If you've ever had a passing interest in improvisational comedy, then you're aware of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Over a span of roughly two decades, the show popped up in multiple formats (first on radio, then on TV), in multiple countries (UK and U.S.) featuring multiple talented performers. Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood are two of those performers. Being veterans of the improv scene, they decided to take their talents on the road. Two Man Group is a presentation of their stage show which features both men trotting out some oldies but goodies from their Whose Line? days alongside many new bits that most audiences haven't seen before.
Thinking back to Whose Line?, it is important to note that the audience was always a critical part of the show. Even though hosts Clive Anderson and Drew Carey were on the stage with four incredibly sharp comic minds, the hilarity always sprang from the viewers around them. Folks would shout out suggestions for places, identities and situations that required a burst of imagination from the comedians to build upon. This reliance on input from the crowd is also a basic building block for Colin and Brad's show. All of their scenes require audience participation in some manner. The extent and quality of the participation is what probably keeps the show fresh as the guys travel from city to city. Unfortunately, this element of the act also proves to be a minor stumbling block.
Before I go into the parts of the show that didn't work for me, let's talk about the positives of which there were many. Over the course of an hour Colin and Brad shoot through 8 different scenes. Each scene involves at least one improv game with one of them weaving together 3 different games quite seamlessly. Unsurprisingly the best scenes feature the guys feeding off the crowd's energy and ideas without slipping into self-indulgence. An early highlight is a Sound Effects game that has one audience member providing all the sound effects for Colin's character while the guys enact a white water rafting adventure. The catch is that Brad's sound effects come courtesy of an entire section of the audience who keep passing the microphone to each other. While Colin's sound guy is surprisingly effective, the real laughs come from Brad's team who struggle to keep up with the action on stage.
Another choice bit involves Colin and Brad giving advice to the audience in matters of life and love. The clincher here is that both guys assemble the answer together by taking turns saying one word at a time. The results are unexpected and often suggestive without being outright filthy. A scene built around an audience member's interesting occupation (mall cop) gives Colin a chance to get physical by acting out answers to questions posed by Brad. The penultimate sketch will bring back fond memories for Whose Line? faithful as Colin and Brad pull together 3 mini-games from back in the day. These include Questions (where every question must be answered with another question), If You Know What I Mean (where double entendres have to pull triple duty) and Letter Substitution (where a single letter is always replaced by another).
As I mentioned earlier, I do have a few nits to pick. As odd as it may sound, my problems with the show stem from the fact that Colin and Brad sometimes rely on the audience a bit too heavily. The reason Whose Line? worked as well as it did is because there were 4 capable comics on hand who could constantly pick up each other's slack if a bit wasn't going well. Here the guys don't have anybody to fall back on. When they give audience members key roles in certain scenes, they have to understandably carry them. This puts more pressure on the guys to really sell the bit and extract a few laughs. The opening Moving Bodies scene is a good example of this. Colin and Brad play giant 'meat puppets' who can speak but need to be physically moved by volunteers from the audience. While the concept is funny, the execution suffers from the confusion of the poor volunteers who never seem comfortable with what has been asked of them.
A couple of scenes teeter on the precipice of greatness but are ultimately held back by concepts which overwhelm their execution. One such scene involves Brad and Colin acting out a bit while lying down with the camera placed above them. This gives the impression of them standing up even though they are clearly horizontal on the stage. The bit's cleverness soon turns into an excuse to see what kind of moves they can pull off while on the ground. Sure they engage in some Kung Fu and have a glass of wine but the element of the unexpected is clearly missing.
Another sketch takes them even further into the realm of pure spectacle. 'The world's most dangerous improv game' involves the guys playing the Alphabet game (every sentence starts with consecutive letters of the alphabet) in an operatic vocal style. It sounds simple enough until you realize that they will do so in a minefield of mousetraps strewn across the ground and hanging from the rafters. Oh, and they are barefoot and blindfolded to boot. The 'dangerous' aspect of the game quickly runs roughshod over any improvisational skills that the guys bring to the table. As the sketch drags on, it starts to feel like (silly) theatre and not improv.
It may sound like I didn't have a good time with Colin and Brad's show but I assure you that is not the case. Of the 8 sketches, I thoroughly enjoyed half of them and found plenty of smaller laughs in the remainder. An over-reliance on their audience and a few gimmicky sketches hurt the show's impact but not enough to swing my overall opinion in a negative direction. I got to see a guy take a mousetrap to his nuts so I shouldn't really complain too much.
The show was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Colin and Brad perform in matching black outfits against a backdrop that changes colors with each sketch. On the whole the image is a bit dark but features good shadow detail. The color palette is subdued but contributes to a sharp image with sufficient pop.
The audio was presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. For some reason, the vocals were spread across all the channels with echoes appearing in the rear surrounds as well. This was definitely a mix that favored the front of the soundstage. The rear surrounds weren't pushed too hard which isn't terribly surprising given the nature of the material. The crowd noise was also captured nicely. No subtitles were available.
There are two special features to be found on this release. DOs and DON'Ts of Improv (6:52) is somewhat informative as Colin gives us tips on how to make improvisational comedy work (listen and say 'yes'). Unfortunately Brad quickly derails the conversation with his obsession with pirates and plumbing. Clearly this was planned out between the two but I would have appreciated a few more handy tips. An Interview (5:41) with the guys similarly devolves as Brad does his best James Lipton impression and Colin talks about working with Jackie Chan. It's a funny bit but I can't really say that I learned anything about the guys or what makes them tick.
Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood have a long history of making people laugh, armed with nothing more than their imagination and an arsenal of improvisational skills. Their live show is a testament to that. With that said, the two of them seem a bit lonely on stage as they have to rely on audience members when in the past they had other comics to lean on. A few high concept sketches also fall a bit flat when the gimmick becomes the centerpiece. My minor complaints aside, if you are in the mood for an entertaining stage show that is equal parts theatre and crowd participation, you should check it out. Recommended.