Take five comedians, one stage and a non-existent script; throw in a few audience-suggested skits and wait for the laughs. For more than 20 years, in numerous incarnations, Whose Line is it Anyway? has been entertaining audiences across the world, and this month Ian Coppinger, Steve Steen, Niall Ashdown, Andy Smart and Stephen Frost bring their live version to The First Group Theatre once again.
The simple premise, whereby audience members direct the comedians’ improvisational sketches, ensures that every show is different. Games and faces may be familiar, but there’s no doubt that each performance will be a new experience – it all depends on what the audience decides the performers should do. However, while the audience may control the themes, it’s the seasoned comedians who hold everything together. On tour for most of the past decade, these are some serious professionals. Stephen Frost tells us what we can expect to see in this show of surprises.
Is it good to be back in Dubai?
We always have a good time in Dubai. It’s one of our favourite gigs because of the theatre in which we perform [The First Group Theatre]. We’ve done cabarets and bars and sports halls and ballrooms and all the rest of it, and you have to adapt to the venue. But the Dubai theatre is wonderful. We love it. We’ve been coming here for a very long time and it’s always fantastic.
How does the live version differ from the TV show?
The live show is better. And it’s not just me that’s saying that! The audience shouts out suggestions and we act them out, so it’s very much up to them how the show goes. As soon as the audience realise that, they really get into the swing of things. Plus, there are fewer restrictions. We don’t have to work towards advert breaks or anything like that. We can actually do what we want, so it’s more free-flowing. And, within reason, we can say what we want, which is fantastic.
Is that still true in Dubai?
Yes. We’re not confrontational stand-up comedians. We are actually a jolly, almost family-appropriate show. We’re not here to upset or to offend; we’re here to make people laugh. It’s as simple as that.
Do you ever get lost for words?
You can’t get lost for words. If you do that, you’re not doing your job properly, are you? You also have to remember that there are five of us, and most of the games in our performances involve two of us. Occasionally three or four, or even all five of us. So you always have support. If it was just me doing improv on a show on my own, I think there would be problems! It’s all about support and teamwork. Five heads
are better than one – it’s as simple as that. One of us will always have something to say.
Have you played any particularly memorable gigs?
There was one gig in Singapore, by the river, under an umbrella, with no microphones, in a thunderstorm. And do you know what? It went down very well. The show must go on!
Do you carry on with the improv in real life?
Yeah, well, that’s what we do. This is how we make a living, but also if you have to go to see the bank manager and explain yourself, you know, you can make things up. So it’s useful in all walks of life.
Don’t know what to expect from the Whose Line is it Anyway? team? Here are a couple of the random sketches they’ve managed to whip up in the past…
A song about a mop, in cocktail lounge jazz ballad style.
Worst possible candidate speeches. (‘We are going to rule this country not through economic policies… but through dance!’)
Solving the crisis of acid rain is the ridiculous ‘superhero’ Can’t Move Without Hurting Himself Boy.
An inventor fears his super-car is homicidal (‘I invented you! I made you Robo-Audi! I made you the most powerful car in the whole German motoring scheme! You can’t kill me now! You don’t know how to change your own tyres!’).