It’s not very often that we get to talk to a certified genius, but this week, we got to talk to The Smartest Man In The World.
That man is Greg Proops, stand-up comedian and improviser extraordinaire, who will be back in Dublin next week to take to the stage at Whelan’s to present his podcast, The Smartest Man…
This is the second time this year Greg has been in town to host the show, which is a blend of his unique and hilarious musings on politics, culture, literature, baseball, and everything in between. What started as a backroom enterprise has grown into a hugely popular live experience, with the crowd invited to join in and query Greg on literally any subject as part of the show.
When we caught up with Greg, he was making plans for his return to Ireland, and started by asking him what was bringing him back from Hollywood so soon.
“I love Dublin – the vibe, the kebabs and the craic,” said Greg. “The audience is so smart and with it. I can read poetry and no one thinks it is unusual. A town filled with bookstores, music stores, great cheese and seafood? Bring it on.
“And I love performing in Ireland, the crowds are so sincere.”
Greg is probably best known for his appearances on the improvisational comedy show, Whose Line Is It Anyway on Channel 4 in the 80s and 90s. What people here probably don’t know is that his career on the show continued in the US for a further eight seasons when ABC picked up the format for American audiences.
He has also appeared on stand-up stages across the world, and occasionally in film – although you may not have recognised him in Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, when he played one half of the pod-race announcer, Fode.
With such a range of creative careers, we naturally asked him which his favourite was.
“Whose Line has been vital to my life. It allowed me to work with all the great people I still work with, like the Comedy Store Players and Ryan Stiles in the USA. Stand-up is my armour. Acting is fun when I can get a gig, but I am bloody awful at showbiz.
“Podcasting has been a profound turn for me. I can be myself and rant and rave and sing and drink and it goes directly to the audience without any corporate filter. People love that it is from the heart. I love that people have been so positive about it. No TV network, no meetings, no advertisers, no nonsense. Just our own nonsense.”
Proops is one of a vanguard of comedians – including Marc Maron, Jay Mohr, Aisha Tyler and Chris Hardwick – who have created an outlet for their talents via the podcast medium. How did Greg get the podcast bug?
“The producers, Matt and Ryan, asked me. I knew I couldn’t do the interview format as it was being done so well by so many [the podcasts listed above all take the form of interviews]. So, the big moment came when we did the first one live. All the podcasts are now in front of a live crowd, and all are improvised to notes. The show organically evolved into the diatribe that it is now – I love riffing [on] the podcast and seeing how far I can go.”
Greg has podcasted from all around the world, away from the show’s nominal home in West Hollywood, from places as far afield as a cruise ship in the Caribbean, the Edinburgh Festival and our very own Whelan’s. Given the very political and cultural nature of the show, and the fact that it always seems that he is ridiculously well versed in local matters, how much research does he do before a show?
“I read the papers and go out drinking! I’ve discovered that people overseas are even more involved in the subjects they find important – music, art, politics, literature. I learn so much from the people I play with, everywhere I go.”
Greg’s blend of intelligent analysis of current and cultural affairs and comedy is reminiscent of stand-up legends Bill Hicks and George Carlin. How much of an influence were comics like these on Greg’s career?
“Huge. Carlin is my favorite comedian and I listen to Hicks for inspiration. They were warrior poets in the classic mode.”
Finally, what lessons has Greg learned from podcasting?
“The future is a pretty open field. Jump right in, is what I’ve learned.”