Dateline: April l7, 2017 — For years the wacky improv series Whose Line Is It Anyway? was a staple on our family TV. The ABC version hosted by Drew Carey caught our attention first with its classic lineup of Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, and rotating fourth spot occupied at various times by Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood, future Nashville costar Chip Esten, and more. For a while we expanded our intake to include Comedy Central reruns of the original UK version, which featured several of the same players to varying degrees, but introduced us to original host Clive Anderson and a wide variety of British comedians, nearly none of whom we’d heard of before or since except for Stephen Fry. At the very least, we can thank the frequent overseas pop-culture references of comedian Tony Slattery for teaching us American hicks what EastEnders is.
When we found out a sort-of roadshow version of Whose Line was coming here to Indianapolis, and my wife found an offer for discount tickets, we decided why not go for it.
Thus we spent the evening in downtown Indianapolis at the Old National Centre, one of our most splendid-looking concert venues from the outside. It was built by the Shriners in the 1900s and originally called the Murat Temple. To this day most locals still call it the Murat because “the Old National Centre”, renamed in honor of Old National Bank, is yet another example of a local landmark losing individuality in the name of corporate rebranding. Some of us are still old enough to be bitter about the Hoosier Dome being renamed the RCA Dome before it was demolished and replaced with Lucas Oil Stadium, which has never known the hometown pride of a non-corporate name.
This was my fourth Murat experience to date. My previous events:
* Sometime prior to 2010 (neither of us can remember when): Bob Newhart, doing his classic standup bits.
* 3/6/2008: Henry Rollins on his spoken-word Provoked tour. Someone remind me sometime to retell what I can recall of that evening.
* 5/28/2015: “Weird Al” Yankovic! As recounted here on MCC.
…and then there were four. Fans of the show know Greg and Ryan very well. Jeff Davis joined up in later seasons and brought along musical-improv cred to match Wayne Brady’s own. I don’t believe Joel Murray was ever on the show, but I’ve known him best as ex-alcoholic adman Freddy Rumsen from Mad Men. For trivia purposes only we’ll also note he’s one of Bill Murray’s brothers. Also along for the ride was musician Bob DerKach, who accompanied our heroes when they appeared on the Game Show Network’s spinoff/sequel/knockoff Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza. (We saw several episodes of that too, but it didn’t last.)
You’ll note we have no photos of the performers themselves. That’s partly because this was one of those old-fashioned shows with signs openly prohibiting all manner of photography. At one point during the performance I saw the ushers distracting the entire crowd at far right with a blinding flashlight, which I presume was them either guiding a latecomer to their seat or attacking some would-be YouTube oversharer for ignoring the warning. Either way, we don’t like to push our luck when such rules are in effect. If a given copyright holder doesn’t want free publicity splashed across social media, that’s their call to make. For the record, “Weird Al” seemed 100% cool with phone pics at his show, just not pro cameras.
Even if we’d felt like rebels, our seating made decent show shots impossible. Perhaps if we were the kind of upscale consumers to shell out a four-figure digit for a camera plus training, we could’ve brought you veritable movie magic here and overcome our distance from the stage.
Anne had finagled the deal through a Groupon offer, which let her buy our tickets for a low price up front but denied her the privilege of choosing our seats. A few weeks later she was notified that our tickets were ready for printing and our seats had been chosen for us. Upon our arrival we learned Row PP is ground level, center section, very back row. Our seats were in the middle of the row next to the sound board, and for some reason had a 15-inch gap between us. We could only hug if we reached really hard across the weird chastity gap.
Shortly before the show began, a theater rep visited the back two rows and offered to sell upgrades to much nicer seats for an extra twenty bucks apiece. We could’ve swung it but I refused out of stubbornness. If these are the seats they wanted to sell us, then they were our seats, period. If they’d offered to move us for free, that would’ve been cool and shocking, but don’t come at me like a McDonald’s cashier suggestive-selling a hot apple pie to go with my Extra Value Meal.
As for the concert itself: solid A, as we’d hoped. Fans of the show would recognize the various “games” they ran through in the course of 90+ minutes — Sound Effects, Greatest Hits, Freeze Tag, Improv Jeopardy!, Sentences, New Choice, Film Styles, Moving People, and the one where they sing to an audience member brought onstage. Here in Indy, the victim was an undertall second-grade teacher who hates her students, doesn’t like dogs, loves the music of Justin Bieber, and who thinks her two-year boyfriend in the audience is past due for proposing. She gave the guys plenty of material to mine all night long, even after she went back to her seat.
Without Drew Carey or even Aisha Tyler (who hosts the current summer-series incarnation on The CW), Greg acted as host as well as performer. He, Ryan, and Jeff took turns stealing the show, and even tossed in a few Indy-specific jokes to confirm they’ve heard of Indiana. 200 points go to Jeff for verifying that he’d visited our Soldiers & Sailors Monument and took the stairs to the top instead of the elevator, which is a thing that many a foolhardy tourist does to their later painful regret. Joel Murray held his own where he could, delivering impeccable impressions of Dan Aykroyd’s SNL-huckster character and of his other brother, character actor Brian Doyle-Murray (the Groundhog Day mayor, among hundreds of other roles).
I was a little annoyed when Greg initially asked the audience for ideas of “things you might see often around Indy” and the first two answers that caught his ear were “HEROIN!” and “HOMELESS PEOPLE!” That’s what you get when you ask for surface thoughts from a crowd that never actually comes downtown, probably either out-of-towners or north-siders. On the other hand, I couldn’t help laughing when, after a follow-up request to “name two physical positions someone might do” that yielded one dance move and one lewd suggestion, Greg laughed and responded, “You know you’re in the Midwest when no one says ‘yoga’.”
In all, a delightful night of onstage camaraderie, memorable quotes lingering in our heads that would be utter non sequitur out of context (“‘Cock-a-doodle-doo!’ says the goose!”), only one or two Trump jokes, and slightly harsher language than the TV version, though I wouldn’t call it pervasive.
I’m sorry we couldn’t make out most of their facial expressions from where we were, though we found that sitting on the armrests for a while instead of in our chairs helped at times, an advantage only the back row has. Value-added perk: when the guys took bows and left the stage at the quote-unquote “end”, Gordon the sound guy helpfully leaned over the board toward us and said, “They’re gonna do an encore.” And so there was, unbeknownst to the handful of apparently elderly fans who don’t know how concerts work, left too quickly, and missed it. 500 points to Gordon for being considerate toward our little back-row Peanut Gallery.