Ryan Lee Stiles (born April 22, 1959) is a Canadian-American actor, comedian, director, and voice actor whose work is often associated with improvisational comedy. He is best known for his career and co-production work on the American and British versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and the role of Lewis Kiniski on The Drew Carey Show. He played Herb Melnick on the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men and was a performer on the show Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza.
Early life and career
The youngest of five children, Ryan Stiles was born in Seattle, Washington, to Canadian parents, Irene and Sonny Stiles. He grew up with his mother, a homemaker, and his father, a supervisor at a Vancouver-based Canadian fish processing plant. When he was 10, his family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Ryan Stiles attended R.C. Palmer Junior Secondary School and Richmond Senior Secondary in Richmond, British Columbia. Although he was a good student, Stiles has admitted that "being a high-school senior gave [him] too much freedom." He got so carried away with his flexible schedule that at age 17, he quit school a few months shy of graduation.
In spite of his parents' objections, he was able to support himself doing stand-up routines at clubs near his home in Vancouver. He helped Rich Elwood start Punchlines Comedy Club. During this time he was the head writer of The Don Harron Show on CTV and the host of Comedy College on CBC. Ryan was a regular improv performer with the Vancouver Theatresports League and Punchline's "No Name Player" before joining the Second City comedy ensemble at Expo 86. He continued with Second City in Toronto and later in Los Angeles.
In 1990 Stiles landed a spot in the original British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which lasted for nine years. His performance on the program earned him both critical praise and a devoted fan following in the United Kingdom. This break led to numerous guest appearances on U.S. television programs, including Murphy Brown, Mad About You, and The John Larroquette Show, and an audition for the part as Lewis Kiniski on The Drew Carey Show. Work in the U.S. film industry soon followed, including roles in feature films such as Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux, Courting Courtney, and the Academy Award-nominated short Rainbow War.
By 1989, Stiles had gained the attention of the producers of the British improvisational comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Stiles was a regular on the show until 1998, and the show's short production season allowed him to make numerous television and film appearances in the United States.
In 1995, Stiles was asked by American comic Drew Carey to be a regular on his comedy The Drew Carey Show. Stiles played Drew's erudite but underachieving best friend, Lewis Kiniski. Stiles' first line in the pilot episode of the show, "And that's why the French don't wash," is a line he had previously used in an episode of the British version of Whose Line?.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
In 1998, Carey successfully lobbied ABC to get an American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? produced. Following the final season of the British version in 1998, the American version premiered, with both Stiles and Carey credited as executive producers. Stiles and Colin Mochrie were the only two performers to appear in every episode of the US version, although Wayne Brady also became a regular near the beginning of the second season. The series was produced until 2006.
Stiles was the most prolific performer on the original UK version of Whose Line?, appearing in 76 of the series' 136 episodes (including compilations). He first appeared in the fifth episode of the second season, which aired in late 1988. He appeared in one other episode of that season, before returning for four episodes of the third season. His prominence increased with each season, including appearances in every episode of Season 4, which was filmed in New York; ultimately, he appeared in every episode from the seventh season onwards.
Stiles was known for several recurring impressions he performed on the shows. These included Carol Channing, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Steve Irwin and Christopher Lloyd's character in Taxi, Jim Ignatowski. He made his dislike of the musical segments of the show abundantly clear at every opportunity whenever he was chosen to perform in them, mostly because of his inability to come up with lyrics quickly. In particular, he disliked the games Hoedown and Irish Drinking Song, often reacting negatively (or with sarcastic enthusiasm) to the games' announcement. Other than in early UK episodes, Stiles was always the last performer to sing in Hoedown and other similar musical games, allowing him more time to devise lyrics and giving him the final punchlines as well as the opportunity to inject (usually not-so-subtle) jabs at the Hoedown itself, or at the host for having him perform it.
Stiles had first met Colin Mochrie years before while performing stand-up. They first performed together in Vancouver TheaterSports, then in The Second City Toronto. On Whose Line, there were a number of games which exclusively paired Mochrie and Stiles every time they were played. Though other performers did so, he was the most common performer to make bald jokes at Mochrie's expense. In return, Mochrie often made jokes about Stiles's height, nose, attractiveness, and tendency to wear exotic, flamboyant shoes. However, Stiles would sometimes stand up to or make jokes at the other performers (including Drew Carey) who made fun of Mochrie's baldness or Mochrie in general, notably during Scenes From A Hat.
Stiles took part in the regular practice of mocking host Clive Anderson on the UK series, though he did so with less frequency than others. By contrast, on the American version, he was among the most frequent mockers of Carey, especially during the Hoedowns.
Stiles almost always wore a button-down shirt, typically a dress shirt, and was one of the few performers (along with Greg Proops, and Colin during tapings of the UK version) to commonly wear a tie. One of Stiles's notable trademarks on the US series were his dress shoes, many of which were an unusual color, most notably his blue shoes, or had a flashy pattern of several colors. This was because he had to get many of his shoes custom made by George Esquivel, since his height & shoe size often made it problematic for Stiles to buy shoes from a store. Stiles' shoes and the size of his nose were sometimes mocked by Carey and the other performers. In addition, a running gag on both versions of the show had the producers trying (and invariably failing) to stump Stiles, by giving him increasingly bizarre mannerisms or characters in the games that require him to act them out. When reading them just prior to the scene, he and Carey would often laugh at what was written on the cards. Stiles received a nomination for a Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 2002 for his work on the show.
Though he never appeared in the series, Stiles (along with Kaitlin Olson) performed in the taping of the unaired pilot episode of Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, which involved improv games similar to Whose Line? games played in front of a massive green screen. Animation was later added to the improv footage.
Stiles returned as performer and executive producer for the revival of Whose Line Is It Anyway? in the summer of 2013.
Stiles appeared in the 1991 film Hot Shots! as Mailman Farnham, and also starred in the 1993 sequel Hot Shots! Part Deux, as marine Rabinowitz.
Stiles portrayed recurring character Dr. Herb Melnick on Two and a Half Men from 2004 until the show's end in 2015. Stiles also made short guest appearances on Murphy Brown, Mad About You, Mad TV, and Dharma & Greg. In July 2008, he was a guest star on Reno 911! as Sergeant Clift, an acting coach.
During the 1994 Major League Baseball strike, Stiles appeared in several commercials for Nike, hanging out in an empty ballpark, doing things such as playing the organ and attempting to do the wave alone. The commercials ended with the line: "Play ball. Please."
In 2005, Stiles appeared in the mockumentary Conker: Celebrity Squirrel produced for the promotion of the Xbox video game Conker: Live & Reloaded. This role led to gamers voting to induct him into the 2015 class of the DK Vine Hall of Fame.
Stiles has been a frequent fund raiser for children with burn injuries, raising over $500,000 for the Burned Children Recovery Center since 2009, helping the foundation to recover from the "economy crash of 2008."
In 1981, Stiles met Patricia McDonald at Punchlines where she was a waitress. They married in 1988. They have three children: Sam, Mackenzie, and Claire. When not working in Hollywood, he lives at his home on Lake Samish, outside Bellingham, Washington, where he has opened the Upfront Theatre, a small theatre dedicated to live improv comedy. Stiles holds dual American-Canadian citizenship.
Stiles once lived in a house previously owned by Liberace in Sherman Oaks, California, but he sold it.