Five for the price of four

When the “Whose Live Anyway?” tour started some years back, it featured four veterans of the “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” TV show — Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Jeff Davis and Chip Esten. But at some point, Esten started pursuing more acting jobs, got cast as Deacon in the TV show “Nashville” and began billing himself as “Charles” Esten. (He hasn’t completely abandoned comedy; he is currently appearing on a TV near you as the fictitious “Carl Hardee Sr.” in the new Hardee’s / Carl’s Jr. ad campaign.)

Esten’s spot in the live touring show was taken by Joel Murray. Joel is not particularly associated with the “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” TV show, but he has a solid comedy background, something he shares with his older brothers Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray. Like Esten, he’s also done some dramatic acting; “Mad Men” fans will remember him as Freddy Rumsen.

From left: Joel Murray, Jeff Davis, Greg Proops, Ryan Stiles

Ever since I bought my ticket for the first Nashville appearance of “Whose Live Anyway?”, I wondered if Chip/Charles might make an appearance. I figured they might bring him on stage for one game, maybe two.

Well, Chip wandered on stage, unannounced, right after Proops had finished introducing the other three performers, and he remained on stage the whole night, so we got “Whose Live Anyway?” with five improv performers instead of the advertised four.

It was a great show, and I am so glad I bought a ticket.

Not that you can tell from this washed-out image, but (clockwise from left) Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Jeff Davis, Charles “Chip” Esten and Joel Murray. At the piano is Bob Derkach.

Ironically, the very first audience member brought on stage, right at the outset of the show, was Erin, a small-town newspaper reporter from the Tullahoma News, 20 miles down the road. I was in the balcony; she and her mother had good seats down front. Maybe the News pays better than they used to. The comics asked her what the news was in Tullahoma, and she told them that the high school band director had been arrested on drug charges. When she revealed that she was there with her mother, Crystal, they asked about the mother’s occupation. When the reporter admitted that her mother was a retired teacher, the idea that the mother was also on drugs immediately became a running gag, and in fact the mother herself was brought on stage during the encore at the end of the evening.

I think my favorite game was the “Whose Line?” game, in which members of the audience write random sentences on little slips of paper. Two of the performers then play a scene, each one with a pocketful of slips (which they have not read in advance). At appropriate moments, each of the performers pulls out a slip and reads whatever is written on it as a line in the scene, whether it makes any sense in the scene or not:

“As my mother always said to me, [PULLS OUT SLIP OF PAPER] ‘Wash your face; it’s pickle time!’”

By sheer dumb luck, two consecutive slips of paper used the word “pickle,” which just made it all the funnier. That was combined with several audience suggestions related to fried chicken or hot chicken.

It was all over too soon; when they started taking their bows, it sure didn’t seem like 90 minutes had passed.

On the way home, I listened to the Predators game, and was able to just barely hear the end of the game as I lost the radio signal while pulling off the Interstate in Murfreesboro. A good show, and a Predators win. Can’t beat that!