How to Deal with Live TV (Even When It Goes Wrong): An Interview with Clive Anderson
‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ was prolifically successful. When you were starting out, did you know it would be such a big hit, and what is it about the show that you think people loved so much?
I did ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ first on radio, and it used to be a rather jolly thing I did in my spare time. The two producers and I got together in my house, literally over a cup of tea and toast, and we made up a few suggestions to go with the games. After being a big hit on the radio, it got taken up by TV almost straight away. I said, "Let’s do some more radio before we do television", which is, of course, a stupid suggestion, so we continued with TV. The show still goes on in America with American presenters and the same producer.
It was your responsibility to keep control of the proceedings of the show - did you ever get caught up in all the fun and games with the other comedians?
They are quite a difficult lot, of course, as they are all very quick - that's the whole point of it - so I had plenty of banter with the audience as well as with them.
But I always thought it was a cry for help if they started rounding on me - if they started to point out my lack of hair, lack of neck, or lack of American-ness (as a lot of our improvisers were American). When they went for me, I thought they were just running out of ideas... but maybe they just liked it!
Clive is a seasoned awards host
What do you think about awards ceremonies?
I enjoy awards ceremonies. Some people try to pretend they don’t care about winning the awards, but they are all very pleased when they clutch the award. They are fun events because, if you win, you can boast about it, but if you don’t, nobody will point you out in the street and call you out on it – so it is all positive.
Clive Anderson Talks Back’ was also incredibly popular. Who has been the best person you’ve had the chance to interview and why?
I had lots of enjoyable interviews. Comedians are always fun - I loved Robin Williams, although sadly he is not still with us, and Peter Cook, with who I did a very enjoyable one, where he played 4 parts. I like American comedians too, but they are kind of easy for the host in a way.
A highlight would be interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been the head of the USSR. He had brought about a complete change in world events, and he didn’t speak English! So, we had to make an entertaining programme with a translator which was an experience. But, I haven’t watched it in a while so it might not still be as good as I remember.
You are known for your unflappable hosting style and quick wit - what do you do if you feel things are slipping out of your control at a live event and how do you maintain a good rapport with an interview guest whilst also getting answers to those sticky questions?
I don’t know how unflappable I am. I think, if I’m in a flap, I like to share it with the audience. On TV, when things go a bit haywire, although part of you thinks, "Oh no everything is going wrong", there is a bit of you also thinking, "this is probably going to be very good television", despite the fact that someone is throwing something at you or storming out. At a live event, I think people are slightly more well-behaved. If people are rowdy and shouting things, you can make that part of the show. If they are attentive, that’s great.
The only real problem in a big event comes when people are not that interested. If they are at tables, having what they think are tiny, whispered conversations but not paying attention, this is the hardest thing to deal with. They aren’t doing it on purpose, perhaps they’ve bumped into people they haven’t seen for years, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I try to add in the occasional outrageous comment as a tactic to get people to listen – but maybe that is just me!
You'll be able to catch Clive in Edinburgh
What is next for you?
I’ve always got lots of different irons in the fire, and sometimes they stay in the fire and burn away! I do a Saturday radio chat show called Loose Ends, which I have been doing for quite a while now. I also do some more serious radio legal programmes, and I have a couple of documentaries coming up. I love having the chance to go abroad when I am broadcasting, and I look forward to some live shows coming up in the theatre and at Edinburgh!