Greg Proops: interview
He's back! Legendary improviser and biting American stand-up Greg Proops is in London for one show only. But this isn't the last we'll see of him, he tells Time Out.
Is there anything in comedy that Greg Proops hasn't done? The San Franciscan comic has performed improv, sketch and stand-up, been in countless sitcoms, on chat shows and radio programmes, and even voiced a 'Star Wars' character (pod-racer commentator 'Fode' in 'Episode I: The Phantom Menace'). Most recognisable as a core member of both the UK and US versions of long-running series 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', Proops lived in London for five of the ten years he was part of the British show, touring the country and regularly appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe. But due to commitments across the Atlantic, his British presence has been reduced to 'Whose Line…' repeats of late.
But things are a-changin'. The sharp-suited comic is steadily edging back into the spotlight and it won't be long before he's back in full force. Having just returned from the Edinburgh Fringe where he spent a week as part of improvised stand-up show 'The Set List', Proops is performing with pioneers of the improv scene, The Comedy Store Players, this Wednesday. And he's not finished with England yet. London, it's battle stations…
You're from San Francisco but lived in the UK for five years. How did your love affair with Britain start?
'I was always an Anglophile, but in 1989, when I got cast on “Whose Line…”, it really opened my mind. I'd never really been outside of the United States before and playing in front of British crowds gave me a different perspective. Having to please people that don't have the same set of references as me, having to communicate with and understand them, made me a better comedian I think.'
You've performed with numerous improv groups over the years. How do you gel quickly with new acts?
'When you sit in with new groups I think your job is to carry the ball a little bit, but also to listen. Listening is always good because it means you're learning something about what's going on. I try not to dominate everybody with my enormous wand.'
Do you enjoy the challenge of being put on the spot?
'Abso-fucking-lutely! Improv, things like “The Set List” and my podcast, raise the stakes so high that there's an exhilaration that gets the crowd cheering. They get a thrill out of watching us grapple with new ideas. The podcast and “The Set List” have reinvigorated my love of the craft. It's made it harder and that's made it funner for me.'
Is it nice to have freedom with the podcast? No editorial control, direction or censorship?
'Oh, that's the biggest and most important thing. It's a direct communication between the listener and me. I think that's the success of podcasts in general; people feel you're speaking one on one. And because of the absence of showbiz, they understand that you're being sincere and honest - and there's nothing that replaces that.'
You're constantly recording new ones: do you enjoy having to turn over material and stay topical?
'I adore it. Someone asked me if I was afraid of running out of material for the podcast. No way! There's always something going on in the world. What I am afraid of is repeating the same ideas over and over like a drunk. I talk about what I want to talk about and that's part of the honesty of it. People respond to it because it seems real. I try to be as funny as I can, but I talk about serious things too. I don't think that's a crime in a podcast. I think it's okay to have some texture.'
Has it ever been a goal to transfer the format to TV or radio? Or is it simply a different creative output for you?
'Well, TV and radio have roundly ignored me for the past year, so I feel like this is a chance to get back in on my own terms. I'm hoping the podcast reintroduces me to people who knew me from something else and introduces me to a whole new audience. It's exciting. You don't want to be “the guy from the thing” the rest of your life. I'm always willing to play greatest hits, I'm not that stingy a performer. But I think it's important to keep it new.'
And what about your stand-up? Would you like to bring a show back over here at some point?
'Oh, absolutely. I'd like to do the Soho Theatre and tour again. Coming back this week is me trying to break in again. I'd like people to know that I am going to come back over and that I'm still cogent. Remember me? I'm your old TV friend from the day!'