He stands 6-foot, 6 inches, but Ryan Stiles isn't just "the tall guy" any more. With his success as Lewis on "The Drew Carey Show" and his role of executive producer/performer on "Whose Line Is It Anyway," this actor/comedian has proven himself in the tough world of comedy.
Ryan Stiles, the youngest of five children, was born in Seattle, Washington on April 22, 1959. When his father Sonny became a supervisor at a Vancouver, British Columbia fishing plant, he moved the family from the United States to Canada in 1969. As his boys reached their teenage years, Sonny wanted to instill a good work ethic in his children and insisted that they work with him at the factory. Even though the Stiles family considered their older son, Rob, to be the "funny" one in the clan, it was Ryan who caught the comedy bug and began to make appearances at local clubs and strip joints doing stand-up. After he spent the day gutting fish at the factory, he would go and perform his act, stinking of fish and with scales stuck to his skin. Even though Ryan was a good student, his schedule as a senior gave him too much freedom. In 1976, a few months shy of graduation, he made the decision to leave school and pursue comedy full-time. His parents, although not enthusiastic about his choice, were surprised to find that their son could support himself in his chosen profession. He eventually ended up earning $20 an hour for his gigs. His stand-up days had one very positive effect on his life, when Stiles met a waitress named Pat McDonald in 1978. One night, McDonald was depressed when she only made 30 cents in tips, and Ryan had a drink with her to cheer her up. He gave her flowers (a sensitivity she found rare for a 19-year-old), but because he had never asked for a date before and didn't know how to go about it, she had to be the one to ask him out.
Stiles made his first acting appearance in the HBO series "The Hitchhiker" in 1983. Two years later, he and a Canadian comedian named Colin Mochrie appeared as supporting characters in a 20-minute Canadian short film called "Rainbow War," which was nominated as Best Short Film Live Action at the Academy Awards.
Back in 1969, when the Stiles family moved to Canada, a Scottish family by the name of Mochrie also made Vancouver its home. Nearly ten years later, Colin Mochrie was introduced to Ryan Stiles through a mutual friend. Mochrie's activities at the time involved a form of theater improvisation, and because that alternative form of comedy appealed to Stiles, the two men started doing improv together and became close friends. Both men auditioned for and were accepted by The Second City in Toronto; ironically, the person who hired Mochrie, Deb McGrath, later became Mochrie's wife.
In 1986, after eight years of doing stand-up, Stiles finally decided to quit that brand of comedy. By the mid-1980s, the stand-up circuit had become clogged with comedians, and Stiles had tired of doing the same jokes night after night, enjoying the challenge of improvisation to his pre-planned acts.
After living together for ten years, Stiles and McDonald married in 1989. A few years later, they (and the Mochries) moved to California, where Ryan joined The Second City in Los Angeles. Stiles' acting career then began to pick up steam, and he showed up in two episodes of the television series "Parker Can't Lose" in 1990.
Films also beckoned, and he got roles in both the 1991 "Top Gun" spoof "Hot Shots!" and its sequel "Hot Shots! Part Deux." To his embarrassment, however, his proud mother hung Stiles' publicity photo (which showed him in uniform) next to the military photos of his three brothers, all of whom had been in the Air Force.
The year 1990 became a milestone for both he and Mochrie, as the two men landed spots on a British improvisation show called "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" The show, which ran from 1989 to 1998 on England's Channel Four, required them to fly from Los Angeles to London for nine years. Although Mochrie had no complaints about the travel arrangements, Stiles did not enjoy his new position as a frequent flyer at all (he confessed in an interview that he once had to have a stewardess hold his hand during turbulence).
His work load doubled in 1995 when he won the role of Lewis Kiniski on the ABC situation comedy, "The Drew Carey Show." The role of Lewis' dense friend on the show, Oswald, went to Diedrich Bader. In 1997, Bader and Stiles performed together in an episode of "Murphy Brown" titled "Desperate Times"; the two performed a homage to Lucille Ball as two assembly-line workers, known only as "Acolyte Monk #1" and "Acolyte Monk #2."
But the burden of traveling and performing in two hit programs began to take its toll on Stiles. His back began to bother him, and it was particularly bad for nearly three years straight, during which time he had to give up playing golf. During one of the dance numbers for "The Drew Carey Show," he actually threw his back out, but he hid his problems well. The only indication that Stiles had any physical problems during that time was in one of the British "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" episodes, where he had difficulty going up and down the narrow steps on the stage; Colin Mochrie had to take over as the weatherman during a game called "Newscasters."
It was Stiles who introduced "Whose Line?" producer Dan Patterson to Drew Carey, after Patterson's efforts to bring "Whose Line?" to America failed. Carey went to watch Stiles do improv at a Los Angeles venue, met with Dan Patterson, and eventually succeeded in getting the show as a summer replacement. The new "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" aired Wednesday nights at 8:30 p.m. after "The Drew Carey Show," and both Carey and Stiles signed on as co-executive producers. Even after ABC agreed to try out "Whose Line?" in 1998, things didn't go that smoothly. The network wanted to replace Clive Anderson, the show's original host, with MTV personality Kennedy. They also wanted to drop Colin Mochrie because they thought the balding comedian looked too old-- regardless of the fact that he and Stiles are only two years apart in age.
Although the Kennedy idea went out the window (and Drew Carey got to sit behind the desk), Mochrie managed to stay on with Stiles as the two regulars. Another new performer, Wayne Brady, also stepped in and proved himself to be equally as talented as the veterans. Other comedians popped in and out on a regular basis, including "Whose Line?" performers from the British version-- Americans Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood and Chip Esten, and English comedianne Josie Lawrence. A new face on a recent episode was L.A. comedian Jeff Davis, who received glowing reviews from fans. In an effort to boost ratings (the show takes a beating because it airs opposite NBC's mega-hit, "Friends"), comedian/actor Robin Williams recently finished taping episodes with the cast. Williams' shows will air later in the season, and hopefully give a much-needed Nielsen boost to "Whose Line Is It Anyway?".
May 26, 1999 marked the 100th episode of "The Drew Carey Show" on ABC, and Stiles remains busy as ever. Any spare time is spent at his four-bedroom home (which was once owned by Liberace) with his wife, his daughter Mackenzie, and his son Sam. During the fall he has an incredible schedule of seven-day work weeks, shooting "Drew Carey" from Monday to Friday and "Whose Line?" on the weekends. At his busiest, he shoots six episodes of prime time programming in a week. Stiles ocassionally performs Wednesday nights with the Second City comedy troupe at the Arcadia on the Santa Monica Pier, and he and the cast of "Whose Line is it Anyway?" appear every Thursday at The Improv on Melrose Place in Hollywood.