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March 29, 2018

Greg Proops broadens routine with new podcast, 'The Smartest Man in the World'

The comic known for improv on 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' hits Helium Comedy Club for a three-night stand

Comedians Q&A
Greg Proops Submitted photo /for PhillyVoice

Greg Proops’ live version of "The Smartest Man in the World" podcast is tonight, Thursday, March 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. His stand-up shows are Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31 at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. nightly at Helium Comedy Club.

Greg Proops is not an unfamiliar face or high hairdo when it comes to comedy. The San Franciscan treat has been performing as a culturally critical stand-up comic and doing provocative improvisation since the '80s. Proops had been best known for his role in the televised improv of “Whose Line Is it Anyway?,” a show he continues to do in a live setting throughout the globe with several of the same performers as the TV show. 

In the last several years, however, an incendiary Proops has become doubly famous for his “The Smartest Man in the World” podcast and its often-serious long-form rants. With that, Proops will host one live podcast event tonight before tackling a weekend’s worth of stand-up comedy informed by his “Smartest Man” status.

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Q: When you started podcasting after being in the comedy biz for decades, you didn’t anticipate how much it would change your comic outlook. Did it change your view of how to document yourself, the world around you, or your comic form?

A: It’s the most direct way of communicating to an audience. There is no filter. When we started doing the podcast, after a few months of it, I realized how valuable it was and how much this should be what I was focusing on. The format allowed me to spiel and double back on myself without having to tell jokes every 15 seconds. I realized then the honesty of that – my opinion – was reaching people in a more direct way than stand-up had.

Q: So, your podcast became a sort of clubhouse/support group for those who dug what you had to say?

A: Yes. That’s it. People come bearing gifts. There are catchphrases repeated from the podcast. We talk about anything that we obsess about – kittens, politics, Major League Baseball. The podcast just got bigger than me without the benefit of me doing anything toward that goal. We even have a mascot.

Q: Without turning you into the clown who wishes to be taken seriously, did the "Proopcast" allow you an entrée into weightier, non-funny topics?

A: Exactly. There is so much leeway in the format. Plus, not having guests is a plus. Everybody has guests – Aisha Tyler, Chris Hardwick, Marc Maron. They do it well. Mine, though, is no guests, and just me spewing. I have a lot of freedom to not be funny every second. Not that there is pressure. I mean, I want to be funny. I just want to discuss race or gender or feminism without having to yuk it up. In stand-up, I’d be failing if I didn’t get people to laugh no matter what you’re talking about. When they stop laughing at a stand-up show, they get mad at you. Then you’re just preaching. I even have a part of the podcast called "The Boring Preachy Part."

Q: Was this a welcome relief or respite to the fact that you’ve been doing stand-up and improv for so long?

A: I was getting a little bored. The podcast put me back in the thick of it.

Submitted photo /for PhillyVoice

Greg Proops

Q: You have played Philadelphia many times. You are doing two nights of stand-up and one dedicated to a live podcast. How will the freedom of the latter inform the former?

A: The podacast, yes, has definitely informed my comedy. Now, I’m a little less afraid to go absolutely anywhere. I like the structure of stand-up. There, you are forced to be precise and make your point. Now, I do try to narrow some of the broader, winding topics of the podcast into my stand-up.

Q: You mentioned politics. What is the challenge of forging original comic gold from an administration so fraught with over-the-top comedic theatrics? How do you top it?

A: It is a challenge. Working political comedy now is vaguely like working through George W. [Bush]. People were very divided along party lines with him. Now that line is even clearer. The trick now is to keep the Trumpians from having a freak-out during the show. They feel real empowered now to yell and shout things down when they don’t agree with you. That defies the rules of stand-up: The one that says, "I get to talk because I have the mic." 

Hey, my job is not to support the dominant paradigm, no matter who the President is. I make fun out of every President, though I’d say some more than others. Not every President is a Nazi fascist. Trump is a cult of personality. The jingoism homophobia and racism really ring a bell with his constituents. I don’t even believe that they sign up for the racism aspect. The whole package is simply delightful for them. My job is to make fun of this in any way possible. If it takes funny voices and such to broaden it out a bit, that will be the sugar that helps the medicine go down and try to keep the full-blown insurrections from blowing out. Also, you wouldn’t go to a concert – say jazz lion Herbie Hancock – and get mad at him for not playing country. It’s absurd that people are angry if I don’t talk about what they want me to talk about. I don’t get that.

Greg Proops’ live version of "The Smartest Man in the World" podcast is tonight, Thursday, March 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. His stand-up shows are Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31 at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. nightly at Helium Comedy Club. Tickets are $22-$34.