Acting alum, comedian Brad Sherwood shares stories, advice with Wright State students

1986 Wright State acting alum Brad Sherwood took a break from his national comedy tour to talk to students in the Festival Playhouse in the Creative Arts Center. Sherwood’s talk was moderated by Joe Deer, distinguished professor of musical theatre. (Photos by Erin Pence)

Wright State University acting alum Brad Sherwood has made people laugh his entire life.

As an only child whose family moved a lot, he used humor to make friends. Today, Sherwood performs improvisational comedy in front of thousands of fans.

“My social skill set from my childhood became what I do for a living,” he said. “There’s no performing that I’ve ever found that is or was as fun as what I’m doing now.”

Sherwood is a comedian and actor best known as one of the stars of “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?,” the improvisational comedy show that originally aired on ABC before it was revised on CW. The series wrapped up its 20th and final season last year.

Since 2002, Sherwood has also performed in a live improvisational show with the comedian Colin Mochrie. The duo’s current tour included a performance at the Victoria Theatre in downtown Dayton on Feb. 8.

Before the show, Sherwood, who graduated from Wright State with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting in 1986, returned to the Creative Arts Center for an interview with the Newsroom and to give a talk for theatre and motion picture students.

He shared stories about catching the acting bug when he was 8, losing his head in Wright State’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” performing in a sketch comedy troupe in the Student Union and discovering improv after moving to Los Angeles.

He compared doing improv comedy to a martial art. If you do it enough, he said, your body and intellect become conditioned to respond to whatever is thrown at you on stage.

“I have had enough years doing it that I’m confident that I can work my way through it and get mostly laughs and only one or two boos,” he said.

Although he knew he wanted to be a performer since he was a child, Sherwood said he had no idea that he would become a comedian or do improv when he was young.

“You never know where your career and abilities and luck and fortune are going to take you,” he said. “But you have to love the process and you have to love performing.”

During his time at Wright State, no one was making a living doing improv, he said, because “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” had not yet become a hit and improvisational comedy was not well known.

“I always joke there more astronauts than there are paid professional improvisors,” he said.

Sherwood discovered improv when he joined a class called Go for Broke in Los Angeles, where he relocated after graduating from Wright State.

“I went to the first class, and it was like heavens opened and the clouds parted, and the sun was shining down on me,” he recalled. “This is what you are supposed to be doing. I immediately took to it.”

He also knew instantly that he was good at it.

“It was so easy for me, and I loved to make people laugh,” he said. “So to make people laugh in a performance setting with my own wits with a group of people that I enjoyed playing with was so satisfying.”

He then started performing with and teaching classes with a group called Theater Sports before joining Second City in Los Angeles.

Students in the School of Fine and Performing Arts were able to ask questions and get advice from Brad Sherwood when he visited the Festival Playhouse in the Creative Arts Center.

He appeared on the sketch-comedy series “The Newz,” made several guest appearances as a lovestruck nanny on “L.A. Law” and performed on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

His big break came when he auditioned for the British version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

“I got on the show and have been doing it ever since,” he said.

After appearing on the British show for several seasons, Sherwood was invited to join the new cast of the American spinoff, which was first aired on ABC, with host Drew Carey and comedians Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady.

Sherwood, who also performed standup comedy, eventually developed a live two-person show based on the improv games played on “Whose Line.”

He invited Mochrie to join him in the show in 2002, and — except for a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic — they have been touring ever since. Sherwood estimates they have performed more than 1,000 shows.

He attributes their success to its silliness and timelessness.

“The show is just funny,” he said. “It’s different every time. Unlike a band that has to write new songs or a standup who has to write new material before they go back on the road, it’s new every night and it never gets boring to us.”

Sherwood started performing when he was 8. After telling his mother he wanted to be an actor, she enrolled him in a children’s repertory theatre program in Chicago. He performed throughout grade school, junior high and high school, before enrolling in Wright State.

“I was innately sort of a ham,” he said. “I developed a sense of humor and an outgoing personality to get people to like me and talk to me.”

He credits the thorough and focused training he received as an acting student at Wright State.

“I remember taking a biology class and an English class but other than that everything I did was in the performing arts, whether it was dance and movement classes, singing and acting,” he recalled.

He first appeared on Wright State’s Festival Playhouse stage as a member of the chorus in “Sweeney Todd.” He still remembers the scene in which Sweeney Todd cut his throat in his barber chair during the song “My Friends.”

“That still maybe my favorite musical theatre experience,” he said.

He also starred as Dr. Prentice, the lead in “What the Butler Saw,” played Maximillian in “Candide” and was in the ensemble in “Romeo and Juliet, “Most Happy Fellow” and “Hair.”

Sherwood also performed with other students in a sketch comedy group called the Generic Comedy Troupe.

The students in the troupe would write original sketches and perform them in the cafeteria in the Student Union at lunchtime, he said, “whether they wanted us to or not.”

“Our slogan was, ‘the Generic Comedy Troupe, just plain funny. That’s how clever we were,” he said. “We were just so loud and so precocious.”

Brad Sherwood urged current Wright State students to enjoy the journey as they pursue a career in the performing arts.

Sherwood’s acting career almost hit a roadblock when, as a junior, he had to audition to continue in the acting program. At the time, only 10 students usually made it into the program, he said.

“I was told I was number 11 and that I barely, barely made it in,” he recalled. “But they made an exception, and I was put on waivers. I never take anything for granted.”

He credited the theatre program’s competitiveness for preparing him for the “trials and tribulations, the pitfalls and setbacks” of being an entertainer.

He urged current Wright State students to enjoy the journey as they build a career in the performing arts.

“You’re constantly foraging as an actor, foraging for berries and nuts in the woods that is Hollywood. If you’re lucky you get enough to survive through the winter,” Sherwood said. “You never know where in the forest you will find the nuts and the berries. Whatever you thought was your plan, your destination, almost no one ends up at the actual destination.”

He told students to remain open-minded when thinking about their lives and careers.

“I feel very fortunate that I ended up getting to do a job that didn’t even exist when I started trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life,” Sherwood said.

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