I spoke with improv master Jonathan Mangum about his new show on ABC, Trust Us With Your Life. It premieres Tuesday night, July 10 at 9/8c. Trust Us With Your Life is from the creators of Whose Line Is It Anyway? so you know it is going to be hilarious. Fred Willard is the host and it features Jonathan Mangum, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady as the main improvisers. Brad Sherwood, Greg Proops, Nicole Parker, Josie Lawrence, David Armand, and Craig Cackowski will also join in as guest performers. Featured celebrities like David Hasselhoff, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Springer, Florence Henderson, Jack & Kelly Osbourne, Jane Seymour, Serena Williams and Mark Cuban will describe key life events to the improvisers and they will act out those moments. I can’t wait for David Hasselhoff’s episode. It was an honor to speak with Jonathan. I’ve always admired improv artists and Jonathan’s work is spectacular. He is such a great guy, and I can’t wait to watch the celebrities trust their lives to the improvisers. Make sure you follow Jonathan on Twitter @Mangum1. Don’t miss the series premiere of Trust Us With Your Life, Tuesday night, July 10 at 9/8c on ABC.
Lena: Did you enjoy the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards?
Jonathan Mangum: It was really fun and the slime was exciting.
Lena: Did you get slimed?
Jonathan Mangum: No, we were sitting in just the right spot to not get slimed. I told the kids to freak them out that the water sprinklers that you can see in the ceiling above where you are sitting, that they were all filled with slime. So I kept them on their toes the whole show.
Lena: I remember you from The Drew Carey Show.
Jonathan Mangum: So you are the one person that watched season 8 and season 9, is that what you are saying?
Lena: [Laughing] I loved that show.
Jonathan Mangum: It was a great show. Nine seasons is crazy successful for anything.
Lena: It really introduced me to you, Drew, Diedrich (Bader), Ryan (Stiles), Craig (Ferguson), and so many more talented people. I love Craig. Do you keep in touch with most of them?
Jonathan Mangum: Craig is a great guy. I see Drew quite a bit. We do shows together. Sometimes, two or three times a year, we will do an improv show at MGM. We are doing that this year. Drew and Wayne Brady are the two that I see the most.
Lena: Drew lost so much weight.
Jonathan Mangum: He did. When he gets into something he will do it hardcore. He’s been running like 10 or 12 miles a day, which is a lot. I can’t run that much.
Lena: Can you talk about working on The Drew Carey Show and the relationships that developed from it?
Jonathan Mangum: I had met Drew through Wayne Brady. Wayne and I had been touring together doing a two-man improv show for about 10 years and Wayne introduced me to him but it was like a year later before I auditioned for The Drew Carey Show and one of the writers, Julie Larson, remembered my improv group because she and Ryan Stiles used to do improv just before my group used to do improv down in Santa Monica. She remembered me so she cast me in that role, as Drew’s boss, and when Drew found out that I did improv he asked if I wanted to come to Vegas and do improv with them. That’s how I got on Drew’s improv radar, and since that he’s put me in just about every improv show that he has done. We did a show called Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show, on the WB. It didn’t last very long but it was a cool idea. We did improv on a green screen and he would hire all different kinds of animators, from people that worked with sand, paint, pencils, anything that you could imagine, and they would animate all the backgrounds to the improv. After that we did a show called Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza, which was on the Game Show Network last year. We did about 40 episodes of that. That was a really cool thing. He’s been super loyal to me, so he’s the nicest guy I know. One thing that was really cool in the last couple seasons of The Drew Carey Show, if you remember, it turned into an Amazon type of company called the Neverending Store. We had all these computers set up, I think they were iMacs or something, and the guy that set up all the computers set up a video game, Medal of Honor, on there and we would all play Medal of Honor during all the breaks. It actually got to be kind of detriment because we couldn’t get enough rehearsing in. We couldn’t do the camera blocking because the cast – Drew, Ryan, Diedrich, and myself – we were always on the computer and there were about eight computers all shooting at each other. The director would be like, “Guys we have to rehearse,” and we would be like, “yeah, yeah.” It almost became the reason that we were there and the show was the side reason. That was super fun, having those videogames logged up. We actually challenged ER, they were one set over and they actually had a similar kind of thing. If you remember watching ER, on the hospital set, you would see all the computers, well they didn’t have real medical records on there, they were all playing Medal of Honor during their break, too. We had a big day and we all got together and challenged each other on the ER set to a game of Medal of Honor and we beat them [laughing]. That’s a little brag there.
Lena: You also did The Sarah Silverman Program. I miss that show so much.
Jonathan Mangum: That show was so great. A good friend of mine, Rob Schrab, was one of the creators of it. It’s so great to have someone just offer you a part; he offered me the part with Sarah. As an actor, auditioning is hard and it’s not fun to audition because you go on a lot of auditions and there are so many people auditioning that you will end up getting one out of every twenty or thirty auditions. It’s a pain in the butt, so when someone says, “Hey man do you want to play this part?” That is the nicest thing ever. It was fun to do that and Sarah Silverman is hilarious. She is one of the funniest female comics out right now; she’s one of the funniest comics period.
Lena: She is remarkable. I was so sad when they canceled that show.
Jonathan Mangum: Yeah, I don’t know why they cancelled it or why they cancel anything. I thought it was super funny, weird funny, a different kind of funny.
Lena: Yes, it definitely was. They really went out there and pushed the boundaries, and that is what made it perfect.
Lena: You were also in The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson. How great was it working with him?
Jonathan Mangum: That was insane. I played his legal counsel in two different scenes in the movie and in one scene it was just me and him sitting at a table and there was no one else around, if you’ve ever been to a set of a movie there are hours of setting up the lights and camera tweaking, so I had to sit next to him for a long time and just try to think of stuff to say to Jack Nicholson. I didn’t want to sit there and be quiet the whole time and act like a loser but I didn’t want to talk his ear off. What do you say to like the most famous actor of a generation? He was super-nice and funny, and he was just a regular guy, which I thought was awesome. He just seemed like a really happy guy. He has a great deal in all his movies, which if you work in the business you know that pretty much you are usually going to be asked to come to a film set at 6am or earlier, no matter what you are doing or who you are because they want you there early to get in makeup, even if your scene is not planned until later. If you are in the movies plan to get there super early. He had in his contract that he will not show up to a set until 11am, which is so awesome. The crew was so happy because they didn’t have to show up until later. When you are that powerful and that famous you get all the perks.
Lena: He deserves it. He certainly earned it.
Jonathan Mangum: Oh yeah, he’s great and he tells great stories about how he hasn’t always been the first choice. Most of the big stuff that he has done he was not the first guy but he doesn’t have an attitude about it. Some actors will actually say no to a role if they were not the first choice. Jack was talking about a roles, if he likes them he’ll do them, he doesn’t care if he’s the fourth or fifth choice.
Lena: Actors should just be happy that they are able to get work.
Jonathan Mangum: You’re damn right.
Lena: I really have to say that I admire your improv skills. I have no idea how you guys are able to pull that stuff off. I could never do it.
Jonathan Mangum: Thank you. People always come up, after a good show, and say, “How do you do that?” It’s just like anything else. I’ve been doing it for 20 years so anyone that has been doing something for 20 years and is not good at it, they are doing something wrong. You know what I mean? Like a piano player, golfer, or whatever, if you have been doing it for 20 years then you had better be good at it.
Lena: It’s just crazy. You guys have to be skilled and versed in so many different subjects and just ready to go immediately.
Jonathan Mangum: It helps and when I teach kids. I will sometimes teach a class in improv and people ask, “How do I get good?” The answer is always, “Suck 10,000 times.” You have to suck at it so much before you are good. It kind of freaks them out a bit, but you really have to go out and be horrible. I try to get them to celebrate being horrible. “Let’s all suck together.” I try to turn it into a positive thing so they are not horrified at being bad at something; they will get that feeling later when they are good at it.
Lena: I used to watch Whose Line Is It Anyway? all the time and be in awe of how they could just pull that stuff out of the air.
Jonathan Mangum: You were watching pros doing it that have sucked so bad, so many thousands of times, but now it’s impossible for them to suck. That’s what it is.
Lena: They can switch accents, sing, dance, etc. and all in a moment’s notice. That is amazing.
Jonathan Mangum: Yes, they can do all that stuff.
Lena: How was it working on Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza?
Jonathan Mangum: It was really great. Anytime I get to do improv with Ryan Stiles, he’s the king, is just great. It’s weird because he and Colin (Mochrie) are just so great. They are the best that I have ever seen, and they are two completely different styles. I go back and fourth on which style I like the best. Ryan is so hilarious but he is perfectly confident the entire time. He just looks like he knows exactly what he is going to say when it comes out of nowhere and it is hilarious. Colin is hilarious at everything but he looks like he is about to lose his mind. He looks like he is about to fall off of the tight wire. You have to ask yourself what is more exciting? Watching the tightrope walker sail across perfectly, or is it more exciting watching him almost fall eight times? I don’t think Colin is really about to fall off the tightrope, I think that he is as confident as Ryan is but that is just the way he plays it, which is brilliant. Every once in a while I’ll go on tour with Ryan and recently I got to do that with him, and that was so much fun.
Lena: You have a new show on ABC premiering Tuesday night, July 10at 9/8c, Trust Us with Your Life. Can you talk about it?
Jonathan Mangum: Fred Willard interviews celebrities like Ricky Gervais, Jerry Springer, and David Hasselhoff. He interviews them to find out stories about their childhood, how they got started, or something that happened to them that was funny and he’ll say that the story sounds like a good story for an improv scene, so we go out there and turn that into an improv scene. On Whose Line Is It Anyway? you would have Drew ask the audience to give him a place to go on vacation, and they would say Hawaii, so they would do a scene about Hawaii. In this case, we are using the stories from the celebrities as the start of the improv scenes.
Lena: That’s fantastic.
Jonathan Mangum: We have some really new and exciting games that people have never seen on Whose Line Is It Anyway? before. One of my favorites, because it is so cool, is called the sideways scene. What we do is we lay on the floor, so I would lay down on the floor and Wayne would lay down on the floor and we would face each other, and we put the camera in the ceiling facing down on us so it looks like we are standing up. We do this improv scene where we are actually on our sides and at home you are seeing us standing up, so we can do things like jump in the air over each other and do flips and all this hilarious physical stuff that looks really crazy. It’s such a cool game.
Lena: That sounds so cool. I was wondering how they were going to switch it up from what is already out there and from Whose Line Is It Anyway?. That’s great!
Jonathan Mangum: We have new games and it’s a great concept for an improv show. I was really excited, plus it’s ABC, the Whose Line Is It Anyway? channel, so they know how it works and what makes good improv.
Lena: When you are having a bad day all you have to do is turn on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and you will instantly have a better day.
Jonathan Mangum: That’s right and it’s great because you know that they are making it up. It’s just as much fun to do it as it is to watch.
Lena: What are your strong points as an improv artist? Is there something that you are really good at?
Jonathan Mangum: I’m good at all things [laughing]. No, I really like physical stuff. I like flopping around, flailing around; I like to be physical. I love physical, if someone falls over or jumps in the air or hurts themselves, which happens all the time, I always end up hurting myself when I do an improv show. I don’t feel it when I’m onstage because of the adrenaline but if I’m on tour I’ll go back to the hotel and the next morning I’m like, “Ah, my leg!” I wounded myself. I’ll end up with a nice bruise on my shin. I love the singing. Improv music is really fun, too. I love rapping. Rapping is one of my favorite improv things to do.
Lena: Is there anything that you hate or don’t like about doing improv? Perhaps doing accents, or something like that?
Jonathan Mangum: No, accents are great. There is not much that I hate about doing it but the stinky part about improv is when you are on tour doing it in comedy clubs and theaters. Because of Wayne, I’ve gotten to not only tour the U.S. but we’ve been to South Africa, Canada, India, Germany, London; we’ve been all over the place. The traveling is so not fun. If you don’t travel a lot you would think it’s fun but if you travel all the time, you are exhausted and you have to do sound check and you are trying to eat healthy but there is nothing but Cinnabon in front of you [laughing]. That part is not fun but once I am onstage there is nothing that I don’t like about it.
Lena: That’s great. I want to visit Australia but that plane trip…
Jonathan Mangum: It is so long. Luckily, both times I got to do it, I got to do it in business class, which means that the seats go back into a bed. I can’t imagine sitting upright for 17 hours. I would kill myself [laughing].
Lena: It has to be beautiful there? I love so many Australian rock bands.
Jonathan Mangum: Australia is amazing. Sydney is like – imagine San Francisco but warm and sunny with a beach that you can actually swim in. Sydney is fantastic. They have some great rock bands. I love Australia. I recommend it.
Lena: Is something that you would like to do or attempt in the future?
Jonathan Mangum: I’m actually in the process of attempting two things. I’m going to be doing a live improv game show. I do Let’s Make a Deal with Wayne Brady right now on CBS, and I thought it would be great to combine an actual game show. On Whose Line Is It Anyway? the points didn’t matter, Drew gave people 1,000 points and it didn’t really matter. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the points did matter? What if the people were actually competing?” I have a new format called the made up game show that we are going to be putting on here in Los Angeles as a live show. Contestants from the audience are team captains to improv teams and they compete against each other and the teams will perform for the captains, who are audience members. They will have a chance to win prizes. I’m excited about that. I don’t know where, what venue, it’s going to be at right now, but that will be coming up. I’m also working on a web series with a good friend of mine from an improv group. There is no title for it, yet, but it is really fun to do because it is so easy right now to make your own stuff. These SLR cameras like the Canon 5D, just used to be cameras you took pictures with but now you can shoot HD video on these things. You can make little movies, little web series, that look as good as television.
Lena: Yes, like how Louis C.K. does Louie.
Jonathan Mangum: Yes he does. He even edits it himself, too.
Lena: He writes it, acts in it, produces it, directs it; he pretty much does everything.
Jonathan Mangum: That show is so funny. I love that show. I love awkward situational comedy. When people are just awkward. Did you see Girls? It’s the new show on HBO produced by Judd Apatow? It really has that kind of dry funny awkward stuff like Louis CK.
Lena: No, I’ll have to check it out. Do you watch Wilfred? I love Wilfred.
Jonathan Mangum: No, I haven’t watched Wilfred, yet. My friends have told me that I have to see that one. It’s on my list. I have a whole list of shows that I have to watch.
Lena: Is Trust Us with Your Life going to be an hour long (every week)?
Jonathan Mangum: It’s a half-hour show, but ABC is going to show the first two episodes of Trust Us with Your Life back-to-back [Tuesday night, July 10, at 9/8c].
Lena: That sounds like a fantastic show. Now that you’ve talked more about it, I really want to see it.
Jonathan Mangum: I think people will really like it. It’s a really cool way to do it that no one has thought of, yet.
Lena: We definitely need something different, and the cast is amazing.
Jonathan Mangum: Absolutely, I know we are sick of the reality shows [laughing].
Lena: [Laughing] I agree.
Jonathan Mangum: How many singing competition shows do we need?
Lena: Oh, I know, I know exactly what you mean. However, I do love Adam Lambert. He is the best thing that American Idol has ever given us.
Jonathan Mangum: I’m a ******* fan myself [laughing]. No, I’m joking, I’m joking. Please don’t put that down. [I respected Jonathan’s wishes and didn’t put in his favorite singer, so he can maintain his cool status. It was a pretty hilarious choice. Watch his new show and perhaps he will share his choice with you.]
Lena: Yeah, you would lose a little credit for that one. You have a really cute puppy, so I will let that one slide [laughing].
Jonathan Mangum: [Laughing] I know, exactly.
Watch Jonathan Mangum in Trust Us With Your Life on Tuesday night, July 10 at 9/8c on ABC.