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October 13, 2015

Ryan Stiles on 'Improv-a-Ganza' and Why Charlie Sheen Is Pulling an Andy Kaufman

by Joel Keller, posted Apr 20th 2011 3:00PM
Ryan Stiles on 'Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza'Ryan Stiles has known Charlie Sheen for over 20 years, and has worked with him on 'Two and a Half Men' for the last five as Herb, the hapless second husband of the ex of Charlie Harper's brother Alan (Jon Cryer). If you ask him, he thinks the whole "Winning!" version of Sheen we've seen over the last couple of months has been all an act.

"I guess I know a different Charlie than everybody else," he told me last week, "but to me, it's like the tiger blood and all that kind of stuff, I think that's kind of a big joke to him. I don't think he really believes anything that he's saying. I mean, he's just ... The guy I know is just a normal, nice guy, you know?"

That easygoing relationship led to Sheen's guest appearance on 'Drew Carey's Improv-a-Ganza,' which premiered last week on GSN.

But a lot about Stiles, most famous for being a cast member of 'The Drew Carey Show' and both the American and British versions of 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', is pretty easygoing to begin with. In our conversation, we talked about what makes 'Improv-A-Ganza' different from 'Whose Line,' why short-form improv works so well on TV, and more.

He's even easygoing about the mess on Sheen's show; when I asked him what he'll be doing coming up, he joked, "Probably not 'Two and a Half Men.'"

Joel Keller: What can you tell me about 'Improv-A-Ganza' that makes it different than 'Whose Line?'
Ryan Stiles: I think the main similarity is the fact that everyone who did 'Whose Line' is doing this show. So I think that was the popular thing about the show was the people that were doing it. The things that are different, that I think work for it, is you haven't got Drew there as a host, stopping the action to award points. It kind of kept the pace down. But this just moves at a quicker pace because Drew's a member of the cast now, and we don't stop it at all. We were also able to do a lot of scenes that we really couldn't do on 'Whose Line' because of time restraints.

We had a clip of a game game where the cast would start a scene, and then the piano player would just start playing something and they'd have to start singing in that style. Is that an example?
And then you get back into the scene? Yeah. That's a game that we probably couldn't have done on 'Whose Line.' The great thing about this is, everybody's quite happy if there's only three or four scenes per show, because we like to see these scenes play out. On 'Whose Line,' we had six, seven, eight scenes per show, so everything was pretty quick. And there's a lot of games that we just got tired of, like 'Hats' and 'World's Worst' and 'Hoedown' and stuff. We did the same games on every show. We can really mix it up here.

And we've got six people in this cast, which is great. I think a reason a lot of people preferred the English version [of 'Whose Line'] is, it was four different people every week, so it was a different combo of people. Whereas the American version, Colin [Mochrie] and Wayne [Brady] and I always had a seat, so it only left one seat open for all these talented people to come in every week.

How have Drew's improv skills improved over the years?
Drew's a funny guy. Because anything he gets into, he gets in 100%. Even when we were doing 'The Drew Carey Show,' he got into bowling and suddenly he's phoning up pros for tips and carrying around 3 balls. It's just how he does it.

Drew wants to learn. He's not one of these guys who thinks he's the star of the show. I mean, after every show, Drew will ask for notes from the other players. Drew's used to being the best at everything he does, right? So when he started doing improv with us, it bothered him that everybody else was better than him. Because at that point, we'd already been doing it 25 years. Now he feels a little more confidence, because he realizes this isn't a competition like standup. You're only as good as the other players out there with you.

Why does the short form improv that you guys do that seem to attract an audience?
It's funny in a lot of ways. I get a lot of people saying "Oh, you know that so and so game, we play that at home with our kids." It's easy, because there's a structure to every game. And any of us can do any game. It doesn't mean they can do it well. But because it has rules, people can do those games.

I did standup for a lot of years too, but when you come out as a standup, you get the feeling from a crowd, it's a kind of a "make me laugh" attitude. But when you come out as an improvisor, they realize that they're suggesting everything you do. So they're already invested in the scene, and they actually want it to work. So when you come out on stage, it's a much warmer feeling than doing standup.

Did you guys miss seeing Wayne there on a regular basis like you used to with 'Whose Line?' Would it have been fun to have him in the cast of this version?
It would've been fun. We're used to it, because after 'Whose Line,' we toured in different groups. Colin and Brad [Sherwood] tour a lot together, I tour with the three guys I mentioned [Chip Esten, Jeff Davis, Jonathan Mangum]. So everybody's used to working with different people in different groups.

It was great to have Wayne on, but it's not when we don't have Wayne on, we go out and [think] "Boy, I wish Wayne was here," you know? He's doing his own thing. It was great to have him on for a show. But we certainly don't miss Wayne when he's not on.

Do you think it's interesting that he Jonathan Mangum are doing these kind of games on 'Let's Make a Deal?'
When Wayne had his show in Vegas for however long it was, three, four years or whatever, Jonathan worked with him. Jonathan did improv with Wayne. So they're used to working together. And you know, it's 'Let's Make a Deal.' How funny can you really be? You're joking about a watch, you know?

Let's talk about Charlie Sheen. How did that appearance come about?
Actually the week before that happened, I was taping 'Two and a Half Men' and I mentioned to him that we're in Vegas. And he goes, "Oh, I'll fly in and see you guys." I really didn't take him too seriously about it. But then I got the call from him that he was in Vegas, and I said if you're coming to see the show, which he was, come up and do 'Story' with us at the end. It's not like we had to ask him twice. He was like, "Yeah, OK, let's do it." And backstage, he was like, "Oh boy, I can't believe you guys do this and make this up and blah, blah, blah." So he was quite into it.

But the odd part was, you could hear him in the audience the entire show. He laughed at stuff nobody else was laughing at. I think he laughed at everything. And then when we finished the show and we came back and did 'Story,' we said, "Ladies and gentleman, a special guest joining us for the show this evening, Charlie Sheen!" And suddenly, he wasn't in the audience. So after about a minute of no Charlie Sheen coming up, people were kind of like, "Oh, well that's kind of a dick thing to do." They thought we were kidding. But Charlie happened to be going to the bathroom at that time. He thought the show was over, so he went to go to the bathroom really quick, and then he came out from backstage and did it with us.

But I mean, he's a great guy. I've always got along well with Charlie. I did both 'Hot Shots' with Charlie, you know. So we go back 20 years. And he's open to stuff like that. He just wants to have fun.

Was there any indication when you saw him in Las Vegas that what was going to happen over the last couple of months was going to happen at all?
No. I mean, I never would have had an indication that he was going to go out and do a live show or anything. I've done 'Two and a Half Men' for five years, and Charlie's been nothing but professional on set. He learns his lines, he never messes up a line, he just laughs at everything he does. The crew loves him; he's incredibly nice to everybody. He's always been Charlie to me. He's never been outrageous.

I don't know if this is a big act from Charlie, or... I mean, you can never tell with him. Certainly backstage [at 'Improv-A-Ganza'], he was just normal Charlie. He was drinking water all night. There was no indications of anything that's happening now. I don't even know... this could be an Andy Kaufman thing for all I know.

So in other words, the whole "Winning!" and tiger blood and Adonis DNA... that way of talking that he's been doing in the press lately and during his tour, he wasn't that way on the set?
No! No, no, not at all. And when he came back[stage], he'd never met Drew before, and when they met, they chatted for 10 minutes. Then he met Colin, and they sat there and chatted. He was just genuinely happy to be there. We went out for drinks after, and he didn't come. "Hey, I had a great time, thanks. I'm gonna get back to the hotel."

What's your take on how everything went down?
Well, I mean, you know, I'm in the perfect position. Because I live up in Bellingham, [Washington], and I don't want to work down there [L.A.] on a full-time basis anymore, because I don't want to live back down there. I was away from my family for ten years, and now I have a little one and I want to be back here. So for me, it's perfect that I can do ten, twelve shows, whatever I do a year. It keeps up the dental and medical, and it's fun to drop in and do it. There's no pressure on me to do anything. They write funny lines for me.

You know, 'Whose Line' went 13 years, 'Drew' went 9 years; everything comes to an end eventually, and for whatever reason it comes to an end, it comes to an end. I imagine it's tough for the crew, but you know what? Crews can do a show for three shows and it's over. They're used to that. They're in their eighth season now. Tings come and things go. I don't think anybody expected this to go fifteen or sixteen years.

'Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza' airs weeknights at 8PM and 11PM ET on GSN.

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