Sitting in his white American Eagle tee and faded jeans, UCSB first-year Alex Eisenhart found himself wishing he had worn fancier clothes. He was, after all, sitting in $80 first-row seats at Arts and Lectures’ presentation of Whose Live?, the live show based on one of his favorite TV shows: Whose Line Is It Anyway? And this ticket was his 19th birthday present from his parents. AND it did happen to be his all-time favorite comedy show in the entire world happening live before his very eyes.
But we’ll come back to Eisenhart later.
First, Greg Proops came onstage as the show’s emcee for the night. After a series of audience Q&A, most having to do with Fifty Shades of Grey, Proops invited the rest of the cast out to the Granada stage. Jefferson Brian Davis came out first, doing a half curtsy, half splits in very tight pants. Joel Murray was next, introduced as Chip Eston’s fill-in for the night and Bill Murray’s brother. Ryan Stiles came out last, dressed casually in jeans and a baby blue shirt. The applause for him was by far the loudest.
“I love Ryan Stiles,” said Alex Eisenhart in an interview. “I’ve watched him on YouTube forever and I’ve always envied the people from the audience who get to go up and act a scene with him. He’s a genius.”
During its 90-minute duration, the show switched from improv game to improv game. The first was “Freeze,” where two comedians did a scene until an outside party yelled “Freeze!” and subbed in. The second was “New Choice,” where comedians would have to change their last line to a new line until an outside party was satisfied.
To spice up the audience interaction factor, the Whose Live? cast brought spectators up to join them in their revelry. Their first participant was Virginia Berns, who pleasantly flipped her blond hair and sat down on one of the four stools onstage. After some conversation, it was discovered that last year, Ryan Stiles had chosen Berns to come up in this very same Granada Theater.
“I was a little surprised when they picked me again. Especially because I was sitting in a different seat this time,” said Berns, a Santa Barbara resident and a lover of improv.
After probing about Berns’ life with her boyfriend Anthony of 10 years and laughing at the fact that her best item at her Solvang gift shop Edelweiss is jewelry made in China, Jeff Davis sang an improvised, soulful R&B song to Berns: “Baby, there’s so much in Solvang that I want to see / I want to see a windmill made by the Chinese / Virginia, you know it’s true / I’m the only half Chinese Dutchman for you.”
During “Jeopardy,” Greg Proops took on the role of actor Jeremy Irons, while Jeff Davis became Christopher Walken and Joel Murray pretended to be his brother, Bill Murray. “Sentences” turned the stage into a soap opera called “Solvang Edelweiss.” Proops and Stiles got right into character as a married couple who fought over the whereabouts of their children. They had to say random sentences that audience members had written for them, which initiated silly lines such as “I was brought into the wilderness of Solvang and placed in a soybean field where I was raised by pandas.”
Meanwhile, first-year Alex Eisenhart was anxious to see if Ryan Stiles would orchestrate “Sound Effect.” That had always been Eisenhart’s favorite improv game because he was particularly gifted at making clever sounds. The game called for two Improv actors to do a scene while two other actors created the sound effects. Toward the end of the show, Eisenhart got his wish.
“They were calling up volunteers for ‘Sound Effect’ and I waved my hand, they called me up and I walked on stage,” said Eisenhart. “I surprised myself because I wasn’t nervous at all! I was very comfortable. And Ryan Stiles and Joel Murray made me feel like I was part of the group.”
Birthday boy and Whose Line? fanatic Alex Eisenhart got to perform his sound effects alongside some of his greatest comedic heroes. The scene was called “Bull Fighting and Juggling.” Eisenhart created the noise of the angry cat, the swishing cape, the bull call, the screeching gate and the espresso machine.
“Improv is so appealing because you never know what to expect,” Eisenhart said. “It’s always entertaining — even if it seems like it’s going downhill, it plops right back up. There are very few rules and improv just keeps going!”
Next, the troupe did a singing radio show involving the greatest hits of the CIA. Davis and Proops went right for it and made up a number of hits, including “There’s a Bug in the Lamp,” “Parlez Vous That is Some Good Information” and “In. Cog. Ni. To.”
During the encore, the crew brought up Anthony Aira, Virginia Berns’ boyfriend. Amidst four stools, empty water bottles and a dozen crumpled pieces of “Sentences” paper, Whose Live? created a group story. Directed by Stiles, the story involved geese, a flock of birds, a little girl and a rabbit in Montana. Stiles repeatedly pointed his finger at Aira to create the storyline, causing Aira to announce, “Ryan, why are you pointing at me? I have nothing to say anymore,” creating a roar of laughter.
“Those guys can’t embarrass me. I watch football at home with six television sets going on at once and all of my friends make fun of me for it, so this kind of thing doesn’t embarrass me. But while I’m up there, I might as well put the pressure on Ryan Stiles,” Aira told me with a grin.
All in all, Whose Live? was a night of laughter, wit and good old vocabulary. For Alex Eisenhart, the show was more than a good time.
“That experience just made me want to join an improv group,” said Eisenhart. “I feel so lucky that I got to go onstage. This is something you think about for a split second, like, ‘Oh wouldn’t it be cool if I was one of the volunteers on the show,’ but you never really take it to heart because the show was from the 90’s! But tonight it happened! That was the best birthday gift ever.”
“Also, just in case Ryan Stiles is reading this, thanks for all the laughs,” Eisenhart added.
“I’m honored to have been a part of a tradition that made you beloved among American audiences.”