Whose ticket is it anyway?

There have been three different versions of the improv comedy TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” I’ve been a loyal viewer of each.

The first version, which is probably still my favorite, was the original British version, which aired here in the U.S. on Comedy Central. It was hosted by the very droll Clive Anderson. For the first season, John Sessions was a permanent panelist and got top billing alongside Anderson. After that, there were no official permanent panelists.

Although this original “Whose Line” was a British show, it often featured U.S. or Canadian comics on the panel. Over the years, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and Greg Proops became fixtures, especially Ryan and Colin. I believe Jeff Smith also appeared on the British version, as did “Chip” Esten, who later started going by “Charles” Esten and became a cast member on “Nashville.”

I think probably many of you have run across this show in the past, but just in case I’ll try to explain it. It’s an improv comedy showcase featuring a series of different games. On the TV show, many of the same games are used over and over again, but with different content, often suggested by members of the studio audience. It’s really better seen than described:

Ryan Stiles became a cast member on “The Drew Carey Show,” and while that show was still on the air Ryan and Drew pitched ABC on the idea of doing a U.S. version of “Whose Line.” The original idea was that Drew would be the host, Ryan and Colin would be permanent panelists, and the other two chairs would rotate. But Wayne Brady was one of those guest panelists on the first couple of episodes, and became so popular so quickly that he was almost immediately made a regular, leaving only one seat for rotating guests.

The U.S. version actually overlapped with the end of the British version, the last season of which was taped in America on the same set as the U.S. version (they only swapped out the logo).

The U.S. version spent most of its run on Thursday nights opposite “Friends,” which was at the time the most popular thing on TV. At one point, when some sort of entertainment industry strike appeared imminent, ABC had “Whose Line” — which was cheaper and quicker to produce than a scripted show — produce two years’ worth of episodes in advance, so that they’d be in the can before the strike started.

Eventually, ABC cancelled that version, although reruns ran for years on ABC Family (now Freeform). In the meantime, there were various other attempts, some of them spearheaded by Drew Carey, to launch an improv comedy TV show. These included “Drew Carey’s Improvaganza,” “Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show,” “Trust Us With Your Life,” “Thank God You’re Here,” and one or two others I can’t think of right now. None of them clicked.

Then, the CW network launched a new version of “Whose Line” hosted by Aisha Tyler, with Ryan, Colin and Wayne back in their old seats as regular panelists. That version has been successful for the CW and is still on the air. Some people raised on the Drew Carey version complain about Aisha, but I think she does a fine job. I’ve liked her ever since she used to host “Talk Soup.” In any case, Clive Anderson is still my favorite host.

Anyway, some of the past and present “Whose Line” regulars and semi-regulars have gone on tour from time to time. Even though on the TV show, Ryan and Colin often seem to work as a team, they haven’t really done that much together off-screen. Colin tours regularly with Brad Sherwood, a frequent “Whose Line” panelist.

Jeff Davis may not be as frequent a guest as Greg Proops or Brad Sherwood, but I’ve always enjoyed him when he was on the show. He’s now the co-host of “Harmontown,” the funny (but NSFW) podcast of brilliant, self-destructive “Community” and “Rick and Morty” creator Dan Harmon.

A few years ago, Ryan, Greg, Jeff and Chip/Charles began touring with a live, 90-minute show under the name “Whose Live Anyway?” At some point, perhaps when “Nashville” launched, Chip dropped out and was replaced by Joel Murray, younger brother of Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray. I can’t recall Joel having been on the TV show, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t. He certainly has a background in improv.

From left: Joel Murray, Jeff Davis, Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops

Anyway, the “Whose Live Anyway?” tour will be at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center on May 16. It was a little bit of a splurge — tickets at TPAC are never cheap — but I bought a ticket today, the first day for online sales. The show will be eight days after my birthday, so I think of it as a birthday present to myself. I’ll be in the balcony — pardon me, the “Grand Tier” — so I don’t know if there’s any chance I’ll get picked for any of the audience participation games.

The show is supposed to last about 90 minutes and be a mixture of familiar games from the show and other improv games.

I can’t wait. Several of my theatre friends have expressed interest in going; maybe some of us can ride together and make a night of it, even if we aren’t sitting together during the show. But even if I have to drive and park myself, it will be worth it.



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