Canadian comedian Colin Mochrie heads to New Zealand this week to help one of our longest-running comedy troupes celebrate 20 years in the business.

Mochrie spent 26 years starring on the UK and US TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? and helped introduce a generation to improvisational comedy where the audience tells performers what scenarios to act out and characters to play in fast-paced skits.

The Auckland-based Improv Bandits met Mochrie at the Chicago Improv Festival in 2002. Back then, they were the new "kids on the block" but attracted acclaim by winning the world's biggest improvisational comedy competition, the World Cage Match Championship.

Three days later, they got to open for Mochrie's All Stars Show which became one of the troupe's many career highlights. Wade Jackson, a founder member of The Improv Bandits, describes Mochrie as a comedy legend and says it's exciting he'll join them for two birthday shows.


The second of those is a fundraiser for Home & Family Counseling, a charity that provides support for families and youth in need.

"Colin has a reputation of being very laid back and generous and it speaks volumes about him that he's doing a charity show with us too," says Jackson.

Speaking from Canada shortly before departing for NZ, Mochrie says he's delighted to help the Bandits mark a major milestone and not at all surprised they've lasted so long.

"As opposed to stand-up, where you go to a show to see someone using humour to share their viewpoint about certain things, this is more like a spectator sport where the audience is vital to the performance," he says.

"They have to give their suggestions and the performers respond which means it's always fresh. We're not like rock bands who have to do their greatest hits again and again; every one of our shows in guaranteed to be different."

That said, Mochrie admits there are some requests which, no matter where in the world you are, audiences make.

"We often get asked to perform scenes as proctologists and gynaecologists but I'm pretty sure no one really wants to see that!"

Jackson started the Improv Bandits in 1997 with a group of friends from the University of Auckland partly inspired by shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? He says a lack of venues and even awareness about improv meant they had to take a DIY approach and create their own opportunities.

From being regarded as the young renegades of comedy to internationally-considered masters of their art, Jackson says it's been an amazing journey and they're thrilled - and a little surprised - to still be going strong after two decades.

Michael Robinson, the Bandits' original improv teacher and BAFTA award winning director, will also appear.

What: The Improv Bandits with Colin Mochrie
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Friday and Michael Park School Auditorium, Saturday.