Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood: A Masterclass in Comedy Brain Magic

Image: Brad Sherwood and Colin Mochrie (center) with students and alumni from CTSA at the Irvine Barclay Theatre (Photo by Jaime DeJong/UCI)
By Professor Joel Veenstra, Department of Drama


On December 1, 2023, the Irvine Barclay Theatre transformed into a hub of laughter and creativity with Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood’s nearly sold-out improvisational comedy show, Scared Scriptless. The duo, renowned for their mastery showcased on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, entertained the audience with two and a half hours of interactive improvisation, proving their enduring skills in the craft.


Earlier in the evening, Mochrie and Sherwood engaged with a group of UCI students and alumni in a special educational outreach event offering insights into the world of improvisation.


During the Q&A session, the duo shared their thoughts on the unique nature of improvisation, with Sherwood calling it “comedy brain magic” and saying that every show is a gift for the specific audience present that night. They shared that improvisation is something that is transcendent, live, and in the moment. Mochrie and Sherwood approach each show as if it were opening night, because it is — and it is also the closing night. It is an experience that can never truly be captured on recorded video. “The live audience was key for Whose Line,” said Mochrie, highlighting the importance of the immediate connection with the audience. 


The conversation touched upon the evolution of the show from the early days. “The show is not precious,” Mochrie noted, emphasizing the need to adapt and evolve. Their show rotates through a menu of around seven games with new twists, setting aside games that feel tired or no longer feel right – ensuring a fresh and dynamic experience for the audience. The conversation delved into the mechanics of a successful improv show. They emphasized the importance of variety, including physical games, verbal games, and musical elements. Audience participation is also key, but give careful consideration to the arrangement of games in the menu to maintain a balance and variety. Initially, they started almost every show with moving bodies — their current set list pushes spontaneity to the limits. Sherwood added, “Do things that scare you,” encouraging aspiring improvisers to step out of their comfort zones. 


“Improvisation is a muscle,” Sherwood added, underscoring the constant need to flex that muscle to maintain creativity. “Slow down when you don’t feel like you have anything,” advised Sherwood, highlighting the need to stay calm in moments of uncertainty and listen. They shared that in those blank moments, either something will come to you or your other improvisor will pick up the ball, emphasizing the collaborative nature of improv. 


The discussion took a deeper turn as they delved into the evolution of comedy in the face of societal changes. The duo discussed how comedy has evolved to be less sexist, homophobic, and sizeist. They acknowledged that certain jokes are no longer acceptable and considered lazy in the modern world. Addressing the issue of cancel culture, Mochrie and Sherwood encouraged comedians to work harder and deliver content in a way that respects individuals as well as the sensitivities of the audience. When someone makes you laugh, try to figure out why they are making you laugh,” advised Mochrie, stressing the importance of understanding the audience’s as well as your own perspective. Sometimes, our perspective is just one of ignorance; it is important to continually challenge oneself in the pursuit of comedic excellence.


Mochrie and Sherwood’s visit to the Irvine Barclay Theatre was not just a showcase of laughter but a masterclass in the art of improvisation. The stars of “Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood: Scared Scriptless” left the audience inspired to embrace life’s spontaneity and find humor even in unexpected moments.


Image: Students and alumni from the Department of Drama in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts sit down with Colin Mochrie (right) and Brad Sherwood for a Q&A.