Colin Mochrie and Second City will gently mock the CPO and its audience

For Colin Mochrie, returning to Calgary is something of a pilgrimage.

Not because he’s ever lived here, but because this city, actually, is probably responsible for his entire path in life and certainly his lengthy career — indirectly speaking.

The Scottish-born, Montreal-raised, Vancouver-trained, Toronto-based actor and comic gives credit for the direction his life has followed to the locally birthed TheatreSports, the improv game developed by Loose Moose master, director and guru Keith Johnstone. 

“It has a special place in my heart because in Calgary TheatreSports happened, and because of TheatreSports I got into improv,” Mochrie says. “So it’s a very special place for me.”

Improv, obviously, is still very much a part of what he does these days and all of the elements to his career, which includes: 15 years of touring with fellow comedian Brad Sherwood (“We still sort of like each other, which is good,” he says); appearing on the now-CW aired Whose Line Is It Anyway, which he describes as “The Walking Dead of improv shows”; and, to a certain extent, the current live event he’s involved in that will bring him to town this Saturday night, Second City’s Guide to the Symphony.

“I’m at the point now where when I’m going to do a project, the main thing is: How much fun is it going to be,” he says of his involvement as the host of the concert that pairs the legendary Second City improv group with orchestras around North America. 

“And these are all people who I enjoy working with and are friends with, so for me it’s a no-brainer, I had to do it.”

Saturday night he’ll do it in a city he holds dear, with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra which we all hold dear.

Prior to the show, Mochrie spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: You’re heading out this way for a pretty unique event.

A: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. We have a good time with it, it’s a fun show … and I think the symphony has a great time. It’s a little different from what they usually do.

Q: There is the thought that classical musicians and classical audiences are the stuffiest people and don’t much care to be made fun of. Is that part of the reason that you do this and part of the reason it works so well?

A: I think so. I mean, comedy is there to prick the balloon of pomposity. I’m certainly not saying everywhere you go symphonies are stuffy and serious, but there’s certainly a lot of things we can make fun of with the symphony — like anything in the world. It’s always good to be able to laugh at yourself. We have some scenes that sort of make fun of the various audience members, we have scenes that sort of poke fun at the members of the orchestra and the history of opera and symphonic pieces, so everyone sort of gets gentle prodding.

Q: And I guess everyone is in on the joke because they’re coming to it for this particular reason?

A: Yeah, and I think the symphony hopes that it opens up a new audience coming to see them. I don’t think many fans of comedy would immediately think, “Oh, I’m heading to the symphony to have a couple of good laughs.” But hopefully once they’re there they’ll see just how wonderful a symphony orchestra is. Through doing this show, I’ve gotten a greater appreciation of what they do and the work they put into what they do. And there’s nothing like having an entire symphony behind you when you’re working, being surrounded by the music. It’s actually quite amazing.

Q: How did you first get involved with this project?

A: I’m a Second City alumni and Second City is similar to the mafia — you never leave it. And Chicago Second City had done something similar with the Chicago Opera Company and so Second City approached the Toronto Symphony. A couple of writers from Second City — one of them Carly (Heffernan) is actually in the show — came up with various sketches through talking with various conductors and the head of the symphony, came up with scenes that everyone was happy with, and then they asked me to host. And I’m glad I did. It’s a lot of fun, it’s great working with the cast, they’re pretty much all people I know and are friends, so it’s actually just kind of a party for us.

Q: How scripted is it and how much is improv?

A: I would say it’s probably 90 per cent scripted. If there’s improv it means that something has gone wrong. (Laughs) We do have one improv piece where we have four members of the symphony join us and then we do a thing called Sounds Like a Song, where someone will be doing a scene and there’s some point where they’ll go, “Oh, that sounds like a song,” and then those four orchestra members play a tune and the actor has to sing a song based on whatever that last sentence was.

Q: What other elements are there to the show? What else can people expect?

A: There’s some audience participation, there’s one point where we turn the audience into an orchestra. There’s a sketch about the audience itself, the various people who come to a symphony. There’s one thing that changes with every symphony we play with and it’s because it’s based on the actual members of the symphony. We get some personal tidbits from them and then weave it into a scene where we get to know some of the symphony a little better. So it’s a little bit of everything.

Colin Mochrie Hosts The Second City Guide to the Symphony takes place Saturday at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. For tickets and info go here.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.