Whose Line is it Anyway?

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Whose Line Is It Anyway? is an improvised and largely unscripted comedy game show. It was originally a British radio programme, but moved to British and then American television.


The show consists of a panel of four improvisational performers and comedians. They make up characters, scenes, and songs on the spot, sometimes based on audience suggestions or with pre-written prompts from the host. The show is formatted roughly as a mock competition, with the host arbitrarily assigning points and choosing a "winner" at the end of each episode who would (in the British version) undertake a improvisational act based on the closing credits. In a typical taping, each 'game' is played between one and three times, always with different prompts and suggestions. Then the show is edited and only those scenes deemed the best are actually broadcast.

In 2004, a similar show with almost the same cast premiered on The WB, called Drew Carey's Green Screen Show.


The show was created by Dan Patterson, and in its original form on BBC Radio 4, Clive Anderson presented the show, with two regulars, Stephen Fry and John Sessions, and two guests. It was later moved to the television station Channel 4, with little change in format except for a more varied guest rotation. Regular comedians from the British version included, as well as the former regulars, a variety of British, American, and Canadian comedians, notably Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton, Tony Slattery, Ryan Stiles, Sandi Toksvig, Colin Mochrie, Mike McShane, and Greg Proops. Sessions was ever-present in the early days of the British television version, with Stiles becoming a staple in later episodes and having some influence on the creation and success of the American incarnation. Many of the performers, including Merton, Lawrence and Toksvig were regulars with the Comedy Store Players, an improvisational group based at the London Comedy Store. The theme tune for the British television incarnation of the show was composed by Philip Pope.

The reruns of the UK TV series were aired for many years on the US Comedy Central TV channel, and were brought to the attention of American comedian Drew Carey (who had a working relationship with regular Whose Line performer Stiles who co-starred in The Drew Carey Show when not appearing on the British show). Carey convinced ABC to air test episodes in the United States. The show was an inexpensive hit, and ABC kept Carey on as the host of a successful American version which ran for several years; it benefited from the low expectations of its Thursday night time slot (ABC, unlike CBS, has never mounted a serious challenge to NBC's longtime Thursday dominance). The American version was almost identical to the UK series, though with a less diverse rotation of games and performers, more involvement of the host (Carey) in the activities, and occasional celebrity guest appearances. The American incarnation of the show included Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and Ryan Stiles as regulars, with Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Brad Sherwood, Denny Siegel, Jeff Davis, and Kathy Greenwood taking turns as the fourth performer. Celebrities sometimes took the fourth spot, including Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. Mochrie, Proops, Stiles, Esten, and Sherwood all appeared multiple times on the British show. For a time, the British version of the series (with Clive Anderson still hosting) was taped in the same Hollywood studio as the American version, though this version was only shown in the US on Comedy Central. After a couple of years of simultaneous productions, the British version of the series was retired. The American version continues in reruns on the ABC Family cable channel; original first-run episodes began airing on ABC Family in 2005.

Many of the sketches include music, and there have been a number of musicians during the run of the show. On the original BBC Radio series, the music was provided by Colin Sell, but when the show migrated to Channel 4 Richard Vranch took over the job. Richard Vranch did not move with the show to the US, in fact during the final series of the UK show which was filmed in America, musician Laura Hall made her first appearance on the show. She continued as musician in the first season of the US show on her own, but in the second season onwards other musicians were added to attempt to "jazz up" that section of the show. Joining Laura Hall often was multi-talented musician Linda Taylor, and on occasion other musicians were added such as Cece Worral-Rubin , Anne King, & Candy Girard. The sketches "Greatest Hits", "Hoedown", and "Song Styles" are amongst the most popular, and rely heavily on music. The musicians have a task as challenging as the actors. In the games "Greatest Hits" and "Song Styles", for instance, they must come up with different song styles on the spot, and they must also work with the other musicians and the actors to make the scene work.

Common sketches

  • 90-second Alphabet: Three performers enact a scene in which each sentence must begin with the letter following the first letter of the last sentence. The performers start with a letter chosen by the audience and must go through the entire alphabet in 90 seconds.
  • Action Replay (aka Instant Replay): Two performers enact a scene (usually with large physical movements), while the other two watch while wearing headphones, which prevent them from hearing what is going on. Afterwards, the second pair must re-enact the scene, based solely on what they saw.
  • Animals: Two to four performers must enact a soap opera-ish scene as animals; the species is provided by the host.
  • Authors: All four performers tell parts of the same story, but each performer uses the style of their favorite author. The host switches randomly between the performers at regular intervals. (For a similar game see Remote Control.)
  • Bartender: A performer approaches the bartender and sings about a prescribed topic, while the bartender (another performer) replies in song.
  • Changed Letters: The performers enact a scene; however, the performers must substitute one letter for another in all spoken words, as specified by the host. (For example, if 'F' is substituted for 'B', lines like "I fruised my futt on the fack porch" might be spoken.)
  • Dubbing: Two performers enact a scene with an audience member, whose voice is provided by a third performer. Sometimes a special celebrity guest is used instead of an audience member.
  • Film Dub: Performers must watch a clip from a movie or television show which has been muted and provide a dubbed dialogue, following the suggestion of a scene provided by the host.
  • Film Noir: Two performers enact a scene in film noir, ie. they must break the fourth wall, approach the camera, and tell everyone what's going on.
  • Film, T.V., & Theatre Styles: Several performers enact a given scene; at regular intervals, the host stops the scene and gives the performers a different style to use when the scene resumes.
  • Foreign Film Dub: Two performers enact a scene in a foreign languange chosen by the audience while the other two performers translate. (Due to the fact that the performers usually do not know the language chosen, the language spoken is usually just gibberish.)
  • Greatest Hits: Two performers act as pitchmen for a compilation album (whose topic is provided by the audience); they provide names and styles of songs to one or both of the other performers, who must improvise part of the song.
  • Hats: Two pairs of two performers receive a box of random headgear and use them to come up with examples of "the world's worst dating service videos."
  • Helping Hands: Two performers enact a scene in which one cannot use his hands; a third performer stands behind the handless performer and provides his hands instead.
  • Hoedown: The four performers individually sing a hoedown about a given subject. (The British version also used a related game, Gospel, in which the four performers sing a gospel music song.)
  • Hollywood Director: Three performers improvise a scene provided by the host. The fourth performer (the "director") interrupts periodically to provide new styles to be used in the scene, such as "Do it like a 1950's musical."
  • If You Know What I Mean: Several performers improvise a scene in which they make up as many ambiguous euphemisms as they can.
  • Improbable Mission: Two performers are super-secret agents a la Mission: Impossible. A third performer is the voice on the tape, who gives them their assignment: a mundane task (e.g. get dressed or mow the lawn).
  • Infomercial: Two performers create an infomercial to sell "miracle products" for a personal problem (e.g. bad breath, baldness) using only items given to them in a box.
  • Irish Drinking Song: The four performers must sing an Irish drinking song one line at a time about a given subject. (Four verses are sung in alternating lines of seven and five syllables; in each verse, a different performer begins the verse.)
  • Let's Make a Date: One performer is the contestant on a dating-type show. The other three performers are bachelors who have quirky personalities, which are revealed through their answers to the contestant's questions. The contestant tries to guess the specific personalities after one or two rounds of questions.
  • Living Scenery: Two performers enact a scene provided by the host. The other two performers stand in for props during the scene.
  • The Millionaire Show: The performers enact a parody of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, in which the performers act as members of a particular group provided by the host (e.g. gangsters, hillbillies). The performers take the role of the host, a contestant, a "phone-a-friend" lifeline, and an audience member lifeline (not present in the original show).
  • Moving People: Two performers enact a scene, but cannot move on their own. Instead, two audience members move them into different positions as they act out the scene.
  • Multiple Personalities: Three of the performers are given a scene to enact with three handheld props (e.g. a canteen, a pair of binoculars, and a knife). Each prop is assigned a famous personality; the person holding the prop must do an impression of that personality as the scene continues (e.g. "the person holding the canteen is Carol Channing"). The performers trade props as the scene continues, giving everyone the chance to do different impressions. (If a performer is holding more than one prop at once, the performer must combine the impressions.)
  • News Flash: One performer stands in front of a green screen as a field reporter, while two other performers act as studio reporters. Random footage is shown to the audience, the news anchors, and the viewers at home via the green screen, as the studio reporters question the field reporter about the footage. Eventually, the field reporter tries to guess what the footage is, based on the questions from the studio reporters. (For a similar game, see Press Conference.)
  • Old Job, New Job: Several performers enact a scene in which one of the performers displays traits of his old job (e.g. cowboy) in his new job (e.g. teacher).
  • Party Quirks: Three performers (party guests) are given a random quirk, and the fourth performer is a party host, who must identify the others' quirks as the guests arrive and interact at the party.
  • Press Conference: One performer acts as a public figure answering questions from three reporters (the other performers) at a press conference. Only the reporters know who the public figure is; the first performer must figure out who he is based upon the questions asked by the reporters. (For a similar game, see News Flash.)
  • Prison Visitor: One performer visits the other three in prison individually. They sing their problems to the visitor. (For a similar game, see Bartender.) (This game is exclusive to the British version.)
  • Props: Two pair of two performers must come up with quick scenes that involve a random prop.
  • Questions Only: Two performers enact a scene, while only speaking in the form of a question. Failure to speak in the form of a question results in the performer being buzzing out and replaced by another performer. A variant is "Questionable Impressions," where, in addition to the above rules, the performers must impersonate a historical, fictional, or pop culture figure of their choice. (See also "Song Titles".)
  • Quick Change: Two or three performers enact a scene provided by the host. Another performer stands to the side and says "Change" at various times during the scene; the performer who had the last line must then change that line to something else.
  • Remote Control: All four performers enact four different types of television programs, each dealing with the same topic (provided by the host). At regular intervals, the host switches between performers, as if using a television remote control. (For a similar game see Authors.)
  • Scene to Rap: All four performers must enact a scene, but can only speak as a rap.
  • Scenes From a Hat: The four performers improvise one-line scenes in response to suggestions from the audience. (The suggestions are written on slips of paper in a hat, giving its name to the game).
  • Show Stopping Number: Three performers enact a scene. At random times the host uses a buzzer, and the last performer to speak before the buzzer must sing a show-stopping tune based on the line they just said.
  • Song Styles: One performer sings a song in a style provided by the host about an audience member or about a subject provided by the audience. (Sometimes, the rest of the cast provide backup vocals or dancing.) Variations on the game include:
    • Duet: two performers perform the song together as a duet, alternating verses or stanzas.
    • African Chant: same as Song Styles, except that the style is always an African chant.
  • Song Titles: Two performers enact a scene, speaking only using song titles; artists and album names cannot be used. Failure to do so results in the performer being buzzed out and replaced by another performer. (See also "Questions Only".)
  • Sound Effects: There are two variants to this game. In one, one performer enacts a scene provided by the host, reacting to sound cues provided by a second performer. In the other, two performers enact a scene with sound effects provided by two audience members.
  • Stand, Sit, Bend: Three performers enact a scene, but one must be standing, one must be sitting, and one must be bent over. Whenever one performer changes positions, the others have to accommodate. A variant is "Stand, Sit, Lie," where a performer must be lying down.
  • Superheroes: One performer is a silly superhero whose name is given by the audience, and is confronted with a bizarre world crisis. The other performers enter one at a time, each identifying the next entrant. Superheroes from this game include Disco Kid, Captain Dog-in-Heat, Yodeling Pogo-Stick Man, and Captain Obvious.
  • Themed Restaurant: Two performers dine in an unusual themed restaurant; the other two performers display the theme as they act as waitstaff.
  • Three-Headed Broadway Star: Three performers sing a Broadway hit song one word at a time.
  • Two Line Vocabulary: Three performers enact a scene provided by the host. One can say anything they like, but the others are allowed to say only two specific lines, provided by the host.
  • Weird Newscasters: One performer is the lead anchor of a news show, with the others acting as co-host, sports anchor, and weather anchor. The host gives each performer (except the lead anchor) a quirky personality to be used in the scene.
  • What Are You Trying to Say?: Two performers enact a given scene, each taking offense at the other's statements whenever possible.
  • Whose Line: Two performers enact a scene (provided by the host) while including two random lines that were given to them. The lines are provided by audience members.
  • World's Worst: The performers come to "the world's worst step" and step forward with examples of the world's worst example of something (e.g. "the world's worst roommate" or "the world's worst person to be stuck on an island with").

The end of the program is handled differently in each version.

  • In the British version, the "winner" (chosen arbitrarily by the host) reads the credits in a given style of the host's choosing.
  • In early episodes of the American version, the "winner" (again, chosen arbitrarily by the host) performed a sketch with the host; afterwards, the credits rolled normally. In later episodes, the "winner" sat at the host's desk while the host performed a sketch with the rest of the performers; afterwards, one or more performers (unrelated to the "winner") read the credits in a style of the host's choosing.

Running Gags

Running gags can appear throughout an entire episode of the American verson. In one episode, Drew accidentaly calls Africa a country. Throughout that episode there are references to Africa and the differences between countries and continents. Running gags throughout the entire American series include Ryan's shoes, Ryan's height, how lame hoedowns are, and Colin's baldness.

See also

External links

nl:Whose Line Is It Anyway?


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