Not too long ago, I got to speak to actor/stand-up comedian Jonathan Mangum about his new ABC show, Trust Us With Your Life, which premieres July 10, at 9/8c. Fred Willard hosts the show, while Jonathan performs alongside Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie. He is also the co-host of Let’s Make A Deal on CBS. Read on to see what Jonathan had to say about his new show, his background, and more.
Jenny: In your own words, explain the premise behind the show, since to me, it sounded awfully similar to Whose Line Is It Anyway.
Jonathan: Fred Willard is our host, and he interviews our celebrity guests. We had some great ones. Ricky Gervais was there, and David Hasselhoff, Serena Williams… There were eight total. And based on stories from their lives, we’ll take those stories and then do them in an improv game or an improv scene. One example: We interviewed Ricky Gervais about something in his childhood, and then we did it as a Forward-Reverse scene, or we would redo it in a different game style, but it’s all based on the stories they tell us. On Whose Line Is It Anyway, Drew Carey would ask the audience for suggestions, like “give me a job” or “give me an unusual food” or whatever, and they’d come up with the improv scenes. Well, on this show, instead of the audience yelling out suggestions, we’re getting stories from the celebrities and using those to create the comedy.
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Jenny: It sounds like this show is just enough different from Whose Line to bring something fresh to a format or show that was well loved.
Jonathan: What’s cool is that we have a bunch of new games that people haven’t seen on Whose Line before, so that’s really fun. We have a really cool game that you probably haven’t seen that we do called the Sideways game. It’s so much fun. What we do is we take the camera, and instead of the camera being in front of the actors, we put the camera straight up at the ceiling and point it straight down. We lie on the floor. As we’re lying on the floor, it looks to you like we’re standing up. So we do this scene where we walk in and we do all this stuff, but we’re actually lying on our sides. But all the stuff we can do because it looks like we’re standing up. It looks like we can jump in the air; it looks like we can jump up to the ceiling and crawl across the ceiling on our hands. It’s really cool. It’s one of my favorite games.
Jenny: Can you tell us your favorite celebrity guest and/or your favorite skit?
Jonathan: We did so many… My favorite guest to listen to was Ricky Gervais. I mean, his stories are just so funny. I don’t want to give away any of the funny stories, but they were… The show could have just been him being interviewed. We had the pleasure of turning them into improv scenes, but he’s just so funny. But we had a guest…Mark Cuban. He had really great stories that were able to…for some reason, his stories worked the best in improv format. Not really sure why, but his stories just worked the best for some reason, I thought. Serena Williams was great, too. I really enjoyed some of her stories. It’s cool. You get to find out a little more about these celebrities, and at the same time, you get to laugh, so…
Jenny: Even though you got a B.S. degree in Psychology and went to school originally for something else, did you know that wasn’t what you wanted to do with your life? Did you always know you wanted to do comedy?
Jonathan: When I first went to college, my first year, I was in the electrical engineering curriculum. I wanted to be an electrical engineer. I have no idea why. I was going to college at the time in Louisiana, and I went to do the Walt Disney World college program, which is a program they have for students, where you can earn some credits for college while working at Disney World and also taking classes about the Disney management style. So after one summer working at Walt Disney World, I was just like, this is great! You get to work, and you get to go to all the parks for free. So I just stayed in Orlando and started performing at a theater there…actually, with Wayne Brady. [The theater in Orlando was the SAK Theatre Comedy Lab, which he said he believes is still open today.]
Jenny: In addition to all the improv, you’ve done some scripted TV, as well: guest spots on NCIS, Pushing Daisies, as well as a good number of episodes of The Drew Carey Show, but you’ve done quite a bit of improv. Which do you prefer?
Jonathan: I prefer to do improv because you get to be the actor, director, and editor all at the same time, and I’m a control freak—I need to have ultimate control—and there’s no rehearsal or preparation. So it’s easiest and most…ego-satisfying, I guess. I like acting a lot, too. You know, I think I’ve done more acting than improv because I’ve actually done probably close to a hundred and fifty to two hundred commercials in the last ten years. Those are really fun to do. I like it all, but if I had to choose, yeah, I like performing live.
Jenny: You’ve peformed a lot of improv with the same people (Wayne, Colin, etc). Are there advantages and disadvantages to that?
Jonathan: There are…no disadvantages to it because it’s a team, and… When you watch an All-Star team, which is, in sports, when you take all the best from all the teams and put them together and it’s an okay team, but it’s not as good as the champion team that won the championship because it’s not about being individually the best at something. It is about the teamwork and knowing the team’s strength and weaknesses, and so, when you work with the same people, it just improves the team aspect. That’s what improv is. It’s not an individual sport—it’s not like stand up comedy. The team has to be good. I mean, you can be a good improviser and be doing a scene with someone that’s a horrible improviser, and it’s not going to be great because one of you is great. There are some advantages, though, to doing it with other people, and that’s just learning different styles and learning different tricks that other people use and different ways to do it, so there’s an advantage to [doing improv with] other people, but I’d say there’s no disadvantage to working with the same people over and over again.
Jenny: I can just imagine that after all this time of working with these guys, you kind of know how they’re going to react to something you do, which allows you to play off that easier.
Jonathan: Exactly. Especially if you are setting somebody up. Like, if I have something that isn’t a joke, or isn’t funny, but I know that if I throw this out there, that Wayne or Colin will know how to make it funny. Kind of like volleyball, where someone sets it up and someone spikes it. They can’t spike it unless you’re there to set it up. So when you work with someone so much, you know, “If I throw this out there, they’re gonna spike it.” And the same goes for them, too. They know if they throw something up there, that I’m gonna jump out there and grab it and do something with it.
Finally, I asked Jonathan to tell me in one or two lines why you should be watching Trust Us With Your Life in and amongst all the scripted TV. Here’s what he had to say.
Jonathan: If you liked Whose Line Is It Anyway, you’re going to love Trust Us With Your Life. It’s all the best of Whose Line plus hilarious celebrity interviews. It’s the next evolution of Whose Line Is It Anyway.
Thank you so much to Jonathan for taking the time to speak to me. He’s a funny guy and was just a really easy guy to talk to. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @Mangum1 and be sure to tell him I sent you!
Don’t forget to watch the premiere of Trust Us With Your Life on Tuesday, July 10th, at 9/8c for back-to-back new episodes. I have seen both of the first 2 episodes (I’ve seen 3. 😉 ), and it is truly a fun show. It’s something that most of the family (there may be a few things that are a bit too adult for little ones, and some of the stuff will just go over their heads, but teenagers and even preteens should enjoy it as much as adults do.) can enjoy, so don’t miss it!