Fans of NBC's The Office may remember how Steve Carell's character, Michael Scott, was enamored by improv sketch comedy. He'd probably also be a fan of Fox's Riot, a new improv show from Carell's production company, Carousel Television. Based on a French format, Riot requires its seven featured players and guest stars to play in song, dance and sketch challenges — frequently on a set that has been titled at a 22-degree angle.
Carell makes a guest appearance in one episode; others joining in include Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), D.L. Hughley (The Hughleys), Cheryl Hines (Suburgatory), Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Orlando Jones (Sleepy Hollow), Michael Ian Black (Burning Love) and David Arquette (Pushing Daisies).
Riot airs Tuesdays, 8/7c on Fox. Carell tells TV Guide Magazine why he believes Riot is a riot.
TV Guide Magazine: Why Riot?
Steve Carell: I really took a liking to it. Watching [the overseas version] for the first time, I remember how much fun I thought it was. It seemed like a party. I showed it to my wife, Nancy, and she said, "Oh yeah, you should do that." There didn't seem to be a down side to it.
TV Guide Magazine: What specifically drew you to the format?
Carell: I like that it didn't take itself too seriously. It appealed to a very broad spectrum and seemed family friendly. It didn't come from a place of cynicism. It was just good-natured fun, which was very appealing to me.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you find your group of mostly unknown featured performers?
Carell: There was a national search for these folks, and there are so many good improvisers out there. Since I started doing it, improv has really flourished. There have been improv groups sprouting up over the years in every city and on every college campus across the country. There are a lot of people to choose from. What we were looking for was that specific sense of form. It's not longform improv. It's quick, it's silly. We wanted people who were willing to put themselves out there and commit to these challenges, these scenes that involve much more than just other people. It's fun to see them as individuals trying to navigate all of this ridiculousness.
TV Guide Magazine: Are we witnessing a new rebirth of sketch and improv comedy on television?
Carell: It's cyclical, it comes and goes. Shows like Key & Peele have redefined sketch comedy recently. There's a lot of good stuff out there. I think improv never really went away, but it's come to the forefront every now and then. I've been doing it since the early '80s in Chicago. It's certainly not a new form. But right now there's sort of a renaissance.
TV Guide Magazine: What separates Riot from some of the other shows out there?
Carell: Riot is not making a political or social point at all. It's just a free-for-all. I don't even know what to compare it to. When I first saw it, I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly what it reminded me of, besides getting together with your friends and making them laugh. It's inclusive that way, to make the audience feel like they're a part of it.
TV Guide Magazine: How do you describe Riot to someone who's never heard of it?
Carell: It's been described as an improv show combined with a Japanese talent show. It's creating scenes within these ridiculous physical challenges.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you pick Australian TV host Rove McManus to host Riot?
Carell: I met him years ago when I was doing a press junket in Australia and I did his show there. We clicked instantly and became friends. I spoke to him about whether he'd be interested in moving to the United States. I think he's really funny and talented and very well-suited for the show too. I hate using the words "accessible" or "family friendly" because it seems like that's not what you'd want to be. But he has a way of achieving those things without losing any sort of satirical edge. And comedic elegance.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you able to call in a few favors to land a few big name guests?
Carell: Yeah, and if we continue down the road we hope to continue that trend and get people to play. It's daunting. People are intrigued but at the same time it's a little scary. To do a scene on television without any sort of script, it's a little frightening to begin with. Add the component of being knocked off a platform by a huge rubber ball or being tilted at a harsh angle on a set, it adds another layer of fear. But you'd be amazed at how game people are out there.
TV Guide Magazine: At what point do you mention to guests that the set is tilted?
Carell: It's such a hard thing to describe. You really have to see it to believe it. To tilt the set at that angle, when you're actually playing those games, it's so much more difficult than you'd even imagine. The episode I did, I can't believe how sweaty and out of shape I felt in the end. It was the best workout I had in months.
TV Guide Magazine: Comedians aren't always in the best of shape.
Carell: I can't speak to that. I don't see many comedians with their shirts off.