What You Should Know About Drew Carey’s New Series IMPROV-A-GANZA

improv-a-ganza cast gsn
Hold on to your imaginary hats, folks – Drew Carey has a new improv show premiering Monday, April 11th, on GSN.

Running at 8pm and 11pm ET/PT, Drew Carey’s Improv-a-Ganza is taped at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Former Whose Line Is It Anyway? alums Kathy Kinney, Jonathan Mangum, Chip Esten, Jeff Davis, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, Greg Proops and the inestimable Ryan Stiles will be joined by some new faces such as Heather Anne Campbell (MAD TV, writer for SNL) and Sean Masterson (Second City Chicago).

Brilliant and lightning-fast musical director Bob Derkatch rounds out the cast and the performances with the ideal accompaniment to nearly every scene.

There will be guests too, and the producers are not above a little stunt-casting!

Everyone’s favorite hot mess of the moment, Charlie Sheen, pops in for the show airing on Tuesday April 12th. No word on exactly what the former Two And A Half Men star pulls off here, but you almost have to tune in, don’t you? Don’t you?? OK, maybe not.

Stunt-casting is such a double-edged sword; had this show aired two weeks ago, they’d have copped a major ratings coup and could have really put the new show on the map. As it stands now, they’re going to air it a week after Sheen’s tour garnered the worst reviews for a live show since President Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater. Sheen won’t have the chops to really hang with Carey, Stiles & Co., but he’s sure to bring at least one or two “outrageous” moments, provided he’s not too nervous being so far out of the schlocky scripted sitcom element he’s been hiding out in for the last ten years. Alas, this is an all-star improv cast that could make anyone look funny.

Drew Carey improv-a-ganza Charlie Sheen

For all the similarities to whose Line, this is not the same show. The stage is huge, comparatively, and allows a much wider range of physical comedy. The performers really chew it up, too – running, chasing, doing “the worm,” and pig-piling to the audience’s approval.

Also, there is no true “host”; although Carey’s name is on the marquee, the cast trades off duties (Stiles, for instance, creates the performer pairings for each game before showtime every night, during an athlete-like pre-show prep consisting of no performance-killing alcohol or food; and the slimmed-down Carey now eschews his old carb-loading pastas both before and after shows).

Improv-a-Ganza also relies heavily on audience participation. Guests are routinely plucked from their seats to come on stage with the cast (most are clearly delighted at this after downing a few Vegas drinks prior to the show), and shouted or written suggestions abound. It works. Mostly. There’s always the chance of picking a dud from the crowd (Stiles confided that they do avoid people who look too drunk, as they are too much of a wild card on stage), as happened with one of the games I saw. But these guys are pros, and it takes a lot to stop the show dead. Forty episodes will be shot and air this Spring.

Many of the games you knew and loved from Whose Line are featured in the new show as well. On the night I attended the taping, they played such standbys as “Sound Effects” (audience members provide sounds to accompany the actors on stage, who in turn react to what the audience members are doing; this was very very funny); “Sentences” (aka Whose Line, where the actors must incorporate pre-written lines of random dialogue into their scene), “New Choice” (aka Quick Change, where the moderator can at any time call out “new choice” and force the performers to make a new improv choice of line, reaction, etc.), “Moving People” (audience members move cast members’ bodies for them), “Options” (audience suggestions of film, literature and TV styles drive the scene), the dazzling “Forward/Reverse” (moderator randomly tells cast to fast forward to reverse the scene they’re in), “Playbook” (one performer acts freely, the other can only speak lines from a play he/she has in his hand), and an improvised song featuring Brady and Derkatch that was so brilliant you would swear it was rehearsed.

Other games to be featured on the show:

  • Greatest Hits
  • Freeze Tag
  • Question This! (aka Improv Jeopardy!) – One player plays the host and four others play as contestants on a game show patterned after Jeopardy!
  • Two-Headed Expert – A pair of players (who talk either in unison or saying every other word) acts as an expert on a topic suggested by the audience while another pair (with the same speaking restrictions) either is interviewing or is learning from the first pair.
  • Story/Fairy Tale
  • Bob’s Call (aka Show Stopping Number)
  • First Date – A married couple is selected from the audience and is interviewed about their first date and some parts are acted out by the cast. If the fact is acted out correctly or not, a particular sound is made.
  • Mousetraps – Two players act out a scene barefoot and blindfolded on a stage littered with 100 live mousetraps, a game that is often performed during An Evening with Colin and Brad.
  • Kick It! – An revised version of “Scene to Rap”, two players act out a scene and must start rapping when a third calls out “Kick it!” until the caller says “Word!”.
  • I had the chance to see the live show at the MGM this winter, and it was a blast. During interviews, Carey and the cast stressed that what they think the audience wants most is to see the cast having fun up on stage, and that really seems to be the case with this show.

    It’s safe to say that what most of America knows of improvisational comedy they know from these performers. Improv-a-ganza ensures that that tradition will not suffer.