Improviser Colin Mochrie’s most inspiring words: “Yes, and…”
By Randall Kenneth Jones
Originally published in the Naples Daily News
That said, very few will ever be called upon to act like, for example, a lead-poisoned beaver, an Opera-singing bovine or an intelligence-deprived handyman. Fewer still will find themselves professionally seduced into assuming the characteristics of the opposite sex.
And though it may sometimes feel like it, most don’t spend their workdays tip-toeing blindfolded through 100 fully loaded mousetraps—each ready to prey upon our professional missteps.
So if your workday is compromised by an annoying up-and-comer nipping at your heels, try spending a day walking in the shoes of comedian and improviser extraordinaire Colin Mochrie.
For Mochrie, “crazy” is his stock in trade.
A one-time honor student and wannabe marine biologist, the quiet, shy Mochrie was coaxed into auditioning for a play at school. “Once I got my first laugh, I was hooked,” he says. After all, laughter is the drug that enslaves many who seek the comedic limelight.
Mochrie is perhaps best known for the various incarnations of the popular TV show, “Whose Line is it Anyway?” After nine years on the British series, he appeared from 1998-2007 on the Drew Carey-hosted U.S. version on ABC and ABC Family. The show was revived in 2013 on The CW with host Aisha Tyler.
A native of Scotland but a life-long resident of Canada, Mochrie has also toured the world with “Whose Line” castmate Brad Sherwood.
It could be said that Colin Mochrie’s line of duty possesses perils akin to walking on a tightrope—potential disaster looms with every step. As an artist, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
His unshakable acceptance of improvisation’s inherent dangers—including the aforementioned mousetraps—raise the bar, stimulate the creative process and enhance not only his product, but the creative output of those around him.
Unlike Mochrie, most don’t intentionally try to make their jobs more difficult. “We go out of our way to make it tougher,” he says of his stage and television appearances. “It makes it more interesting.”
Because his job is to expect the unexpected—to unconditionally accept the suggestions and scenarios tossed his way—Mochrie is understandably more fearless than the Average Joe. “You just have to do it,” he says. “That’s when you learn your strengths and your weaknesses.”
And just like a tightrope walker, Mochrie excels through fearlessness, focus and faith—and finally, by flagrantly throwing caution to the wind.
Colin Mochrie is ultimately a talented-yet-unassuming guy who simultaneously puts the “face” in “facetious,” yet—in person—reveals the “human” in the “humor.”
At his core, Mochrie is a team player—one who appreciates the benefit of having worked with many of his colleagues for decades. The result: they (quite literally) finish one another’s sentences. “I don’t really do ‘jokes;’ says Mochrie, “I work with great people and together, we come up with ‘funny.’”
To suggest that Mochrie simply “makes stuff up” is a disservice to him and those in his inner improv circle. Truth be told, it takes a lot of commitment and mental prep to appear so hilariously ill-prepared.
The fundamental rule for improvisation is to literally and figuratively say “yes” to all suggestions rather than blocking the creative process with the imagination’s ultimate buzzkill: “no.”
The same could easily be said of any creative pursuit.
Furthermore, by following “yes” with “and,” one not only validates the suggestion provided but expands upon its potential. For example:
“Yes Charlotte, I am the spider from the web…and I’ve always wanted to dance like Gene Kelly.”
(Cue impromptu Spider in the Rain dance.)
Business organizations have also come to appreciate the value of improv training to enhance communication skills. Improv helps to break down barriers, build self-confidence, overcome negativity, encourage trust, bolster cooperation, foster creative thinking and boost morale.
Carol Nissenson, Managing/Artistic Director of Washington, DC-based NOW THIS! has taught improvisation techniques to Corporate America for 25 years.
“I’ve heard the phrase ‘think outside the box’ hundreds of times. I prefer: improvisation teaches you to look inside the box, see what’s there and use it in different and more effective ways,” says Nissenson. “Even if your initial response is ‘that’s an awful idea,’ try looking at it this way: remember the Pet Rock? An ‘awful idea’ that became a huge success.”
Mochrie recalls: “Brad and I did a workshop for GE executives in New York. Their natural inclination was to not listen.”
However, once the participants said “yes” and (here comes the magic word again) “listened,” according to Mochrie: “The scenes started to move forward rather than being stopped by one person’s negativity.”
Everyone improvises on a daily basis. In fact, isn’t the ability to be quick on one’s feet typically considered a benefit? None of us is going to have an answer prepared for every question. Like it or not, the art of improvisation is a must-have professional tool.
For Mochrie: “My thing has always been to make sure the people I am working with are having as much fun as possible. Making sure that I’m there to give them whatever they need.”
Professionally speaking: is there a more powerful and/or honorable goal?
He also takes his work home with him: “My wife is also an improviser. It’s amazing how often you can be negative in your day-to-day life,” observes Mochrie. “Now, we try to say ‘yes’ to new experiences and see where they take us.”
Is there value in imitating Colin Mochrie, the master of imitation, spontaneity, dependability, collaboration and positive, productive professional peril?
YES, and—now it’s your turn.
Marketer, publicist, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.
Photos: TOP — Colin Mochrie (courtesy photo); Photo 2 — Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood (courtesy photo); Photo 3 — Randall Kenneth Jones and Colin Mochrie (photo by Kevin Randall Jones); BOTTOM — Randall Kenneth Jones (photo by Kevin Randall Jones).