This is my viewpoint, from the far end of the couch...talking about the joys of comedy with improv star Jonathan Mangum, why I want Josh Lucas back on TV after the failure of The Firm
, and that I want to hug Shawn Ryan right now.
If you were around a TV at all from 1998-2004, chances are you have fond memories of Whose Line Is It Anyway?
, the ABC version of the popular UK improvisational comedy show. It was amazing how a rotating group of comedians could make us laugh so hard we hurt ourselves with zero preparation and almost nothing to work with.
As a high schooler back then, I remember entire evenings where my friends and I would, rather than go out to parties or football games, stand around the front yard and play games of "Questions Only" or "Scenes From A Hat." No matter what else we were into, we were all watching Whose Line
Improv has come and gone on TV since the success of Whose Line
, but now it's making a comeback again. ABC has greenlit Trust Us With Your Life
, from the creative team behind Whose Line
and where some of the same talent will be re-enacting the lives of celebrities like Jerry Springer and Mark Cuban. I was able to snag some time with one of the hilarious comedians on the show, Jonathan Mangum, to talk about the lasting appeal of improv and what we can expect when the new show arrives on July 10.
"It's the next extension of Whose Line
," he told me. "Our host is Fred Willard, who you would know from Waiting For Guffman
. He interviews celebrities and based on stories they tell on what's happened in their life, we create improv scenes."
The show reunites, once again, many of the same familiar faces you remember from Whose Line
, and later Drew Carey's Green Screen Show
, and later still Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza
. I asked Jonathan why when improv comes to TV, we seem to see the same eight or so amazing people every time.
"I think that we're all really good at short-form improv," he explained. "There's something called long-form improv which is really popular, and it's different than what we do in that you'll get a team of actors, and they'll improvise a whole 30-45 minute play. When it's done well, it's really awesome to see how they can do that. The problem is it doesn't translate to television. It's too long and you can't really edit it. What we're good at, Wayne [Brady] and myself and Colin [Mochrie], Ryan [Stiles], all those guys, is we're trained to be funny quickly. There's not a lot of people that are being trained in that style. That's the reason it's the same people."
While they can all crack us up at home, there's one person that makes it particularly hard for Jonathan to not dissolve into laughter himself: "Ryan Stiles is the one that makes my face not stay straight ever," he confessed. "Because I know everyone else so well, I kind of know the kind of thing they're going to say next, but Ryan always says something completely unexpected."
We took a moment to reflect on how, as other trends in entertainment come and go, improv and this particular group of comedians seems to never quite leave the public consciousness. What has made it stick?
"When I started doing improv, which was in 1991 in Orlando with Wayne, I knew there were a couple troupes around, but now kids learn improv in high school," he said. "The Internet's been great for improv. I did a show with Wayne in England called Fast & Loose
; a clip of a scene
has over a million hits online. The same thing with Improv-A-Ganza
- all the clips online are just getting hundreds of thousands of views. I get to tour quite a bit with Wayne Brady across the country, and the
fact that we're still filling up shows and theaters and comedy clubs
means that people still like it."
Though he sees himself primarily as a comedic actor (because, as he glibly notes, "I just kind of sucked at all things. I even sucked at comedy, but I sucked the least at comedy. It was like the path of least resistance"), Jonathan has also done dramatic acting on shows like ER
, and is currently the announcer for the Wayne-hosted revival of Let's Make A Deal
"It is definitely switching gears but I've been acting just as long as I've been improvising," he told me. "I'm writing a pilot for myself with a good friend of mine, and we're going to shoot it low-budget style in my house and hope we can get it sold. Hulu and Google and Yahoo and Netflix, they all want original programming," he added, citing the Hulu original series Battleground
as an example.
As far as what shows interest him, most of what he's currently watching is drama, such as Breaking Bad
, The Wire
and Game of Thrones
. But "Comedy-wise, I love Raising Hope
, old Steve Martin movies, Monty Python
, Kids In The Hall
are great, anything with Bob Newhart. He has the best comedic timing of anyone I've ever seen."
Meanwhile, he'll just keep on making us laugh for a long time to come. Even in an interview, he's not short of hilarious words. "I think I need more appreciation for my hair. I spend a lot of time on it," he quips. And when I ask him if there's anything he wants readers to know about him? "That I know where they live."
Yep. Spoken like a true comedian. Thanks for all the laughs, Jonathan, and we're looking forward to a whole lot more.You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@mangum1) and don't miss Trust Us With Your Life when it arrives July 10 on ABC.
Josh Lucas Should Have a Second Chance on TVThe Firm
is now officially dead, but Josh Lucas needs to star in another TV show.
The project based on John Grisham's novel was not a success - a promising, character-driven start dissolved somewhere in the midst of flashforwards, flashbacks and increasingly implausible action. But it allowed me to see an enjoyable film actor make the transition to a weekly series, and I liked what I saw.
Lucas has given good performances in film for a long time; he won a lot of ladies over in Sweet Home Alabama
, was the best thing about Poseidon
and absolutely nailed his portrayal of legendary college basketball coach Don Haskins in Glory Road
. He's one of those people I'd go to see no matter what movie he's in, and so naturally I was enthralled to get to watch him more often than once or twice a year.
As Mitch McDeere, Lucas gave a valiant effort. His Mitch paid homage to but was not a copycat of Tom Cruise's performance from the feature film. He was a different man, a decade later - and the kind of man I'd want to have representing me in court or even just have a drink with. The reason I initially loved the show, and hung in with it long after many other critics had turned away, was because Lucas made me care about this man and his unwavering belief that there was still some inherent good in the world. I wanted to see him win. I cared about his happiness. I admired his convictions.
But in the end, The Firm
wasn't the right vehicle for Lucas.
Still, he's a more than capable actor who could do great things on the small screen with the right project behind him. I liken him to Gabriel Macht, who likewise had been a fantastic but not "name" film actor for a long time before Suits
, where he's been able to dig into the character of Harvey Specter and be supported by writing that's as sharp as Macht himself is. Give Josh Lucas another show, with the right components around him, and he could be just as good.
I'm certainly hoping I get the chance to find out.
Last Resort, or How I Learned To Love A Nuclear Submarine
If I could, I would send a gift basket to Shawn Ryan. After giving me one of my favorite series of all time in FOX's The Chicago Code
, he's at it again with the new ABC show Last Resort
The impeccable Emmy winner Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street, Men of a Certain Age
, the underwatched Thief
) back on TV? In the same series with my favorite actor of all time, Robert Patrick (Ryan's The Unit, The X-Files, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
)? Which happens to be written by someone I consider to be one of the top scribes on television today, if not all time?
Getting to watch these two brilliant actors, among others, each week instead of waiting for their next films to come out? And knowing they'll be working with writing of that caliber?
I'm so there. I would set the season record on my DVR, but it won't go ahead that far. So I'll just say this: thank you, Shawn Ryan, for coming back to television again and bringing two marvelous, mind-blowingly great actors with you. Television will be much better off for this show's mere existence, never mind what happens to it.
Now: could you get Jason Clarke to make a guest appearance?For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my BuddyTV writer page, and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.
Images courtesy of Game Show Network and NBC