I can think of many situations in which Greg Proops would be the perfect companion. He’d make a really good best man speech, I would reckon, as he is both witty and soulful. And, it would be a delight to end up seated next to him in first class. You’d have a jolly good time solving the problems of the world while the flight attendant kept the vodka drinks coming en route to Helsinki.
For most of us humans, though, we only get to enjoy Greg Proops as part of his growing audience. The options are now three: catch his weekly podcast, The Smartest Man in the World Proopcast, pick up his new companion book, The Smartest Book in the World: A Lexicon of Literacy, A Rancorous Reportage, A Concise Curriculum of Cool (Simon & Schuster), and now, for UK theatre audiences, a revival of Who’s Line Is it Anyway? – running at the Adelphi theatre through July 5th.
While Americans are enjoying Who’s Line in its latest incarnation, hosted by Aisha Tyler, it has been a long wait for British fans of international improvisation. Co-creator Dan Patterson told comedy website Chortle.co.uk, “since it was last aired on Channel 4 in 1999 the show has really evolved and with the US TV show running for so long we’ve seen some incredible performances. The level of talent involved in the show on both sides of the Atlantic has been phenomenal”. Returning regulars Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, both familiar from the US show, will join Proops, actor and Comedy Store regular Josie Lawrence and as host, the inimitable Clive Anderson.
That Proops had time to write a book between tuning up for the London show, filming the American version and touring with his stand up and live versions of his podcast across the globe is impressive. (Next time you do find yourself on a flight to Helsinki, look around; he has an international fan base and arrived in London fresh from bookings in Paris).
See Greg live (and get that man a drink)
The book covers a lot of the territory the podcast touches upon. Refreshingly, that territory is vast. The Proopcast stands out from the six million and counting comedy ‘casts available today in that it is recorded live (at least every episode I’ve heard has been done in that style) and loosely covers the events of the week, getting political, topical, radical, “boring and preachy” as the host would say, and even features an obituary section, all the while easily heading off on any flight of fancy that the erudite host chooses. Sam Peckinpah, Negro League Baseball, depression, fashion and Thor, any category that has some sort of tangential and interesting value to supplement the main groove is welcome.
To see Greg do the show live adds to the enjoyment. I caught the one of his two shows at the Soho Theatre, and due to the early hour the pint glass in his hand merely contained Thames-flavoured water and not his signature vodka-flavoured vodka. He also was seated, something that didn’t occur to me. Such is Proops’ energy level, I thought he’d be stalking the stage. To be in the room, however, was to catch the visual cues that don’t come across quite as well through earbuds. That sounds obvious, but actually, while only listening, you can almost, but not quite hear when the elegantly besuited Proops gives an icy stare or a bemused smirk to the audience as a way of punctuating a joke or expressing mock disdain that they don’t immediately know who or what (or occasionally why) Trotskyites or Shaka Zulu or Blake were. Listeners also miss a bit of his mischievousness, the strength of his impressions and his slight but growing resemblance to Jeff Daniels. The boring, preachy part should not put you off; he describes it only half correctly. Catching the podcast live is a good evening out, and a sneaky way to judge a first date by how many references they catch.
The Smartest Book in the World: A Review
For shut ins, the incarcerated and those craving a third way to get into the mind of the man, there is The Smartest Book In The World — not an encyclopedia, certainly not a biography, more a reference guide that enables you to educate oneself to Proopsian standards while eschewing the very idea of it. The funny, enlightening book is very much in the vein of the podcast and is strongly written in Proops’ distinctive voice. There’s no wishy-washy maybes here — to mimic a Proopsian style that he carries from stage to page, we’s knows what he likes, and we knows we’s gonna get it. Don’t look for rhyme or reason in the layout, this 300-page lexicon of what Proops feels is important jumps merrily from topic to topic, peppered with insets of poetry, and offers short, funny sections that demand you up your game on things like punk, film, and baseball — he loves him some baseball. You pick it up, you put it down, you learn a little, what’s not to like, kittens?
The Smartest Book in the World has a stream of consciousness, beat style that comes on as if it is was written Kerouac-style on one long, long roll of paper. But as Kerouac is both dead and not known for his sense of humour, wouldn’t you rather spend time on the road with Greg Proops any day?
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A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.