What: Night of Improv with Ryan Stiles
When: 7:30 p.m. March 9
Where: Performing Arts Center of Wenatchee
Cost: $45 adults, $35 students, $55 for cabaret seating
Information: pacwen.org, 663-2787
WENATCHEE — Good improv starts with good ears, Ryan Stiles says. That’s how to make people laugh for decades on end. Worst pick-up lines! Baby’s first words! Stiles builds show after show from audience suggestions, which means the biggest asset he brings on stage is a team of actors who know how to listen.
“Two things make people good at improv, and listening is the main thing,” the 53-year-old says. Second is finding humor in the everyday, he said.
“Some people come into it with ideas of how they’re going to be funny, and what jokes they want to tell. With improv, you have to walk in with a blank mind. You have to listen to what’s being said, react and add more information to keep the scene going.”
A Seattle native, Stiles is best known as the 6-foot-6 guy with goofy facial expressions and funny shoes on “Whose Line is it Anyway?,” the Emmy-winning mock game show hosted by Drew Carey from 1998 to 2006. Stiles was one of four improv comedians — usually Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady and Greg Proops — who make up spur-of-the-moment skits, prop games and impromptu songs based on concepts from a stack of suggestion cards.
Stiles doesn’t plan to prepare too much for “A Night of Improv” March 9 at the Performing Arts Center. He might write some ideas for games on a napkin a half-hour before the show, he says. But, the themes? That’s all you.
Don’t expect a show exactly like “Whose Line is it Anyway?” First, the cast will be different, with Bill Teirny, Kent Loomer and Galen Emanuele — some of the best actors from The Upfront Theatre, Stiles’ improv school and theater in Bellingham.
“Drew’s not in it, so it’s a lot funnier,” Stiles says jokingly.
“I don’t work with the same people all the time, and I do that on purpose to keep it fresh.”
Also, a live stage gives the actors more space and freedom to try different games and props. The crowd-sourced ideas naturally give the show more local color.
“ ‘Whose Line’ was tough because when a scene went well, you get points and cut to commercial. It was hard to get a flow going. When we’re live, we put on a high energy show and we keep it going.”
Stiles has brought several improv tours to Wenatchee over the years, all met with warm welcomes. Both shows in 2006 and 2010 sold out.
After the current tour, Stiles will return to Los Angeles for a new season of “Whose Line” in April. The Warner Bros. channel plans to revive the show in April with a new host, comedian Aisha Tyler, and the old “Whose Line” cast.
Stiles is also an established script actor on prime-time comedy sitcoms. In the ’90s, he played Lewis, Carey’s beer-guzzling best friend on “The Drew Carey Show.” More recently, he played Herb Melnik on “Two and a Half Men,” a pediatrician married to (and recently divorced from) a main character’s ex-wife.
His heart has always been in improv, Stiles says. He dropped out of high school to pursue comedy, and joined Second City — a famous improv comedy troupe known as the training grounds for “Saturday Night Live.”
In 2004, he built his own comedy club, The Upfront Theatre, in Bellingham and modeled it after the Second City stage in Chicago. There, a group of improv masters trained by Stiles — including the actors coming to Wenatchee March 9, teach improv classes for dozens of kids, adults and business professionals seven days a week.
“When I was on ‘Whose Line’ and ‘Drew,’ I’d come back here and found myself driving to Seattle or Vancouver to be on stage,” he says. “I thought, ‘Why not build a place here?’ The people here are really good at what they do, to the point where people from L.A. will come up and do shows here. The theater is always full.”
Notoriously private, Stiles tends to shy away from social media and keep his wife and three kids out of the limelight. He’s discovered a few fans who used his name and family members’ names to impersonate them online.
Fame aside, he’d rather be a family guy than a celebrity. He likes to golf, rebuild classic cars and he lives on a lake with his family near Bellingham.
“I love my life the way it is right now,” he says. “I work more in the winter so I can stay home in the summer. I got a club here, and I can go down and perform when I want. It’s perfect.”
Rachel Hansen: 664-7139