Wayne Brady’s Improv Training Makes Him a Better Host

Photo Source: Jeff Katz Photography

Wayne Brady won two outstanding talk show host Emmy Awards for “The Wayne Brady Show,” but he draws a fine line between his work on that show and his other hosting duties, ranging from the Miss America Pageant to the daytime game show “Let’s Make a Deal.”

“When I was hosting [‘The Wayne Brady Show’], I wasn’t hosting,” Brady says. “I was just doing me and welcoming people to that space. So I was hosting like if you and I were just kicking back in my house.” Regardless of the venue, Brady has repeatedly proved himself one of the most engaging and charming of hosts, able to put at ease celebrities and game show contestants in silly outfits alike.

The larger-than-life twinkle so necessary to good hosting has been an innate part of Brady’s charisma, it turns out. Even before he gained prominence as a rotating guest on ABC’s improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” Brady incited an instinctual trust from people looking for an emcee. “When I was a singer on cruise ships,” Brady says, “they would always look around and say, ‘Hey, Wayne, would you host this thing on the lido deck so the passengers don’t freak out because we’re going to be six hours late?’ That’s what you need in a host, someone who can put you at ease and take away your trepidation about what this evening will be.”

Brady attributes his success in part to possessing presence—“If you’re worth any salt as a stage performer, at some point, even if it’s your local Kiwanis club, someone’s going to approach you to host something,” he says modestly—and in part to his training in improv. “You need to be able to read the room,” he says. “And that’s the benefit I have from being a live performer and doing improv and being a nerd who grew up shy and socially awkward. So when I’m onstage or hosting, I’m constantly checking in to make sure that the vibe is good.”

Brady sees less of a parallel between acting and hosting, though both require a certain selflessness to be truly great. While he draws on his improv talents for projects such as “The Wayne Brady Show,” the skills required for success by shows such as the Miss America Pageant or “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” are those of a traffic cop, a lesson that he learned from his days studying at Orlando’s SAK Comedy Lab. “The lesson I’ve taken is if you make your partner look good, you look amazing yourself,” Brady says. “So I just put that towards the whole show. Even if I’m doing something with someone else onstage, I will get them all to shine because my job is to keep that show on track and time. If everything you say doesn’t hit, then you have overstayed your welcome. I don’t want to have someone say, ‘You know, I thought he was really funny in the first hour, but man, by the second hour I wanted to punch him in the face.’ ”