By DEREK SPALDING
NANAIMO DAILY NEWS
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Ryan Stiles has been offered several game-show host spotlights in recent years, but the 49-year-old veteran comedian said he'd only take such a job when his career is over, a quip and friendly dig at fellow Whose Line Is It Anyway? regulars who have all gone on to such daytime television.
Even if he coveted the slender extended microphone that former coworker Drew Carey now carries on the Price Is Right, Stiles would likely turn the gig down because of his affinity for the laid-back lifestyle he leads from his home near Bellingham, Wash. From there, he continues his improv success with his new live stage show Whose Live Anyway, which launched to sell-out Vancouver shows in 1999. Stiles has expanded the show to major cities both north and south of the border, including two shows on Friday at the Port Theatre.
The U.S.-born, Canadian actor likes to stay close to home because of anxiety that he suffers from long flights and has in recent years pledged to stay near Washington to spend more time with his family. After dropping his three children off at school Tuesday, Stiles talked about his attraction to smaller venues, his trademark outfit of button-downed shirts and even his enormous size 15 feet.
Funny man Ryan Stiles has starred in 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' 'The Drew Carey Show' and 'Two And A Half Men.'
Not that he has anything against game shows, but it just might not be his thing.
"That's the last thing I want is a game show. I've been offered some in the last few years, but I kind of like it up here. If I wanted to spend my time back in Los Angeles, I would do a sitcom or something."
He flies to L.A. occasionally when shooting Two And A Half Men, but he even tries to avoid those flights if he can. When he does fly, the time on the plane has to be minimal or he ends up with a scenario like he had while under contract with Playskool. Part of his obligations meant a trip to Providence, R.I. on the east coast. The journey took him one week because of two short flights with stops in Chicago and New York before taking the train Providence. The appearance lasted half an hour and he went home in exactly the reverse order.
"I tried to buy my way out of it, but I couldn't," he said. "I had to do it that way because I can't imagine spending six hours on a plane anymore."
Stiles much prefers touring on a bus, much like he does with fellow Whose Live improv actors, Greg Props, Chip Esten and Jeff B. Davis. For the past five years the group has performed comedy and song based on audience suggestions with growing popularity. The show's short tours, like the three-stop trip to Nanaimo, Surrey and Kelowna, allow him to stay on the ground and close to his children Sam, Mackenzie and Claire (ages 15, 13 and four), and his wife Patricia McDonald.
"When we tour, we just get a big rock 'n' roll bus and play poker," he said.
Stiles often travels to Vancouver to do shows, the city that gave him his first comedic gig, though it was a much smellier one back then. As a teenager, he dropped out of school and took a job at the fishing plant that his father supervised. The stench clung on to him as he took to various stages throughout the city, usually at biker stags or in strip clubs where staff had to clear out pool tables to create a stage.
Stand-up comedy had not taken off in Canada, according to Stiles, who eventually landed a regular gig at Punchlines in Gastown. With condos popping up around every corner, the once run-down part of town slowly changed during his 10-year stint that ended in 1986.
"Back then, there wasn't a comedy club in every town. I just went down there and stole most of George Carlin's stuff," he said. "Stand up wasn't what it is now. There was only about eight guys doing it at that time."
His parents certainly didn't support him packing up a lunch and heading to the strip clubs for work, but with a fake ID and a hankering for the stage, he couldn't be stopped.
He started to sharpen his acting skills in 1986 when he moved east to take a job with Second City comedy ensemble in Toronto, Ont. The experience prepared him for everything to come in his career as he left stand-up behind.
"I'll never go back to stand-up because it's too much fun not preparing with other people," Stiles said. "Having to write an act is totally different. When you go up there in front of people, it's a make-me-laugh attitude, but with improv, (the audience is) invested and they really want it to work."
His work on Whose Live is the culmination of his favourite improv without the large prop gags that Stiles never really cared to perform. Similar techniques worked on the British Whose Line when actors took items from the crowd, but things got out of hand when the American Whose Line created over-sized foam props.
"I hated that stuff," Stiles said. "A lot changed in the American show. When I started, we had three Brits and an American."
British actors soon became the minority as American physical comedy began to dominate.
"We can't do (the props) on our stage because we do big theatres and it would be difficult to see," he said.
Stiles has comedy projects he continues to work on and the possibility of a new Canadian sitcom performed in front of a live audience, an approach that hasn't been attempted in years.
Four years ago, he opened Upfront Theatre in Bellingham so he could have a place to work instead of travelling to Vancouver or Seattle. The comedy club also gave other comedians a venue and his staff has now ballooned to 40 people and is now breaking even.
"I like to say its for them, but I gotta get on stage once in a while," Stiles said. "They run the whole thing. I just want to come and do shows once in a while."
He may also find himself on a live sitcom set if talks with the Canadian broadcaster go well. Stiles said Canadians just "don't shoot sitcoms" and he doesn't understand why. He looks forward to having the opportunity to work with the Canadian broadcaster that gives people "more freedom and more control over the product."