High-energy improv

Contributing writerJanuary 18, 2013 

Joel Murray — who’ll visit Olympia as part of the cast of the improv show “Whose Live Anyway?” — learned early how to get laughs.

His first gig was at the dinner table, where he was competing with other funny children, including his older brother Bill Murray.

Yes, that Bill Murray.

“My father was a very slow eater,” Joel Murray said in a recent phone interview. “Every night when I was little, there were 11 people at the table, and the second half of the meal was trying to get this guy to laugh with food or milk in his mouth.

“You’d learn a lot about timing,” he added. “If you said something stupid early, you were going to get cut off for the rest of the meal.”

The result of this excellent training: Joel began with Chicago’s Second City and IO Improv and has amassed a list of credits including TV shows “Dharma and Greg” and “Mad Men” and the 2011 film “God Bless America.”

Bill needs no introduction, and brothers John Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray (who hyphenated his name to avoid confusion with another acting Brian Murray) are professional comedy actors, too.

It’s a pretty high number out of a family of nine children.

“We’re not all actors, but we’re all pretty funny,” Joel Murray said. “One of my sisters has been a nun for 42 years.”

Murray is filling in for “Whose Live” regular Chip Esten, who is taping ABC’s “Nashville.” Murray joins Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops and Jeff B. Davis for “Whose Live,” which features games from the popular ABC show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

“Whose Line Is It Anyway” is based on a BBC series. The American version was hosted by Drew Carey and featured Stiles of Bellingham; it aired from 1998 to 2004 and has remained popular, fueled in part by the tour, which makes periodic stops in Olympia.

The comedy formula — a mock game show — is fresher on tour than on TV, Stiles told the Olympian in 2008.

“It’s nice to do it live because we’re in control,” he said, “and Drew’s not there slowing it down giving out points, so it’s more fun for us. There’s a higher energy level.”

Although he got his start in improv, Murray said it was a little scary joining such a long-established team and working at such a fast pace. “It’s like nothing I’d ever done before,” he said. “It was a baptism by fire. The first one I did, I was quite nervous.”

“It’s kind of fun being the new guy,” he added.

He said there can be an advantage to being better known as an actor.

“That’s kind of good if the audience thinks, ‘Here’s this dramatic actor getting up here and trying this.’ I started out in improv, but I’ll keep that secret and let them root for me.”

You might say he also got his amateur start in improv, way back when at the dinner table in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka.

Asked who in the family was the funny one, Murray said: “There were a lot of funny ones.

“Who was the smart one, that’s what I want to know.” ‘Whose Live Anyway?’

What: The improv show inspired by TV’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” returns to Olympia, this time with actor Joel Murray filling in for regular Chip Esten.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $33-$40

More information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org

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