OXFORD — Saturday, Oct. 1, brought comedian, singer, actor, and television host Wayne Brady to Oxford with his traveling improv show.
In the days before his performance, the funny man sat down for a phone interview with The Register-Herald to discuss his background, past, current, and future projects — and his unwavering love for theater.
“I’m doing a live improv concert, we do it all the time,” Brady said of the weekend performance in Oxford. “I have keyboardist Cat Gray and my partner Jonathan Mangum; they both appear with me on Let’s Make a Deal.”
“From the time we step on stage, to the time we leave, it’s all improvisational,” Brady said. “I use suggestions from the audience the entire show to always prove the fact that it is all made up, it is all improvisational. I get song titles from the audience that don’t exist; I turn those into musical numbers.
“We bring audience members on stage to play a couple games, like ‘Props’ or ‘Sound Effects,’” he added. “I ask questions that I turn into stories and songs. The format of the show really is ‘I don’t know what’s coming next, and you don’t know what’s coming next.’ We both find out along the same time.”
Performing on a college campus is like performing anywhere else, only “some of the references may skew younger, but funny’s funny,” Brady said.
Brady makes his career with “funny,” with most of his fan base spanning back to “Whose Line is it Anyway?” What many do not know is that he started off on the British Whose Line and then transitioned to the American version with host Drew Carey.
For Brady, the change between the two Whose Lines wasn’t a transition — when he came onto the British set, the new set was actually in America filmed with Americans. But the show was a different experience for the American people.
“It was something most of mainstream American hadn’t seen before,” he said.
Clearly it was a success.
Another one of his many successes is his version of the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.”
Originally a game show with host Monty Hall in 1963, Brady revived the show in 2009 and it has been going ever since, now on its 8th season.
What makes people love the show so much? Brady says he can’t speak for everyone, but, “People love it for different reasons.”
“Some people like the show because they like game shows, some people like it because a lot of people have said that in times of sickness, or whether there’s a relative that’s been sick or ill, or if they’re going through a hard time, or maybe joblessness. Or whatever the thing is, laughter definitely is the best medicine,” Brady said.
He continued, “So when you can create something during the daytime that touches someone like that, that’s also a reason. It’s a welcomed distraction. It’s always nice to see the wish fulfillment part. Where we give away prizes and everyone at home goes, ‘Oh! That would be so cool. That could be me.’ I think people like it for any of those reasons.”
Brady is touched by his success, but more than anything, he is moved when he learns of an emotional connection someone has to one of his shows. For him, that’s what it’s about.
He likes to stay busy and he does a little bit of everything, but Brady doesn’t see it as impressive. “To me, it’s the same thing.” He explained, “I’m an actor who sings, dances, who writes – they’re all facets of the same job to me, just different times and places.”
He often gets asked how he balances everything, but to him it’s simple: “If I didn’t have one skill, I wouldn’t be able to do the whole thing. It’s all a house of cards.”
Brady makes a career in “funny,” but he also has another side many people don’t know about.
He originally got into show business by doing professional theater when he was 16 years old. In fact, theater is his passion. In addition to doing numerous workshops, he starred in the 2004 Broadway production of Chicago and in the 2015-2016 Broadway musical Kinky Boots, where he starred as Simon and as drag queen Lola.
When asked about the experience, he gushed, “I had an amazing time, it’s what I lived and trained for when I was a kid. I thought that I would have been there earlier, but fate had other plans for me. So finally the fact that I was able to do Broadway twice now, and I’ve done a lot of Broadway workshops — but to star in a show like Kinky Boots — that’s not just an amazing show, but an amazing teaching show. It was just an experience of a lifetime.”
He’s not done with theater, either. He already has a workshop for Smokey Joe’s Café planned, “which hopes to be making its Broadway return next season.”
He is also a part of a workshop for a musical called The Sting, based on the 1973 caper film of the same name.
As for Broadway shows, he added, “This fall I’ll be starring in a show called Merrily We Roll Along, by Sondheim.”
He also hopes to become involved with the current Broadway hit Hamilton. “If I get that chance,” he said. “I’m talking to them right now. It’s one of the most amazing shows on the planet.”
As for his current projects, “This next season of Whose Line is it Anyway? is airing right now. The new season of Let’s Make a Deal just started.
“I’m creating, along with my partner Mandy. We have a production company, and we are creating a pilot for the CW, a musical improv game show. We are going to be shooting the pilot for that soon.”
He doesn’t plan to just work on his existing projects, either; he has some exciting new work in process: “I’m also writing and producing a sitcom script and working on new music, because I’m a Grammy nominated recording artist and I wanted to get back into recording — so that’ll be my whole next year.”
Brady is very thankful for where he is in both his career and his life. He admitted, “Theater is my love, and touring and live theater and TV is an amazing job. I’m very lucky to be able to do both.”