CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, May 19, 2006
CALGARY - Ryan Stiles confirms what we've suspected all along: that the Whose Line Is It Anyway? improv comedian is part Canadian.
His parents are from Richmond, B.C., and through Stiles was born in neighbouring Seattle, the family moved back when he was 10 years old.
"I feel more Canadian than I do American," the towering, six-foot-six comic admits. "I remember playing Calgary in the early '80s as a standup comic, before it took off and became the city it is. And of course, as a kid I'd go to the Stampede as well."
In 1976, a 17-year-old Stiles dropped out of high school, purchased a fake ID and began working at comedy clubs in the Vancouver area. He says working in Canada is what helped him hone his lightning-quick wit.
"Canadians comics just get better training than American ones," Stiles says. "When I started doing standup, there were just eight comics working all of Canada. So we were on every night of the week, whereas in the States, you'd be lucky to be on once a month on amateur night."
In 1986, Stiles joined the Second City troupe in Toronto, where he claims to have learned all his improv skills. He parlayed that education into a spot on the original BBC version of Whose Line. The success of that British show led to a popular role as Lewis Kiniski, one of the title character's best friends, on the ABC series The Drew Carey Show.
Stiles convinced Carey that Whose Line should be pitched to the network, and very soon ABC, Carey and Stiles had another top-10 show in the ratings.
"Drew was a pretty normal guy, so (The Drew Carey Show) was the best show to work on," Stiles says.
"And I was really lucky because we did Drew from Monday to Friday, and then we did Whose Line on Friday and Saturday night. And I was lucky to work on a second show that required no rehearsal, so I could do them both.
"I think acting and improv are one and the same. I don't think you can be a good improviser unless you're a good actor."
Both Whose Line and The Drew Carey Show ended in 2004, and Stiles was beginning to get tired of improv. He stayed out of the limelight, had a third child with his longtime wife, and promised his family he would stay at home for at least two years.
"The Drew Carey Show ran for nine seasons, and Whose Line, counting the BBC series, ran for 14 years," Stiles says with a sigh. "That was enough for a while. I needed to take some time off. I was getting burned out. Even now, I maybe tour about 14 days a year. That's how I keep it fresh."
Stiles moved from Los Angeles and now lives in Bellingham, Wash., 65 km from the Canadian border. He claims to be a big Corner Gas fan and an even bigger hockey fan.
Maybe because of his boyhood attachment, Calgary is one of the few select dates in North America Stiles has chosen to tour this year, and he comes with Whose Line regulars Greg Proops, Chip Epstein and Greg Davis. The travelling concert is called A Night of Improv, rather than Whose Line Is It Anyway?
"The show that's coming is about an hour and a half and we don't take a break," Stiles says. "It's not as choke-y as Whose Line, (where) we did props and hoe-downs, all these games we really hated on that show. We've taken the liberties of cutting those out of this tour.
"There's a lot of people doing bad improv these days, it's become the new standup. But it's hard to do it right. And the way to do it is to do it with people you trust. And we have that going for us."
As much as Stiles says he can't wait to get back onstage, he says he has little desire to go back to TV.
"With me, I get tense if I don't get on stage, but TV, there's nothing out there to do," he says. "There's one sitcom in the top 40 shows.
"Everything's reality TV and drama, and that's not what I want to do. Anyone can be on TV in America. That's the great thing about Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth, they don't care what you look like, as long as you have talent.
"Some of the ugliest people you'll ever see on TV live in Britain."