The Comedy Couch

 RYAN STILES - June 1, 2001

GUY MACPHERSON: So how are you doing?
RYAN STILES: Good. How's the weather? Stinky?

GM: Stinky. It was pouring rain today... So where are
you now?
RS: I'm in Los Angeles, but I come up there on
Tuesday. Back up to Bellingham.

GM: Now, do you live in Bellingham?
RS: I do, yeah. Just south of there. For about a year.
You know, when I'm off I live there.

GM: You don't have a place here, do you?
RS: Vancouver?

GM: Yeah.
RS: Uh, I own a place in Richmond but my parents live
in it. I bought it for them. So I do have one there.
But I'm close enough. I can still keep American
dollars down there and it's close to Vancouver.

GM: And spend them up here.
RS: Exactly. There's something about getting beer in
supermarkets that I kinda like.

GM: So should we identify you as one of us? When did
you move here?
RS: I moved there when I was ten. So, uh, '69. 1969 to
about, uh, '87 or so. Then I went to Toronto. So I
grew up there. So I kind of feel Canadian, I kind of
feel American because I was born in the States. But I
grew up there, so I'm a little half and half.

GM: What about your parents?
RS: They're kind of the opposite of me. They were born
in Canada but they lived in the States for 40 years so
they became American citizens. And now they live back
up in Vancouver again. So they're kind of the

GM: Why did they move back?
RS: Um, I think, as they got older -- you know, my
dad's ninety, and stuff -- as they got older, I think
the medical and all that. You know. I think they just
missed it. And actually my dad got transferred 20, 30
years ago back up to Vancouver. He was in the fishing
industry. They just stayed after that.

GM: I've been following you since about '82.
RS: Oh really?

GM: I used to go to Punchlines often.
RS: Oh, so you're an old guy like me, are you?

GM: Almost. You got three years on me.
RS: Oh really? Yeah, we've been doing it a while.
Let's see, the original Punchlines I think was like
'78 or '79, wasn't it?

GM: I wasn't over here then. I was in Victoria.
RS: Yeah, at the Queen E. You came to the one at,

GM: Gastown.
RS: Yeah.

GM: And I used to think, 'That guy's funny. He should
be on Saturday Night Live.'
RS: Well, you know what it was like back then. There
wasn't a lot of standup around, you know? People
didn't really know what it was, and it was exciting
because people would come into clubs. And then it got
over-exposed and everybody started doing it and then
it wasn't as much fun anymore. But it was sure fun in
those early days.

GM: You were doing standup then as well as improv.
RS: Actually, I started doing standup. I got some fake
ID made and went into Rich [Elwood]'s club.

GM: How old were you?
RS: I think I was like 18. And then started doing
TheatreSports about two or three years later.

GM: And why did you switch? Or did you?
RS: I didn't. I did both at the same time for a while.
And while the World's Fair happened there, I did
Second City at the World's Fair and still doing
standup as well at that time. And then after the
World's Fair, after '86, I just concentrated more on
improv and went to Second City in Toronto. I wasn't
writing any new standup, so it kinda got boring for me
after a while.

GM: Because you weren't writing.
RS: I wasn't writing and also because everybody
started doing it. It used to be great because you'd go
to Toronto and Howie Mandel would come out to
Vancouver, and it was just a handful of guys. And then
it started to get like 50, 60 guys and it just wasn't
fun anymore.

GM: Did you think you had an advantage, then, doing
improv, because of your quick wit?
RS: It's a whole different thing, you know? It doesn't
involve any writing or anything, and I just liked
working with other people better than I liked working
by myself. I just really found I was better at it. You
just walk in and do it. You don't have to plan
anything. It's more fun, I think.

GM: Were you working with Colin Mochrie here as well?
RS: I've worked with Colin since we were both 19. So
23, 24 years, whatever that is.

GM: You guys are the same age?
RS: He's a little older than me, actually. He's about
six or seven months older than I am. He looks A LOT

GM: I remember watching you even on My Talk Show. You
were a milkman, right?
RS: I did a bunch of different stuff on there. But
earlier on, I used to write for the Alan Thicke Show.

GM: Up here?
RS: Yeah, up there. I used to be one of the two
writers. And I used openings with him. I did about 40
or 50 openings for the shows. And Don Haron, I wrote
for that for awhile. I don't know what shows you
remember that were up there, but Comedy College, and
Downtown Saturday Night, and every CBC show that came
along. Fame Game, all those old shows. Did all those.

GM: What made you think, 'Hey, I'm going to give
Hollywood a shot'?
RS: Well, Second City opened with a troupe in Los
Angeles. They opened a theatre here. So I came down
with that troupe. I'd been down here. When I was 19 I
moved down here and thought I was a big shot and kinda
got blown away real quick and everybody stole my
material. And then I moved back down with Second City
when they came down and just stayed down pretty well
for 5, 6 years, then moved back up there for a while,
then got Drew and came back down here for a while. And
I've been bouncing back and forth. See, I'm real lucky
because I was born in the States so I have American
citizenship, which a lot of Canadian guys I think
would probably kill for. I'm really lucky that way.

GM: Now you're Mr. Entertainment.
RS: Mr. Entertainment! Yes.

GM: You've done everything.
RS: Well, I'm going to probably do about one more year
of Drew then probably move back up to Washington. I
can still do Whose Line because we only tape ten
weekends out of the year.

GM: The American one?
RS: Yeah. But Drew's kind of a... It's too much of a
schedule. I don't want to do that much longer.

GM: So the show will continue and you'll just leave?
RS: Uh, yeah. I think Drew's signed for three more
years. But my wife and kids are moving up in June,
next month. They're moving up full time. So after
that, I'll be coming up, too.

GM: How old are your kids?
RS: Six and eight. I don't want them growing up here.
You can't really let them go outside and play or
anything, like normal kids do.

GM: They can't do it up here, either, because it rains
all the time.
RS: Well, that's better than someone pushing them in a

GM: I understand you also have a fear of flying.
RS: Yeah. Actually, I've rented a bus to come up on
Tuesday, so it'll take me a day and a half as opposed
to two hours.

GM: I've just completed a course called Beyond the
Fear of Flying.
RS: Oh really? I've actually been going to a hypnotist
for the last two weeks, but mostly for smoking and
stuff, more for nerves and smoking and stuff like
that. But I'm going to use him for that, too. But I
don't really care -- unless I have to fly, which I
don't right now. When I have to, I deal with it. But
right now I don't have to with my schedule and
everything. I'll have to again. It just hit me one
day. I was fine flying and then the last time I was
going to fly back down I couldn't get on the plane.
And that's never happened to me before.

GM: I did that once. I flew down to LA and ended up
taking the bus back.
RS: I rent the same bus that we use on tours. I think
it's Motley Crue's bus, so it's all outfitted with
satellite tv, so it's nicer than a Greyhound bus.

GM: Except after Motley Crue's been in it.
RS: They get there pretty quick. They get there, you
know, in a day and a half and that's with stopping
over to sleep.

GM: I took the Greyhound route and that in itself
could cure someone from a fear of flying.
RS: I've done it before. And I've done a train a few
times and I've probably driven back and forth probably
40 or 50 times. I'm not a big flyer for a guy who did
ten years three flights a year over to London. I did
about thirty flights in ten years.

GM: That shows off now, eh?
RS: Yeah.

GM: That's too bad.
RS: Well, it's all the same people, same production
company as the American one. And they make a lot more
money over here than they would in England because
they only do ten episodes a year in England. So
they're making better money so they're pretty happy
about it.

GM: Tell me about the show you're doing here. You've
done one before -- last year, right?
RS: Uh, yeah, we did one last year and actually we
just got back last week, we did four nights in San
Fransisco and four nights at the Hard Rock in Las
Vegas. So we took it out, maybe two weeks out of the
year and it's usually Vegas and... Last year we did
Vegas then came up there for one night. This year we
did Vegas and we're coming up there to play Vancouver
and then Victoria and then over to Seattle because
most of the people in the show have never been up
there before. So they look forward to it as a little
vacation-type thing. Everybody likes working so much
that, you know... But it's a good group of people.

GM: Who's in it?
RS: Well, as Drew says, everybody except the black guy
and the star. Referring to himself, of course. And
Cathy Kinney, who plays Mimi on Drew's show. She comes
up. Brad Sherwood and Colin and Chip Eston and Greg
Proops, all the people off of Who's Line.

GM: Is there a host? How does it work?
RS: There's no host. We don't do it the same as Who's
Line. We don't have a host so we don't have to stop
the action. We can just do game after game, you know.
That's about an hour and a half. We get the audience
to supply all the suggestions and we take people out
of the crowd. The games are different than the ones we
use on Who's Line. Some of the games are the same. We
just don't use a host, we don't give points. It's more
of a show, we continue right through with it.

GM: And you don't plan anything?
RS: No. We plan what games we play, we plan the order
of the show. But we don't plan what they're going to
be about because we take all the suggestions for that.
We leave it up to the people there, so they feel 50
percent responsible so they laugh easier.

GM: This isn't a big North American tour or anything,
is it?
RS: No. I mean, every year we get this thing where we
could play basically the whole summer different dates.
A lot of people want to bring it in, you know. We just
don't want to tour. It's our summer off. It's the only
time I get to spend with my kids. My kids are still in
school, so basically I'll come up and do those dates,
then they get out on June 15th and then I'm done. Once
they're out, I don't do any more work. Then I'm off
till August, or something like that.

GM: How do you pick the cities?
RS: Well, we always do Vegas. We do that twice a year,
so that was no big thing. Everybody kinda wanted to go
to San Fransisco this year, so we did four nights
there. And then Vancouver -- Vancouver's through Rich.
Rich asks me every year if I want to do it, and
everybody had so much fun doing the two shows in
Vancouver last year and it went so quick, that when I
talked to people, they were like, 'Well, what's
Victoria like? We've never been to Seattle.' And those
are basically the three big cities up there, kind of
the Devil's Triangle of comedy. Otherwise you gotta go
to Portland and start a whole different route. I mean,
we had requests from Calgary and Des Moines and
Chicago. You could play all summer if you wanted to,
but nobody wants to do that.

GM: So it's basically where you want to go.
RS: It's where we want to go, yeah.

GM: How did Sacramento get thrown in there?
RS: Sacramento got thrown in because it was a stop on
the way from San Francisco to Vegas. We did one night
there. It allowed us to drive for a little while,
stop, do a show that night, then drive the rest of the
way to Vegas. But Taho wanted us to stop in for three
or four nights and play Caesar's there, but you can
get carried away and then you never get home. Ten
days, that was enough.

GM: Is this going to be a yearly thing?
RS: Um, I don't know. I don't know. I never really
plan stuff like that. Last year we got really spoiled
because we sold out two shows in four hours, you know?
So when it took a week to sell out the first show this
time, Rich and I were all, 'Ooh, it took a week!' But
we got really spoiled. Victoria sold out quick,
Seattle sold out quick. But we just added a second
show to Vancouver so I'm hoping that sells out. I hope
we left enough time for it.

GM: Now, Drew Carey won't be with you. But how did you
hook up with him in the first place?
RS: I auditioned for his show. And, you know, he says
he won't be with us, but he showed up one night in San
Fransisco, and then he did two nights in Vegas. He
doesn't want to be billed, that's the thing. But if
he's in the neighbourhood, he'll drop by. I knew he'd
come to Vegas because that's his favourite place in
the world. And we were playing at the Hard Rock, and
he loves it there. And there's no way he's going to
come and not go on. But yeah, I just auditioned like
everybody else. The usual route. That was six years
ago so we've gotten to be pretty good friends by now.

GM: How do you explain his success?
RS: He's just really likable. He's not threatening to
anyone. Women kinda look at him as a big teddy bear,
and he's kind of a jockey kinda sports guy to guys.
He's not threatening to anyone, you know? And
basically, he's pretty honest because what you see on
TV is basically how he is. I mean, even the Enquirer
doesn't write about him anymore because, you know, he
doesn't hide the fact that he goes out with strippers.
It's not fun to write about him because admits to
everything. But he's just a normal guy. I think that's
his popularity.

GM: And likable.
RS: And likable. From the midwest, an ex-marine. He's
an Everyguy.

GM: He's Everyman.
RS: Everyman.

GM: Now, your character is Lewis Kiniski, right?
RS: Yeah.

GM: Is this, by any chance, a tribute to Canada's
"greatest athlete" [Gene Kiniski]?
RS: Well, you know, I had just Lewis for the longest
time and then they did an episode where they needed a
last name and they said they wanted it to be kind of a
Slavic name, so I kept thinking of Hunky Bill's
Perogies and I couldn't remember his last name. And I
was always a big Kiniski fan, so it's kind of an ode
to Gene. Not the sons, the old man. Because I know the
sons wrestle now, too.

GM: I didn't know that.
RS: Yeah, oh yeah. They're down in Blaine, or
someplace. I think they live down there. I know Gene
used to have a lot of property down in Blaine. He was
always my favourite wrestler. He always reminded me of
my dad. My dad's kinda like that.

GM: How do you explain the Oswald Harvey?
RS: Oh, they just reversed that.

GM: I know. Was he somebody's favourite assassin?
RS: (laughs) Yes, exactly. Well, his name was always
Oswald, so that was an easy one. There's no explaining
anything on this show, believe me! There's no rhyme or
reason to anything.

GM: Now that you're all over TV, when are we going to
see you in a movie?
RS: The problems with movies... I did a lot before I
got Drew. But again, the problem with movies is you
have to do them during hiaitus and, much to the
chagrin of my managers, I just tell them I don't want
to do that. I've had a couple of offers over the last
couple of years to come over to London and do a play
in the West End and stuff, but it takes up 13 weeks of
the summer. And when Who's Line's going, I work Drew
from Monday to Friday and Who's Line Friday, Saturday,
Sunday so I never see my kids. So it's kinda important
that when they get out in June I kinda have time for
them. And we go up there to the lake and put the boat
in the water and we just waterski all day. You know,
it's only a month and a half out of the year. That
could very easily be filled with something else but
then I'd never see them at all.

GM: After another year on Drew, maybe you will have
time for the movies.
RS: Then I can pick what I want to do because I'll be
up there and, like I said, Who's Line is only ten
weekends out of the year and if I want to go down and
do something for a month or whatever, it's not like I
have to be here, you know? But right now, when my kids
move up, I'll work three weeks and see them for a
week, work three weeks and see them for a week, you
know. So, yeah, I'm sure the day will come when I'll
do more stuff like that. But I'd like to do my own
shorts and my own little independants and stuff.

GM: Like you did those commercials a while back.
RS: Yeah. If I do something, I'm gonna back it so I
can do what I want to do. I used to do a lot of AFI
films down here, student films and stuff. You weren't
getting paid so you had freedom to do what you wanted
to do. Colin does a lot of those, too.

GM: Are you just amazed at your success? I know it's
taken 20 years.
RS: I never really... I always look at it kind of like
a job. I know I'm getting paid well for doing a job
and I can support my family and stuff, but I think you
gotta realize that sooner or later you get fired. This
doesn't last forever. My accountant says it's
surprising how many people she handles that have that
series for ten years and when it comes time to pay
taxes, they haven't got any money because they just
blow it all. So you've got to kind of stuff it away
and wait for the time you're not getting work and
realize what it is. It's the easiest job in the world,
really. People feed you all day and dress you -- like
a little baby, you know. All you gotta do is be funny.

GM: That's not hard for you. Does it get harder?
RS: No, it gets easier.

GM: Does it?
RS: Yeah. I mean, when you first start doing, like,
Drew, we had no idea what our characters were or who
we are to each other. As the years go by, it just gets
easier and the writers learn how to write for you and
it gets easier and easier all the time.

GM: What about with the improv?
RS: Oh, it's easier all the time. It's more fun. We
have more fun doing now than we have before.

GM: You have to really stay on top of everything,
don't you?
RS: Well, we do that anyway. I mean, if we weren't
getting paid doing Who's Line, we'd do it in clubs
anyway for free. So there's no difference. When Drew's
back on and we're working, we go down to the Improv.
Every Thursday night we're down there. So it's no
different than that. It's something you'd pay to do
anyway. You'd pay to be on stage.

GM: You don't ever dig out your old standup routine,
do you?
RS: I try not to. (laughs) My mom's got them all, I'm
sure, but I try not to look at them anymore.

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