Four young comedians stand motionless on stage in front of a studio audience. The host’s voice booms from the sidelines — Pointless things to take on an Arctic expedition — and instantly the comics transform themselves into a team of bumbling polar explorers. ”I brought the Cuisinart!” offers one. ”I brought the ice cubes!” says another. ”I brought the umbrella,” adds a third.
The jokes may not always be knee slappers on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but at least they’re fresh: The half-hour sketchfest, produced by Hat Trick Productions for Britain’s Channel Four (where the show started four years ago) and this country’s cable channel Comedy Central (on which it’s shown weekdays at 6 p.m.), brings the high-wire art of improvisation to TV, pitting British and American comics against each other in a weekly mock game show waged without scripts, cue cards, or laugh tracks. Winner’s prize: the chance to read the closing credits.
”It’s dangerous, but that’s what makes it fun,” says host Clive Anderson after a recent taping in New York. ”Throwing a comic a straight line and seeing what he does with it is a lot more interesting than just watching somebody reading jokes. There’s more immediate impact.” Adds American improv comic Ryan Stiles, who made his Whose debut earlier this season: ”It’s scary when you first get up there, but you get used to it. These questions you’ve been asking me? You made them up, right? You’ve been improvising.” Yeah, but how come nobody’s laughing?