Sept. 12 2016 01:59 PM

Jeff Davis talks improvising, ‘Whose Live Anyways?’

Jeff Davis began his acting career at 4, performing in what he describes as “a terribly ill-advised all-children productionof “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the Groundlings Theater in Hollywood. He began taking improv comedy classes while he was in high school, and eventually landed a spot on Drew Carey’s improvised ABC show, “Whose Line Is It Anyways?”


The actor/comedian has appeared in several TV series, including “The Sarah Silverman Show,” “Happy Family,” and “Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show.” He comes to Lansing Thursday with “Who’s Live Anyways?,” a touring version of the popular show. The touring cast also features Jeff Davis, Ryan Stiles and Greg Proops.


City Pulse sat down with Brian to talk about the touring show and how he got his start in improv.


How is “Whose Live Anyway?” different than the the TV show?


It’s similar in that it’s a lot of the same games that we play on the TV show. The difference is that because it’s not for television, you don’t have bunch of cameras in the way. And this isn’t edited at all. The TV show gets edited down to the best bits to make episodes, but the live show doesn’t stop for anything. It’s more fast paced, and there’s way more audience interaction.


For me, it’s much funnier. We have more fun, because it’s not as restricted when you’re in front of a live audience as it is when you’re making television. There’s a lot more rules that have to be observed there. What we get to do with the live show is play off each individual audience and feed off their energy, so each show has its unique qualities.


How did you get involved in “Whose Live?”


I started doing improv in high school and in college with ComedySportz, a small group in Los Angeles, and I got an audition for “Whose Line,” the old ABC version that was hosted by Drew Carey. I was lucky enough to get involved with that before it was canceled. But since then I’ve been traveling and touring and doing TV shows with the more famous guys and gals from the show. When they rebooted the show on the CW, I was lucky enough to get on that cast. What’s been really fun is, over the years, being able to travel the world and perform live with the funniest improvisers I know.


It seems like a lot more people today are more aware of improv.


When I started doing it, people didn’t know what improv was. We had to spend the first 10 minutes of the show explaining what improvisation is to the crowd. Now, every high school, every town, every college campus has an improv troupe. So many people on television got their starts at Second City or UCB or ImprovOlympic or even doing local improv with their friends. It really is a great way to break into television now as an actor or writer or creator. I know a lot of people whose first introduction to performing was some crappy improv group in their hometown.


I met so many friends who I still work with. There’s a guy I do a podcast called HarmonTown with — Dan Harmon, the creator of the NBC show “Community” and “Rick and Morty,” he’s kind of a hotshot now — but that’s how I got to know him, by doing improv. The same kind of things we do on ‘Whose Line.’


For “Whose Live Anyways?,” how much of the show do you plan out ahead of time?


The only thing we do is take a piece of paper and a marker and make a setlist of what games we are going to play, depending on how long the show needs to be. And that’s just so we know who’s going to be introducing it, who’s going to set up the next game, so we’re not wasting time wondering what comes next. The only preparation is the order and number of games we’re going to play. Other than that, it’s all based on audience suggestions. The less we know in advance, the happier we are. Because we’re too lazy to carry any gear and we’re too lazy to write anything down and remember it.


Can you give an example of the type of games you play?


One example is a bit where I bring a woman up out of the crowd and interview her about her life, and then I sing her a love song. There’s another game where we have audience members write down lines of dialogue before the show, and we collect those. Then we do a scene, and two of us, whenever we want to, reach into our pocket and incorporate the lines the audience has written. There games have their own internal structure, which is why we call them games, but they’re different every time because the crowds are different and the suggestions are different. We’re just playing off of whatever’s going on in the moment.


What other projects are you working on?


I have a new cartoon I’m working on. It’s a half animated, half live action show on the Seeso network, which is a new streaming network. It’s called “HarmonQuest,” and we play a “Dungeons & Dragons”-type role playing game, and animators come in and animate the fantasy world that we live in.




Whose Live Anyways?

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15

Tickets start at $27/$15 students

Wharton Center

750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing

(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com



Subscribe to Our Newsletter