What I’ve come to learn more and more is that comedians aren’t just “funny guys”. Those who excel in any art are not limited to one skill. In fact, their genius reflects upon every other aspect of their lives, making these individuals brilliant in more ways than we can immediately perceive. We can all learn from those with real passion.
I spoke with someone who has been an outstanding improvisational comedian for over two decades. He is wise, he loves dogs, and he is not lacking in passion. His name is…
David Luna: Tell me your earliest memory.
Brad Sherwood: My earliest memory in performing: I was in preschool and I did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and I was Snoopy, and I was just laying on the doghouse, dancing the whole time. That was my first memory of being in front of an audience.
DL: Can you remember how you felt when you worked your first acting job?
BS: I liked it. I liked being in front of people. I was an only child, so I think I was a little starved for attention. Being around people was such a rarity for me. I felt like I lived a lot of time in solitary with my own thoughts, so any time I got a chance to be with other people was really exciting.
DL: Do you feel the same way today about acting? Do you feel like you always want to be in front of people, or do you also reserve a good chunk of time for solemn introspection or just solitude?
BS: Now the only time I like to be around people is when I’m performing. Now I’m back to being a completely solitary, hermit-like person, except for when I’m performing.
DL: What do you do with the time you have to yourself? Any creative things?
BS: Yeah, I have a lot of different creative outlets. Sometimes I play guitar and write sort of folky, introspective-y kind of songs. Sort of James Taylor, Cat Stevens-like stuff. And I paint, but I haven’t painted in a long time. Mostly abstract, weird stuff, like Peter Max.
DL: Of the music you’ve written, is any of it available for people to listen to online, or is it stuff you do privately?
BS: It’s mostly stuff I do privately. I should actually be a little more organized. Most of it’s in a fairly listenable state that I can actually probably put it on iTunes. I would never be looking for it to be a real source of income, but for people interested in hearing “oh, what kind of songs does Brad write,” I should get more organized and throw it on to iTunes.
DL: Out of the projects that you’ve been involved with, which ones have been the most rewarding?
BS: Really, my favorite is what Colin and I are doing now, which is our live tour. It’s so much fun. We both like being in front of a live audience, we both like making people laugh and we have complete creative control over the show, so we’re the ones calling the shots. We go out 40 to 50 times a year, and it pays our bills and keeps us busy and we still have lots of free time to do other things, including taping Whose Line and other projects. So, it’s really the best of both worlds.
DL: I actually interviewed Colin about a year ago, and it was such a pleasure talking to him. He seems very humble, and the two of you have obviously known each other for a long time. What was your first impression of him?
BS: He is so quiet and shy in person that it’s almost unbelievable that he does what he does for a living and that he is the personality on Whose Line that comes out and when we do our live show. It’s crazy. It’s almost like his alter ego. He’s mild-mannered in person, and then he becomes Superman on stage. He’s one of the shyest people I know.
DL: That’s surprising, but at the same time I guess it tends to be that the most humble people tend to be the most gifted. What does an average day look like for the two of you when you’re touring?
BS: Well, we usually fly in from our respective homes. He lives in Toronto, I live in L.A. Say we’re doing two or three shows on a weekend; we both fly in to the first city, we do the show, and then the next morning we get up and either drive or get on a plane to whatever the next city is, check into the hotel, go do a soundcheck, do the show, and then get up the next morning. Usually it’s lots of early mornings on the way to the airport, and a brief stay at a hotel, and we very rarely get to really see much of the town that we’re performing in. We’re not out for long periods of time like a rock band.
DL: Were there any moments in your life when you didn’t want to be in entertainment?
BS: Oh, yeah. You get kicked in the teeth and you miss out on jobs or something gets cancelled. You have more doors closed on you as an actor—or really any part of show business—than you ever have that open for you. You have to get really good at rejection. There’s obviously times in anyone’s life when things are either going really great, and then something happens or you just haven’t gotten a gig in a while. You have to have super thick skin. Sometimes you get to the point where you’re like, “Why do I subject myself to so much rejection?” If you were an accountant and you had to go apply for 100 jobs as an accountant before you actually got one, I don’t think anyone would be an accountant.
DL: What has your worst job been? Has there ever been any job that you just gained nothing from?
BS: Well, I had jobs when I was younger. I worked on a ranch, and at the time it was hard work. In retrospect, that was not the greatest job in the world—dealing with cows all day long—but at the time I was 18 and I hadn’t done much else. It was hard work, but it was interesting. I was always pretty good at throwing myself into whatever job I was doing. I was once a singing waiter at a Mexican restaurant. I was a security guard working the graveyard shift at an office building in downtown L.A. when I first moved to town. I used to deliver scripts for TV production. And at those moments at the age I was, I guess I never really hated any job I did. Maybe that worked in my favor, just as a person, that I kind of threw myself into whatever it was I was doing, trying to be the best at it and make the most of it.
DL: Are most of your friends in entertainment? And whom do you spend most of your time with?
BS: I spend most of my time with my wife and our two dogs. I’ve got lots of friends in entertainment, and I think the older I get, the more friends I develop outside of entertainment. People in entertainment tend to be kind of gypsies, and they’re all going off in different directions and all still hunting for the jobs. So you see them for a while then they get a gig and you don’t see them for five years, so it’s kind of hard to maintain super strong friendships with people in showbiz.
DL: It seems that what you do, your comedy, transcends religious barriers. Funny can be funny regardless of your faith. In seeing that people can get along through laughter, do you see hope for our future as a species? Do you think we’ll descend into chaos, or do you think we’ll actually advance and get along more and more?
BS: Well, I think every stage of enlightenment that happens for we monkeys on this planet always happens after something horrible happens—almost like we have to be kicked down really hard or shown a super atrocity before we go, “Oh, maybe we should figure out a way so that doesn’t happen again.” But I think people need to think for themselves, and I think when you have whatever your belief system is, if it propels you towards being inclusive and non-judgmental and loving to all of those around you, regardless of their religious belief, I think that’s a step in the right direction. I think when leaders in your belief use those beliefs to start crafting and shaping the laws to discriminate against people, I think all that does is make more hatred and anger and violence and wars, etc.
“You have more doors closed on you as an actor—or really any part of show business—than you ever have that open for you. You have to get really good at rejection.”
DL: I completely agree. Let’s say you were abducted by aliens and you had to represent humankind before some sort of galactic council. How would you describe our species?
BS: Well, if I did, that would be the second time I would have had to do this. I would say our species is capable of great moments of brilliance and awesome achievement and art, and then I would also say that our species is capable of great stupidity and selfishness and greed and violence. It’s amazing that at any moment on this planet, certain people are doing amazing acts of heroism and goodness and generosity, and then at the exact same moment the worst, most awful things you could even imagine are going on somewhere. We are a complex creature.
I think we’re all a work in progress, and I’m always constantly working on trying to be more patient, more accepting of people that have different beliefs—whether it’s politically or whatever—because acceptance is the first step to bridging the gaps between your differences.
DL: What are the most beautiful moments in life?
BS: Sunrises and sunsets, when you see people happy, when you see people laughing. I think dogs are a great source of joy and happiness. There’s something very pure about the intentions of dogs.
DL: What are the most important things in your life?
BS: My dogs and my wife. I try to stay happy. I think that you get kind of caught up in the minutiae of things and bills and the hustle and bustle of the world, and “Oh, my phone isn’t working,” and all that crap. And I think you have to constantly keep checking in with yourself so that you don’t get swept up into a sort of angry, judgmental, tabloid-y, news cycle where they’re feeding you fear, and you’ve just got to take the time to sort through stuff and find your own moments of happiness and joy. Everybody wants to sell you something that will make you better than you are, and they do that by making you think you’re less than you are. They make you feel fat; they make you feel old before they sell you the thing that’s going to stop that.
DL: What sort of projects would you work on if you had unlimited time and resources?
BS: I’d spend more time painting, doing music, traveling. I’ve spent my whole life pursuing performing, so that’s been the project to make a statement. And I think I don’t really need to make any more statements.
DL: How does it feel to be one of the few people that get to do improv for a living?
BS: It’s pretty amazing. I’ve had people ask me, “Did you always want to do this?” When I was the age trying to choose what I was trying to do, this didn’t even exist as a job in the world. So, it’s kind of cool. In a certain sense, we’re kind of like the forefathers of professional improv to a certain degree, because the job did not exist, and we’re still some of the few people that can make a full-time living at it. But someday there will be more people doing it and getting paid. But it’s kind of cool that everyone associates Whose Line as their awareness of improv in general, bringing it to their consciousness. That’s what I’m really proud of—that we got to be on that first wave of the world finding out about improv as a form of comedy, or as a form of performance.
DL: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
BS: I think the superpower of being invisible would be the best one, because then you could eavesdrop on the world and see the people that you know as they are when you’re not there. You could really find out who your real friends are in those moments. It’s certainly a superpower that could be used for good or evil. But if you could use it for good, there are a lot of things that you could get away with as an invisible person to make the world better—to expose criminal activities and such.
“You’ve just got to take the time to sort through stuff and find your own moments of happiness and joy. Everybody wants to sell you something that will make you better than you are, and they do that by making you think you’re less than you are.”
DL: I spoke to Greg Proops a few months ago, and he went off on all these tangents about how corrupt all these systems are that are governing the world. Would you say you’re on that same page with him? Do you feel the same sort of urgency to want to change the world for the better, to make people aware of these systems that are negatively affecting people’s lives?
BS: I think those things will eventually happen. Unfortunately they happen with full government upheaval and overthrow. My wife and I chose not to have kids, and as the world progresses the way it has been progressing, we sort of feel like we made a really good decision. Money is a corrupting factor, and big businesses do unscrupulous things and take advantage of their workforce and labor and of the environment until they get caught and they pay a penalty. And the problem is governments and super rich politicians and such do basically the same thing. Once there’s such a huge amount of money to be lost and/or protected, people change their moral structure, because it becomes self-serving and self-preserving when they make their decisions. And it’s quite often that their integrity gets compromised, but they justify it because at least they’re set. They have all the money they need to survive the poverty apocalypse.
DL: Do you think there are more people getting involved with improv, and do you think that it will last after you, Colin and everyone?
BS: It will definitely last. For the last 15 years, it’s been the true growth of improv. Before Whose Line was out there, there weren’t improv classes as part of drama in high school or in college. And now, improv is not only a curriculum in most theatre programs in high schools—sometimes even junior high and definitely in college. Most colleges have an improv group—whether it’s an official, sanctioned group or it’s a splinter group from the kids that are in the drama class—and the same with high school. So, you have all this awareness now starting at a much younger age. We all didn’t get started until we were in our twenties and could go into comedy clubs. And most cities now have theaters that have a full spectrum of improv shows that go on throughout the week, as opposed to just the comedy club where it’s all stand-up.
DL: What do you think would be the overall benefit for students when they become adults after having taken improv classes, even if they don’t pursue it as a career?
BS: I think just tapping into the awareness of that kind of thought process that says there’s more than one answer to a problem, and creativity and working with other people and agreeing to work on it in that direction—it’s just a good life skill to have. To take some other person’s far-out idea and go, “Yeah, that’s right, let’s do that and move forward!” That’s a good interactive skill to have collaboratively, no matter what you do in your life. And, certainly, to teach yourself that you can be creative and not just fall into the drone, corporate world with no thought process other than pushing papers and numbers and doing exactly what you’re told.
DL: Is there anything you hope to leave behind after you die?
BS: My work on Whose Line and all the other shows that I’ve done that will live on Youtube. I did a body of work on a popular show that made people laugh, so the memories of that is kind of a fun thing. I’m not Brad Pitt; I haven’t achieved super-mega stardom, but I’ve really had fun my whole journey through show business, regardless of whether it was a super stardom arc or the arc that I got.
Brad Sherwood continues his tour with Colin Mochrie. Find out where they’ll be at www.colinandbradshow.com, and if you like bacon, follow him @TheBradSherwood.
Artwork by Buddy Purucker, Kevin Cole and Parker Benbow