improv comic isn’t just someone who works well with other improv comics,” he said. “It’s someone who works well with people who aren’t improv comics and who have no stage presence.”
A Sherwood/Mochrie extravaganza might be one of the few opportunities the adults in the audience will get to participate in “something so interactive and immediate,” Sherwood said.
As immensely entertaining as good improv is, the form still gets a bum rap sometimes.
Comedy duo Tim & Eric expended a couple of sketches on their Adult Swim show mocking something that looked suspiciously like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
And networks fear improv shows, Sherwood said, despite how cheap they are to produce.
“Whether they understand it or not, they can’t put a harness on it and be in complete control,” he said. “There’s no script they can change. It’s just someone walking into a room saying, ‘I’ve got five clever people who are going to say whatever comes off the tops of their heads. Write me out a check.’”
When a patron’s first experience with live improv is a bad one, he may have a reaction that is unique to the situation, Sherwood said.
“If it puts a bad taste in his mouth, he may decide never to go to another improv show,” he said. “Whereas, with a bad stand-up routine, you never hear anyone say they’ll never pay to see another comic.”
Improv lives and dies by that first experience, Sherwood said.
Luckily, he said, thanks to “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” there are generations of children who are growing up with an appreciation for improv comedy.