The cast of Whose Line Is It Anyway? was kind of like The Beatles, or any pop culture sensation: easy to subcategorize into nifty personas. You had the Tall One (Ryan Stiles), the Canadian One (Colin Mochrie), the Singing One (Wayne Brady), the Hard-nosed Arbiter (Drew Carey), and the Dapper One (Greg Proops). (There was also Brad Sherwood, Chip Esten, Kathy Greenwood, and about two dozen others.) With his tuft of downy blonde hair, Buddy Holly glasses, and penchant for nasally impressions, Proops played it somewhere between retro hipster and wiseass nerd. When Whose Line ended its run on ABC in 2006, Proops rode the crest of his improv success, appearing on the short-lived WB series Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show and, more recently, Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza.
Granted, Proops is a genuine improv talent. But he’s also made his name as a stand-up, voice-actor, Fox News commentator, and, most recently, podcaster—a talent as mercurial as his acrobatically expressive eyebrows suggest. (He also does a great William Shatner.) The A.V. Club talked to Proops before his shows April 19-21 at Zanies about the Whose Line legacy, his podcast, and the very essence of the Proopsian .
The A.V. Club: Are you currently in the Fortress of Proopsitude?
Greg Proops: No, I’m in San Luis Obispo. I’m doing a show tonight with Ryan Stiles’ group.
AVC: How has it held up over the years, hanging out and performing with the Whose Line guys?
GP: Well, you know, they’re pretty much dead weight. And I’ve had to drag them behind for years. When you’re the sexy one in the group, it’s just a terrible burden. No, I’ve been working with these guys for 100 years, and have a lot of fun with them. The reason why we like it... we’re actually funny when we do improv. We make the biggest concerted effort to be funny. A lot of improv can be hit-and-miss.
AVC: A lot of times, it’s more about the effort going into the making of an invisible sandwich or something than it is about jokes.
GP: Yeah, we don’t play games in that kind of way. We give that the ol’ heave-ho. We hit the stage with a vengeance. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve worked with the Comedy Store Players a lot this year, and everybody’s top-notch. I just show up. Drunk.
AVC: Having worked in improv for so long, does it ever get tiring? Or is that part of the fun, it being something new every night?
GP: Oh no, it doesn’t get old, actually. It’s fun. It’s like acting without all the rehearsal bullshit.
AVC: Even on your podcast, everything seems very off-the-cuff.
GP: Well that’s why I like it. It doesn’t get old for me. In stand-up and in the podcasts, I really like to riff. The chance to riff with all my buddies is really fun. And, yes I do. I do extemporize a lot on the podcast.
AVC: The podcast is interesting, too, because it’s all you. There’s no one for you to riff off of.
GP: I made the decision to make it all me. There are so many great guys doing interview shows. I didn’t want to do another interview show.
AVC: It almost seems nowadays that every comedian has to have a podcast. It’s become part of the landscape.
GP: I think so, too. For me, it’s just a great thing that happened. The guys who produced Jimmy Pardo’s Never Not Funny and Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies came to me about a year ago and said, “Do you want to do a podcast?” and I had no idea what to do. I knew I couldn’t interview people. So I talked to Phil Bowman—he’s a friend of mine; he’s a writer. And he said, “Well, you know how you come off? You come off like you’re the smartest man the in the world. So take questions, like you know everything.” And I thought that was fucking hilarious. So that was the premise.
AVC: Have you ever gotten a question that’s tripped you up, that you couldn’t answer on the fly?
GP: Absolutely. And if I do trip up, I’ll go back and research it to come up with a better answer. Someone gave me some recently, about if I could smoke pot or drink constantly without any repercussions, which one would I choose. And I said pot. But I was weighing all the pros and cons. Occasionally I get stumped. But I would never admit it, of course.
AVC: You tend to use your last name a lot on the show: being called “His Proopness,” and calling your podcast headquarters the “Fortress of Proopsitude” and all that. Is there an essence to Proops or to the Proopsian? Is that the adjective? Proopsian?
GP: You can say “Proopsian,” yes. I like Proopsian. But yeah, I don’t know, it’s tons of references that no one gets, a fair amount of profanity, some half-baked political ideas. What else is Proopsian? Some history that no one wants. I bring it all. I bring it all for very few, and that’s my skill. The best thing about the Proopscast is that the more obscure it is, and the more I make it about myself, the more people respond. That just blows my mind.
AVC: Do you find that weird at all, that people are getting this almost perverse insight into you?
GP: No, I think it’s long overdue. A lot of people only know me from Whose Line Is It Anyway? and a lot of people didn’t even like that show, I found out. Now they think I’m funny. And I appreciate that. This is how people want their comedy now. I think TV and all that is great, I don’t lift my nose at it or anything, but I don’t think it’s where comedy is at right now. I think comedy is at the podcast level because it’s so personal, and directed right at the listener. And you can listen to it when you want to. And that’s what people want nowadays, they want convenience, and that’s what these do. Comedy fans understand that this isn’t a book or adventure. It’s me in a room. I often don’t charge for it, in L.A. It’s free to download. And nobody’s telling me what to say or do. So far the government has stayed out of all of this. I think that’s why you get a real honest take from all the people on their podcasts. Then there’s the dabbling in the variety of all the podcasts. There’s something for everybody.
It’s taken the corporate media a while to catch up for that. They didn’t anticipate that when Adam Corolla went off his radio gig, he would become this giant podcaster. He’s doing the numbers cable shows get. If it was on MSNBC and they get the kinds of numbers that Mark Maron or Adam or Kevin Smith get, they’d be running around the fucking room. They’d be offered zillion-dollar contracts. But they have to deal with the fact that we get a lot of people to listen to us. I get more people than I can play to! I do live work all the time. I’m always on the road. And you get more people hearing you than could ever see you. I’d have to play a 20,000-seat gig. So you’re reaching loads of people, and you’re reaching people from all over.
AVC: You mentioned how you do a bit of political stuff on the podcast. You’re also a commentator on Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld on Fox News. Is that just another thing where you can go on and say whatever about what the topic is?
GP: That’s exactly what I like. I’m not a very Fox News-type comedian, but Greg never cared about that. It was always about doing whatever I like, and being really funny. Also, he and his crew work very hard, frankly, to make that show a little more irreverent than frankly a lot of the talk shows think they are.
AVC: It must be another way, too, to break away from people associating you with Whose Line.
GP: Absolutely. I think that’s the best part. I love Whose Line and I’ll always be associated with it. I just did another show with all the Whose Line guys that’ll probably be on ABC sometime next year. We just shot it in London. But what’s really important to me is the podcast. I love it. It’s the most fun I’ve had in 100 years. And I’ve gotten the best response I’ve got for anything in literally 10 or 15 years. More people write about it. More people talk about it. More people come to me and tell me they love it. I went around the world with it this year. I’ve been to London, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Montreal, Cleveland, Austin—I’ve just had a heck of a time doing it. Paul Tompkins, Doug Benson—I’m sure all of them would agree that it’s just a huge part of it now. It’s changed our game.
AVC: Do you think it has anything to do with stand-up generally being more conversational, more about the comic just talking for an hour instead of doing more jokey jokes?
GP: I think there’s a small gap artistically, especially where I’m concerned. I’m trying to catch my stand-up up to my podcast. My podcast is me really laying it down off the top of my head. I still do my act when I’m onstage, but I’m trying to bring in more of that feel. One day in the near future I will achieve that apotheosis.
AVC: You mentioned that you were in London filming a Whose Line special. Is this with the original, old-school Whose Line cast, with Clive Anderson?
GP: No, it was for ABC in America. It’s me, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady. And Josie [Lawrence], who was on the English series, did one, and Jonathan Mangum, who we worked with over the yeas, did some. It was developed by a producer of Whose Line, Dan Patterson. It’s a new format for improv. It’s called Trust Us With Your Life. I have no idea when that’s coming on, but we shot it two weeks ago. It’s in the can, as they say. So we’ll wait to see what happens with that: if it strikes a chord with anybody or if it sends everybody running, screaming from the room.
AVC: A lot of people say that Whose Line was all pre-scripted in advance and that the improv was egged along a bit, or impure. Care to debunk that?
GP: Well I mean, I was on the show for 14 years, and no one ever told me what to say. We knew where to stand, because we did camera blocking, and we knew what games we were going to be in. But past that, everything that came out of our mouths, we thought of. So, no. It wasn’t prepared. They had writers to write the suggestions beforehand. But we never saw the suggestions. Frankly, it fucks up improv, to know what you’re going to do. It’s hard to fake improv convincingly. And you’re talking about, like, Ryan Stiles. He doesn’t need to fake improv, man. He’s a genius.
People always say it was prepared because they can’t imagine how people can do that. But if you practice a lot, and you and the other people you’re doing it with are good at it, then you can do it. “Oh, so it’s edited?” Yeah, it’s a TV show. There’s stuff that didn’t work and they cut it out. But you can find that on the DVDs, with all of us swearing when shit explodes on us. We made it up. I don’t know why people always think you can’t.
AVC: It’s a bit like seeing magic on TV: You’re always doubting that it’s not real even when you’re taken in by it.
GP: Yeah, but obviously magic’s not real. I don’t know that improv’s magic so much as… I don’t know. Whose Line was frantically paced. We had no time to think about what we were going to say. I remember one we did years ago, which was “Who Wants To Be A German Millionaire?” or something. We were told it was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in German. And that’s it. I couldn’t believe how fucking fast we were going. I remember being terrified. But I dove right in. I almost said “Final Solution” at one point, if I recall. Which would have been slightly tasteless.
AVC: It seems like they’re lobbing that joke right over the plate. How could they give you Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in German and not expect you to say “final solution”? It’s almost mean.
GP: Exactly. I got to the thing and said, “Is that your final… answer?” The reason why people liked it was because it wasn’t like anything else on TV. You know what you’re going to get when you watch an American sitcom. Except for the five or six sitcoms which are really creative, the format is dick joke, dick joke, dick joke, dick joke. It’s nothing you don’t expect. With us, you didn’t actually know what the hell we were going to fucking do, and neither did we.
AVC: Getting back to doing stuff online, like your podcast, another major outlet for comedians these days is Twitter. Looking for yours one came up, which may be fake. It’s @greg_proops and it has your picture and everything. It makes it sound like you have an endorsement deal with Arby’s or something?
GP: Oh he’s just an idiot. I don’t know who that is.
AVC: You’ve got an imposter on Twitter, it seems.
GP: Yeah, well, this is the great democracy of the Internet. It’s all trolls and munchkins. The thing that drives me nuts about the Internet is that you’ll put something out and the first comment will be, “This fuckin’ sucks. He’s gay.” No one ever answers it or monitors it and makes it right. You can’t. The Internet is this vast democracy of bullshit where everyone’s entitled to give their opinions. I try to ignore people who are pretending to be me. I don’t have time. Like if I type the date wrong online all these people will be commenting, “It’s not December 3rd, it’s December 4th!” Like, come on.
AVC: You shouldn’t have called your podcast The Smartest Man In The World. You’re asking for all this trouble.
GP: [Laughs.] That’s the other thing. Of course it’s a joke. People come up to me and are like, “Do you really think you’re the smartest man in the world?” Like no, of course not. I never graduated college. Also, in this day and age in America… I don’t like the expression “dumbing down,” but it’s inescapable that people have lost the reference points they once had. It wasn’t out of the realm 30 or 40 years ago to make a literary reference and expect people to fucking get it.
AVC: For years in interviews, you lied about owning an ocelot. Anything else you want to come clean about?
GP: Well, I do have an ocelot. It’s a cute little pup. He runs around the yard there, in Los Angeles. Around the fortress. I really don’t like when people say I lied about it. I feel like calling people out for lying about something on the Internet is completely irrelevant, since almost anything on the Internet is completely erroneous. If you go on Wikipedia, and look up people, you can be sure it’s all wrong. My Wikipedia page, I’ve tried to give them my bio, since I know my bio, and help with a few things that are wrong, but someone goes in and re-does it and makes it wrong again. So it’s like, well, that’s how that goes.
AVC: So your birth name is not Gregory Everett Proops, as it appears on Wikipedia?
GP: No, my name’s Gregory Everett Proops. That’s true.
AVC: But beyond that, it’s just a mish-mash of half-truths and fabrications?
GP: See, people think of things, and then they put them on there, things that sound right. Nobody really vets information anymore, which is why I think things like books are good.