Ryan Stiles and Friends headline Fall Family weekend
Note: Tickets to Ryan Stiles and Friends are sold out.
Born in Seattle and raised in Vancouver, B.C., Ryan Stiles spent a lot of his childhood shuttling between the two cities.
"When we passed Bellingham I always thought to myself, even as a kid, I'd like to live here," says Stiles, now an actor, director and improvisational comedian who lives with his family in Whatcom County – when he's not performing on the road or guest-starring in the CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men."
"It's all audience participation,"
says Ryan Stiles of improv comedy.
Photos by Damon Call
"I love Whatcom County," he says. "I love not getting out of my car to get coffee."
Stiles, 51, will perform with several other Whatcom County comedians at WWU on Saturday, Oct. 23, during Fall Family Open House. Many of them were trained and perform at Bellingham's Upfront Theatre, which Stiles built in 2004 as a showcase for local improvisational comedy.
Stiles moved to Whatcom County after successful runs on "The Drew Carey Show" and both the U.S. and U.K. versions of "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" and soon met local performers interested in improv, but with no place to perform.
"As far as energy goes, they were off the charts," Stiles remembers. "But they'd never been on stage."
So Stiles built them one. The Upfront's stage has the same acoustic specifications as the stage at the famous Second City sketch comedy venue in Chicago – Stiles is an alumnus of the Toronto Second City. He sometimes performs at The Upfront, but the theater mostly is a stage for local talent.
"It's their theater," Stiles says. "We all work well together. Working with them revitalizes me, too."
Ryan Stiles and Friends, scheduled to appear at the Performing Arts Center, is expected to include Upfront players Billy Tierney, Galen Emanuele, Kent Loomer, Morgan Grobe and Stephen Edwards.
Other than that, Stiles knows just a few things about how the show will go.
"Everything we do is based on suggestions (the audience) gives us," he says. "We use a lot of the audience in games. It's all audience participation."
Stiles' Upfront Theatre is a Bellingham hub
of improv comedy. Several Upfront players will
join him at WWU Oct. 23.
But he knows what won't be in the show: "We work clean," he says. "It's definitely not a stand-up show where the audience is going to hear the f-word every 20 minutes."
While Stiles has seen how WWU students bring energy and "a hipper feel" to downtown Bellingham, he never experienced college himself.
"I never had that luxury," he says.
The youngest of five sons, Stiles says he quit high school at 16 and left home to learn how to be a stand-up comedian in Vancouver's Punchlines Comedy Club – as well as side gigs at strip clubs and biker bars, which were among places around where stand-up comedians performed in those days.
"It was the best training," he remembers. "If you can play at those places, you can play anywhere."
But it wasn't a typical adolescence, he says.
"My parents were ecstatic about it," he says, dryly. "But it eventually paid off for them: I bought them a house. And they met people they wouldn't have met otherwise."
Stiles remembers taking his mom, now 85, on a Mother's Day edition of "Hollywood Squares."
"Even with a locked dressing room, she took her purse into the square," he says. "Whoopie was very good to her. She gave her a gift basket."