He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

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

The similarities between the brothers has no doubt built on itself--they've got a long history of performing together, which spans most of their lives. (Their Web site, www.scrimshawbrothers.com points to a childhood act that "consisted entirely of Hong Kong Phooey impersonations and John Denver covers.") The brothers put together a sketch comedy act in college, calling themselves the Bally-Hoo Players and performing at the University of Minnesota ("Their genius was soon recognized and many of their fellow students fled at the sight of them," the Web site notes). The Scrimshaws also performed at the inaugural Minnesota Fringe Festival (of which they note, "City Pages called it many things including, 'lowbrow...infantile...and just plain embarrassing.'")

In fact, if you look back on Minneapolis sketch comedy for the past few years, there is very little that does not have the Scrimshaws' imprimatur on it somewhere: They have produced works with Bedlam Theatre, The Fool's Tree Players, True North Theatre, ThreePenny Improv, The National Theater for Children, Clown Time Productions, and Soylent Theater. At the Fringe Festival last summer, besides producing their own show (which drew appreciably better notices from this paper), Joseph Scrimshaw appeared in the festival's most novel production, a staged reading of Ibsen's A Doll's House performed in a tiny four-by-four-foot cubby in the basement of the Acadia. The show was produced by Jill Bernard, who also starred in it, and Joseph played her self-absorbed husband--so self-absorbed, in fact, that he seemed incapable of noticing that their home was so cramped that they were forced to sit on doll's furniture and double over to communicate with each other.

Bernard and Joseph Scrimshaw also recently produced and starred in The Comic Sutra for the Absolute Originals festival of one-person shows at Intermedia Arts (which they billed as "a one-man show starring Joseph Scrimshaw and three women.") In this, Joseph played a half-dozen men, all comics, all deeply neurotic, on a series of dates with Bernard, who was repeatedly chagrined to discover the deep neuroses that frequently fuel comedy.

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

These neuroses should be on full display in two cathartic performances of Look Ma, No Pants in March. To celebrate their second anniversary of the show, the brothers will be presenting a series of performances that they call "The Offense O-Rama." Sounding like carnival barkers shouting into a megaphone, their ads declare the performance "two (yes, two!) nights of crude, tasteless, completely uncalled-for comedy."

"The truth is, it's hard for us to come up with stuff for that," Joshua confesses. "We're pretty offensive anyway." For their Mother's Day show, the brothers offered something called the Mother's Day Smackdown, in which they asked the cast to bring in their moms and encourage them to fistfight. The Scrimshaws' own mother came and distributed obscene novelty candies from an adult gift store.

With the two brothers, their mother, and one wife involved, it seems that the Scrimshaws plan to involve the whole family in the act at some point. They have even discussed asking their father, who has dabbled in the whalebone carving from which the family gets its name, to create a scrimshaw logo for the show.

"Oh, that reminds me," Joshua exclaims. "I looked up 'scrimshaw' once, and I found a great definition for it. It said that 'scrimshaw is usually used to alleviate boredom and attract women.'"

"That's good," Joseph answers excitedly, eyes quickly shifting to look at his brother. "We should use that in our ads."

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