Las Vegas Sun

November 22, 2014

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Wayne Brady brings improv act to Monte Carlo

Who: Wayne Brady.

When: 10 p.m. today and Saturday.

Where: Monte Carlo's Lance Burton Theatre.

Cost: $33.

Information: Call 730-7160.

Wayne Brady knows that guy. In fact, everyone does.

The guy who shows up at a party, is "on" the instant he walks through the door and never seems to turn off.

It's easy to think of Brady as being that guy, too. One of the stars of the ABC improv show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," Brady performs today and Saturday at the Monte Carlo.

As an important ingredient to the surprise success of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Brady, along with other cast regulars Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, is a powder keg of spontaneous energy as he routinely hams it up in unrehearsed skits and games, also known as "spot" improv.

So it's no wonder Brady is quick to point out that he's not that guy.

"If you were always 'on' you would drive the public, yourself and your family crazy," a rather low-key Brady said in a recent phone interview from Orlando, Fla. "It's my job to be that guy when I'm performing. But when my job is finished, then I'm me and I have business to tend to."

His "business" now includes a new TV series. "The Wayne Brady Show," an hour variety program heavy on sketch comedy, debuts in March on ABC. If the show's a ratings-grabber, he said, the plan is to launch it this summer in the same Thursday time slot as "Whose Line" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

There are also film offers, which are still too early to discuss, Brady said, as well as his own nationally touring show, which features him and two other improv performers and a keyboardist.

"Wayne Brady and Friends," as he calls it, is similar to "Whose Line," even offering a few of the same games, but he's quick to add that he's very protective of the series and its comedic territory. Consequently, for his touring show he and his cast have created their own games, packaged with more musical numbers as well as audience participation, which the time constraints of broadcast television often prevent.

It's because of this style that people often refer to him as a comedian, which bothers him.

"I don't want to be confused with one because then I think people will be expecting something from me that I can't deliver," Brady said. "I can't tell a joke to save my life. I don't have the natural timing and that mind-set."

Instead, Brady prefers to think of himself as an actor-comedian, with the emphasis on the former.

"On 'Whose Line,' we aren't telling jokes but we're doing these funny scenes, characters, vignettes and games. I love to have a good time and to make people laugh," he said.

Which he's been doing for quite some time.

An Orlando, native, Brady discovered theater in high school. After graduating he performed in dramas and musicals in various local theater groups.

It was during this period he began to think about developing his technique with improv. "I've been in situations before where you're doing a show or a very deep play and someone completely blows their line and gets the look of, 'Hey, I have no brain cells left.' I knew I never wanted to be that him. I knew that improv would help me."

So in 1990 he began to experiment with improv. He proved a quick study, being named Rookie of the Year for Theatre Sports/Improv by Orlando's Sak Theatre, and eventually began teaching the craft to other actors.

But he didn't give up on theater or acting.

He moved to Las Vegas in 1994, where he worked as a singer/dancer in a rock 'n' roll revue, "Rock Around the Clock," at the MGM Grand Adventures theme park for a year. Later he found himself landing bits parts on TV series such as "I'll Fly Away Home" and "In the Heat of the Night."

But it was his considerable improvisational skills on "Whose Line" that made Brady's face recognizable, first on the original British production and especially when the U.S. version debuted three years ago as a summer filler.

And he's the first to acknowledge that without "Whose Line" there would be no "Wayne Brady and Friends" tour.

"If you were to tell the average person they would have to pay between $30 to $45 bucks to catch some guys doing improv, they would say you're crazy," Brady said. "People were not really hip to improv before 'Whose Line' came along."

And now?

"People can say, 'Hey, let's go see that guy Wayne Brady do improv at the theater, because I know that improv is funny and he's funny,' " he said. "If 'Whose Line' hadn't been a hit, there would have been no way to get that out to the general populace."

That popularity, he said, is because improv is due in part on failure. Since there is no script or rehearsals, only the performers on stage with only a few seconds to create a character based on suggestion, there is considerable room for the actors to come up short. For example: if challenged to sing about a gardener in the style of country music, while making sure to include given facts about the gardener in the song.

"I succeed if I do it and I succeed if I fail, but if I fail with commitment in a funny way, as opposed to standing there and going, 'No, I can't do this,' " he said. "So I think the reason the audience buys into it is because of the tightwire."

When asked if he has fallen off that wire before, Brady said he has, but rarely.

"I've got a really good hit-to-miss ratio," he said. "But no one's perfect."

Well, except for maybe that guy.

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