Grimprov. Break it down -- Grim Improv. Dark Improvisation. Satanic Cult. Jesus Christ. Private Investigator.
Some would say Grimprov are a little extreme, a little out there - on the fringes of society as it were. So when Grimprov were invited to take part in the Ottawa Fringe Festival, it made perfect sense. Fringe Fest is famous for allowing artists to be completely uncensored. Shit can get weird, really weird. We’re talking stratospheric levels of ‘out there’.
Drew McFadyen, Mike Kosowan, Joel Garrow, and Austin Vair (DJ Helicase) make up the quartet of Ottawa’s only long-form improv comedy troupe. They have this cool banner with a picture of a guy called “Death” swinging something called a “scythe” like Barry Bonds after an injection of “gatorade”. Obviously, this grim fandango piqued my interest.
Improv is a tough game to play; it requires genuine talent to put together a cohesive story without being a nimrodic spaz fest. I’ve seen plenty of improv before and it has always been awkward, cliquey and painful to watch. So how did seeing Grimprov perform live rate on the scale of pain? I popped a molly, snorted a line of brown sugar, supposited a gallup of ketamine, inhaled the breath of a white dragon, downed a bottle of robitussin and ventured forth to find out.
You know what? They’re pretty god damned funny. And speaking of God, let’s talk about Jesus. A lord, a saviour and above all else, a Private Investigator. Grimprov played eight shows during Fringe Fest, and for their finale, the crowd got to vote on which act would be repeated. It was a no brainer, Jesus Christ: Private Investigator was a brilliant setup; destined to slay.
As with all great artistic endeavours, the concept of Jesus Christ P.I. was simple: a murder mystery without the likes of Columbo, Matlock or Poirot. Instead, Jesus would solve the crime. Moreover, Joel looks a hell of a lot like the heavenly son, which made the concept as easy to grasp as the ten commandments.
The show was in a derelict corner of Lunenburg Pub, yet still had a grand sense of theatre and occasion. Vital to the atmosphere was DJ Helicase, whose voluptuous musical opening swelled and soared as each member introduced themselves. Classic scores from films like Requiem for a Dream brought rhythm and suspense to the presentation. The tiny crowd was genuinely excited to see what Jesus had in store for them.
Right from the opening, the camaraderie among the group was as clear as Christ’s face on the Shroud of Turin. And it is this intimacy among the troupe that makes them so special. They’re nerdy guys, but never overbearingly so. Grimprov always seems to be within a knife’s edge of being dorky, but they never, not once, cross that line. Seeing them interact and feed off each other’s energy is intoxicating.
The cadence of storytelling and joke delivery often catches the crowd off-guard, creating moments of unexpectedly absurd humour. There’s balance here, but never enough to become predictable or boring.
Crowd interaction is a big part of their show, but Grimprov is at their best when they forget about their surroundings. So finely attuned to each other, you can see their faces light up with excitement when the perfect moment for the perfect interjection arises.
Everybody loves an underdog story, and the Grimprov troupe are the quintessential underdog. They’re kind of like the Mighty Ducks - a ragamuffin group of misfits who aspired to become greater than the sum of their parts. And when all four parts of the troupe come together in perfect harmony, it’s a holy experience that even Emilio Estevez would be proud of.