At this point in Series 9, directed solely towards American audiences, we come across something…Quite Interesting indeed.
As I said before, every episode of Series 9 only features one or less UK performer, and usually someone like Steve Frost, Rory Bremner or Josie Lawrence, pre-established repertory players who can let the Americans do the heavy lifting. Except for this one. Episode 4. Josie Lawrence is here, but…so is someone who hasn’t appeared since Series 1 of the show, and knows a vastly different Whose Line than the one he’s about to guest on. And that is Stephen Fry.
Yeah. Dan and Mark thought that an episode featuring the SINGLE MOST BRITISH PERSON on the planet would help the appeal on Comedy Central. Now, granted…in 1997, Stephen Fry was semi-relevant in America, having appeared in the 1994 Meg Ryan rom-com IQ (with an American accent, no less), as well as starring in that year’s stateside Oscar-bait-y film…about a guy named Oscar (’97’s ‘Wilde’). I can only imagine people in the US knew who Stephen Fry was in 1997, but…were these people watching Comedy Central? Were these people watching Whose Line?
So, this episode is one of the last two legitimately mix UK dynamic and US dynamic; Stephen and Josie did scenes together back in the day, and are STILL very friendly; Ryan and Colin are the strongest duo the show’s ever seen. And they’re about to, essentially, do battle.
People in the audience are cheering loudly after intros, and Clive remarks: “Well, we’ve got a very lively audience tonight…for a very dull set of improvisers-”
CALL STEPHEN FRY DULL ONE MORE TIME, ANDERSON. I DARE YOU. I DOUBLE DARE YOU.
Questions Only: All four are in Rome
Because, with Stephen Fry on the bill, of course they are.
Stephen flocks to the step for the top of the game, only for Clive to inform him that he’s starting.
Josie: “Come on, darling-”
Stephen: “Oh, I’m terribly sorry-”
Clive: “You’ve been away too long, I see..”
Stephen, of course, starts his scene speaking in Latin.
Josie, eventually: “Are you talking Latin or just taking the piss?”
Stephen also rolls out an unbleeped ‘FUCK’ on his first buzz-out of the day. It’s hidden under the buzz, but…at this specific taping, there’d be a less-hidden expletive, courtesy of Stephen, which we’ll get to. Two, even.
Ryan: “Did you order a pizza?”
Colin: “DON’T YOU HAVE THE FOOD OF THE GODS?”
Ryan, with an underrated line: “What did you order?”
Colin: “Don’t you have some grapes?”
Ryan: “…can you handle pepperoni?”
Colin: “What’s a pepperoni?”
Ryan: “……I DON’T KN-”
Josie: “Would you like a statue erected to you?” [eyebrow raise]
Ryan: “…what do you mean by erected?”
This scene is very silly, and not taken seriously by the performers, so when Colin comes down and asks Ryan “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY FAMILY”, it’s the kind of jarring turn that gets Clive laughing immediately.
Ryan: “That was YOUR family?”
Colin: “WHOSE FAMILY WOULD IT BE?”
After Clive buzzes both our, Josie asks Stephen: “Are you going to the Parthenon tonight?”
Stephen then has a conundrum. He KNOWS the Parthenon is not in Rome. The Parthenon is in Athens. Because THEY SAY OF THE ACROPOLIS WHERE THE PARTHENON IS…you know the rest. But he’s conflicted, because he can either ‘yes-and’ Josie’s question, or he can say, with reality, that the Parthenon is actually in Athens. And that’s what he goes with, after a second, as Clive has already buzzed out Stephen for taking too long.
Stephen: “Couldn’t you explain that the Parthenon’s in Athens?”
And Stephen leaves, as Josie cringes onstage.
Josie, to Ryan now: “IS the Parthenon in Athens?”
Ryan, deadpan: “Would you like to buy a map?”
A really energetic QO round, even if Stephen took a bit of a learning curve, Josie forgot where the Parthenon was (and who she was talking to), and the scenes only really went back-and-forth when Colin and Ryan were up together.
Film and Theatre Styles: Josie and Stephen (hijacker and pilot)
Thank god, we see Stephen and Josie play this. No offense to Ryan and Colin, but they’ve gotten enough duo showcases lately.
Clive, fielding suggestions: “BILL AND BEN? CAN WE JUST UP THE ANTE A BIT HERE?”
Audience member: “Prisoner in Cell Block 8”
Clive: “Yes, an intellectual, thank goodness for that…”
I have a feeling that Stephen knew about the ‘twist’ from the getgo, as he has this confused expression as Josie enters, wanting to have a look at the ‘cock pit’, before finally going “…well, alright.” He had to have known what he was doing.
Stephen, “please, sit down on the, uhm-”
Josie: “On the-”
Stephen: “Yes, on the co-pilot there…”
Josie finally pulls up a gun, and threatens to shoot Stephen if he doesn’t take her to Cuba.
Stephen: “…..you know this is a simulator, don’t you?”
AND THAT’S PERFECT. The audience even applauds this.
Prisoner in Cell Block 8
Stephen: “That’s alright, everybody’s gotta have a first time, and usually I’m the bitch that gives it to ’em…”
Stephen’s Aussie accent in this is pretty damn great, especially his calculated pauses in his sentences, ending in “and THEN come to me and allow me to insert STRANGE things inSIDE ya.”
Clive: “Bill and Ben”
Josie: [says a bit in Flobidob]
Stephen: “Oh, I was thinking of Bill Clinton and Tony Benn, I’m sorry”
At the start of World War II movie, he forgets who he is in the scene, and that he’s not the hijacker, so he continues flying the plane, now a war-style plane. It’s funny that he started this show as the competent scene partner, and now HE’S the Peter Cook.
Josie does a very nice proper accent while Stephen has goggle-hands and is doing the plane noise.
Josie, after a bit too much of this: “…will you PLEASE stop going off?”
Stephen: “I’m sorry, it’s the damn Gestapo, they fixed my fingers to my eyes”
Clive: “American soap opera, DIN-asty, Dynasty sort of thing”
[the audience laughs at this]
Stephen: “I do a ‘DINasty, and I do a Dynasty!”
Clive: “Do both, and we’ll try to tell, Stephen…”
Stephen: “Alright, you have to say which one, whether Dynasty or DINasty-”
Stephen: “…that’s the one I can’t do…”
Stephen and Josie’s American accents are surprisingly great. Josie’s taking several breaths between words, and doing a GREAT soap opera performance.
Stephen, in order to properly throttle Josie, takes the stuffing out of her shoulders (or bra, I dunno), and yells “YOU’RE A COLBY, GODDAMMIT!”, the big cut-to-commercial line. And, fittingly, Clive buzzes.
A very funny round, even if, like late-era Tony and Paul rounds, it didn’t always stay in the realm of improv. Josie was fantastic, though.
Sound Effects: Colin looks for thrills at the fairground, Ryan does the SFX
Ryan starts by doing a tired, trumpety circus theme from afar. Already off to a nice start.
Colin has a great character trait here: he gets to the shooting range, fires, there’s a slight pop, and Colin looks around, disappointed. He’s an adrenaline junkie, he wanted a louder bang. He tries another one, same pop. He gets to a third. LOUD BANG. He smiles.
After the third bang, he looks over in fear. That is ALL it takes to show what happened. It’s masterful.
This one also has the visual of Colin grabbing an elephant by the trunk and throwing it off into the distance….only for it to land on someone else.
Then, of course, Colin going on a roller coaster. He absolutely NAILS the physicality, and the panicked expression the further and further up he goes.
A weaker ending, but still a very fun SFX round. Stephen was getting a kick out of it in the back.
Number of Words: Romeo and Juliet
Ryan: Romeo (3 words)
Josie: Juliet (4 words)
Colin: Juliet’s mother (2 words)
Stephen: Juliet’s father (6 words)
Again, note the classy scene description for Stephen
The scene is great from the getgo, and surprisingly dramatic. Stephen, though, is counting on his fingers, as he reprimands Josie: “ONCE! A! CAPULET! ALWAYS! A! CAPULET!”
Josie, as the applause for that dies down: “Ow, my right boob!”
Ryan: “My favorite one!”
Colin, entering: “WHAT THE.”
That’s literally all you need in this game.
Ryan, bringing back his Agatha Christie voice from S7: “I…..love…….Juliet”
As Stephen has more trouble counting
Josie: “I WILL KILL MYSELF!”
Stephen, finding an easy out: “…Kill yourself? Kill yourself? KILL YOURSELF?”
As Ryan and Josie ready the poison
Stephen: “I’M GOING TO COUNT TO SIX.”
Josie drinks the poison
Stephen: “….Oh my god.”
Josie, at a quiet moment: “….I feel like shit.”
Then, as Josie’s dying, Stephen, forgetting what game he’s in, calls out to someone offscreen “BERNSTEIN, there could be a musical in this!”
An extraordinarily silly scene: Ryan, Juliet and Colin had a firm grasp of the source material, and translated it well to the game. Stephen was just having fun. And I don’t blame him. As a true Shakespeare scholar, he must know that deep down, Romeo and Juliet isn’t a great play, so maybe he’s more familiar with the histories. I dunno, that’s my next QI to watch.
Props: Colin and Ryan vs. Josie and Stephen
Stephen, holding the prop, really a big pool noodle: “Uh, Miss Street-Porter, your floss has arrived!”
And they thought THAT would go over with the American audiences? If people barely knew who Stephen was over here, they most certainly didn’t know who Janet Street-Porter was.
Ryan uses the prop as a pterodactyl wings, as Colin just does his dinosaur impression, which certainly cracks up Clive.
Colin: “….Santa, we’re going on strike.”
Ryan, kinda amazed: “WHAT??”
Let’s Make a Date: Josie guesses
Stephen: a trendy vicar
Colin: Hates everything English
Ryan: eating a tremendously hot curry
Josie: “Number One?”
Stephen, immediately: ‘Dick, call me Dick.”
Stephen, on what he’d invent: “I’d, uh invent…a kind of sharing…a sort of…outreach, if you like…MOST PEOPLE DON’T….a kind of sharing outreach…I think is what we really need, don’t you?”
Absolutely perfect. Stephen’s real-world detesting of religion certainly aides this.
Colin: “GOD. EVERYTHING IS SO *OLD* HERE.”
Ryan nails this. Just by how agape his mouth is. And then his stomach starts rumbling, and he has this look of absolute panic.
Josie, already knowing exactly who Stephen is: “Could you explain to me a bit about the current book you’re reading, and why you like it?”
Stephen: “…The book I’m reading is a book I always read…at the moment, uh…I’ve got quite far into it, I don’t want to give much away…but it’s about a friend of mine, and I think someone who could become a friend of yours…he’s a sharing kinda guy. IN A LOT OF WAYS HE’S A BIT LIKE A GANGSTA RAPPER IN A STRANGE WAY…he’s out there ON THE STREETS…WITH THE KIDS……SHOOTING UP…but he shoots up with love!”
Josie: “Aww, that’s nice.”
Stephen, ascending in pitch: ‘Yep…YEP…*YEP*”
Colin: “Everyone drinks tea in those books. WHAT IS IT WITH TEA? I’VE PASSED STRONGER URINE SAMPLES THAN THAT!”
Josie, guessing: “I think Colin’s just bein’ himself…”
Josie: “And, uh, Ryan’s just eaten something very hot and pooed himself?”
Clive: “That’s it!”
Ryan, heading back to the seats: “I POOED MYSELF?”
A very strong game; obviously I loved Stephen’s quirk, but everyone had really nice moments.
Newsflash: Josie and Ryan in the studio, Stephen in the field, in front of a King Kong movie
Stephen as the centerpiece of this game does make me a bit nervous, knowing how Rory did.
Stephen’s surprisingly a natural at this game, but the audience is mostly just laughing at the ridiculousness of the King Kong film behind him.
Ryan: “Stephen, we’re worried about your safety, do you think you’re too close?”
“…I don’t feel too close…”
Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Josie: “Is the man in the hand frightened?”
Stephen: “….is the MAN…IN the HAND…FRIGHTENED?”
Of course, at that point, the footage has him directly in the footpath of Kong, so Ryan and Josie start panicking again.
Ryan: “Stephen, do you have any form of protection with you?”
Stephen: “I’m afraid I don’t…I just have a BBC press pass…do you think that’ll help?”
Stephen guesses correctly, but after Clive kids him for ‘monkeying around’. Perfectly fine playing, and with a ton of really convenient moments of Stephen being in the right frame of shot at the right time.
Hoedown: Marital Problems
THE SECOND CLIVE ANNOUNCES THIS GAME:
Josie’s is kinda forgettable, and then we get to Stephen. If you’ve seen his Raps, you know how much he’s dreading this. He even looks at Richard, and applauds him for keeping on as Stephen stalls.
Stephen, finally, not in time: “Music and sex are very similar to me….I just can’t…make them.
Whatever I do, or whenever I try to, I always find that the best way is to fake them.
I’ve been to that, uh, Anne Somers shop, I’ve been in every branch…
But the only way I can REALLY get it off is, with, uh, Richard Vranch.”
HA. AND RICHARD GETS A KICK OUT OF THIS. Fantastic moment from Stephen.
Colin sings as a whale who keeps talking about old boyfriends, finishing with “well, how the hell can I compare to a guy named Moby Dick?” Very clever.
And Ryan’s is clever, but forgettable.
OVERALL: This show had no right to be this good. And yet…all four were on, every game was funny, and despite contrasting GREATLY with the Comedy Central audience expectation, it may have been the last breath of old Whose Line coming to save the show one last time. Stephen Fry, despite his moments of befuddlement, was wonderful here; sure, he wasn’t at ‘womp some skull on that, bitch’ levels, but he was enjoying himself, and worked well with all three. Josie was her jovial self, and brought out the best in everyone. Ryan and Colin stuck mostly to the background, but were great in scenes; Ryan mastered games early on, and Colin had some late victories. There were several classic games here, and just a surreal-but-fantastic mood throughout. An unlikely pick for ‘best of the series’, but still a valid one.
Show Winner: Stephen
Best Performer: ….yeah, I’m going with Stephen Fry. He was a LAWFUL improviser, and he was a FUNNY improviser, and he meshed so well with the other three. This is how a master returns to his craft.
Worst Performer: I’m only going with Josie because she didn’t have as many standout moments.
Best Game: Let’s Make a Date. Just had the best moments from all four.
Worst Game: Hoedown was the most uneven, but Stephen and Colin save it.