He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

The levity of sketch comedians Joseph and Joshua Scrimshaw is finding a mass appeal

"We use rubber chickens ironically," Joseph Scrimshaw protests. But there they are, rubber chickens, in one form or another, in virtually every act. (The night of "Schroedinger's Date," Joseph wore a tie with a rubber chicken emblazoned on it.) "We like old-time vaudeville," Joshua explains. "We like the spontaneity. In some ways, we are trying to do an old-time vaudeville act but update it."

Indeed, there is a hint of the antique about Scrimshaw Brothers shows. It can be seen in their serialized story "The Adventures of Dave and the Frenchman." The mere existence of this feature has a nostalgic tenor to it--as though this were the Thirties and an audience would return every week to see heroes in peril. Joshua, who constantly seems to be smiling and favors extended bits of silent comedy, plays a creaky caricature of a Parisian: beret, black-and-white striped shirt, impenetrable accent, sexual ambiguity. Joseph, who never seems to smile and is often relentlessly verbal onstage, plays Dave, a creaky caricature of the sort of mullet-topped, backward-baseball-capped, beer-swilling good old boy you might find at a trailer park--but for the fact that Dave is a hairstylist, and gets rather finicky about the fact.

As of this writing, the serial was only up to Act Two, though the show has already featured enough plot twists for a Dickens novel. It opened with the two characters crucified in the lair of a Dragon Lady, played in a tasteful blouse and skirt by Zvie Razielli, whose arms sprout mats of thick black hair. In this episode, the heroes stumble across the Dragon Lady's scheme to render everyone in the world sexually ambiguous via a venereal disease that she will introduce through her stable of androgynous prostitutes. Dave and the Frenchman decide to foil this plan, but the episode ends with a cliffhanger as the Frenchman finds himself giving in to the Dragon Lady's indeterminate charms, possibly exposing himself to her dreaded social disease.

Does the cast of SNL have to do this to get a leg up in the industry? Pantless improvisers Joseph and Joshua Scrimshaw
Diana Watters
Does the cast of SNL have to do this to get a leg up in the industry? Pantless improvisers Joseph and Joshua Scrimshaw

We meet the Dragon Lady's prostitutes during this episode, played in berets and goatees by two more dancers--and what the hell are all these dancers doing onstage?! When they appear in sketches, they are referred to as the No Pants Players, but throughout the performance they take the stage as the No Pants Dancers. Between improv sets and sketch-comedy routines (and the brothers' collection of guest artists, which has included origami artists, comic-book illustrators, and comedian Ari Hoptman) they come out and perform silly, but technically accomplished routines. This evening they brought their boyfriends onstage and acted out Valentine's Day fantasies, which included Megan Nelson-Odell donning rubber elephant ears along with a trunk and tusks, and dancing to Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk." These performers are actually terpsichorean professionals from a variety of local troupes. They perform new routines at every No Pants production--frequently choreographed by Adrienne English.

She closed the evening's performance by taking the stage dressed in actor Tom Baker's outfit from Dr. Who, feigning enormous embarrassment as she staggered through a little striptease number while Joseph looked on with wide, lust-filled eyes. Eventually, he insisted that she flagellate him with her long, striped scarf. The audience erupted with guffaws; it was, as suggested earlier, an ideal crowd for Dr. Who humor.

 

"People ask us where we got our name," Joseph Scrimshaw says. "That's a question that's easy for us to answer: We're brothers, and our name is Scrimshaw."

Joshua is the older of the two--29 to Joseph's 26 years--but meeting them you would not be able to hazard a guess as to who was born first. "We're insanely similar," Joseph says. "People say we're twins."

There is truly a startling physical similarity. Joshua had a long head of hair for years, but during a recent performance he shaved it all off backstage in the middle of a sketch. Now he has a spiky halo of brown hair, and Joseph looks the shaggier of the two, with his long bangs and constant hangdog expression.

In performance the two dress alike: white shirts, black ties, black pants--the costume of the bland everyman, a fragile nebbish trapped in a world of violent extremes and erratic behavior. To this end, the brothers, who share a slight build, often take great pains to make themselves appear tiny and helpless onstage.

"We're two scrawny little guys," Joshua says--a dynamic the pair accentuates onstage. In another sketch from the night of "Schroedinger's Date," Joseph acted as a pool boy with a high, self-satisfied voice. He played the scene shirtless, his chest pulled in, sporting a massive pair of goggles that virtually hid his entire face. "Put anyone next to Joe when he's like that, they seem like they are huge, strapping men," Joshua says.

North Minneapolis natives, they have spent their entire lives in the Twin Cities. They currently hack away at jobs by day (Joshua is a temp, while Joe works at Kinkos) and spend their evenings telephoning each other with ideas for comedy sketches. The brothers share an alert, inquisitive temperament: They grow excited in conversation, often simultaneously, and their eyes shift back and forth in their head, darting around the room and locking in on each other as they speak.

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