Comedy Suitcase readies all-star 'Amateur Hour'

Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen, the early years.

Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen, the early years.

All artists have to start somewhere. Often those beginnings are a bit below their usual standards. (Along with the angsty poetry I penned in high school, my first published work was a bit of Doctor Who fan fiction called "A Wolf in Silver Lining." I still have the fan club newsletters where it was serialized, in all of its dot-matrix and clip-art glory).

Comedy Suitcase masterminds Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen have gathered up a bunch of local theater luminaries (including Leslie Ball, Josh Carson, Nancy Donoval, David Mann, Pablo, and Tim Uren) for Amateur Hour, where the embarrassments of youth will be revisited--and hopefully money for their theatrical efforts will be raised. The benefits run this weekend at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.


City Pages:  Why get a bunch of folks to look back at their early "art?" Is it just for the comedy, or are you hoping to teach some life lessons here?

Joshua Scrimshaw: Both. Although for us, the funny always comes first.
Levi Weinhagen: One element that is present in all of our productions is the idea of doing comedy just for the sake of doing comedy. The phrase "just a comedy" is a diminutive often used in the world of theater--and TV and movies, for that matter. But we think there's nothing wrong with writing, producing, and performing a show for no reason other than it's funny.
JS: I think audiences laugh first, intellectualize later. That's our process too.
LW: That being said, the idea of Amateur Hour, couched within the comedy, is that everyone who does anything well, whether it be something creative or something mundane, initially did that thing badly. And the only reason they now do that thing well is they continued to do it badly until they improved. Amateur Hour demonstrates that artists have worked hard and developed skills, and also that artists are not born but rather created over time.
JS: Once again proving comedy is tragedy plus time. Or sometimes tragedy plus a paying audience.

CP: Any embarrassing early efforts you would like to share ahead of the show?

JS: Levi and I kick off the show with some poems we wrote as teenagers, including a very dramatic artsy one I wrote at age 16, titled "The Comedian." Embarrassing and prophetic.
LW: One thing not in the show is the fact that the first "acting" job I ever had was dressing up in drag and pretending to be an autograph hound at a red carpet event. It was high comedy made up of a blonde wig and a lot of high-pitched squealing. The nice thing about not having a lot of experience is you often don't realize you're involved in something lousy until it's over. And that's when the learning happens. And the shame.
CP: How is the theater itself doing? Are you happy with where you are at this point?

JS: Comedy Suitcase is doing very well. We have a lot of really funny, talented people working with us and attendance has been great. 

LW: I don't know if people who do comedy want to be happy since happy isn't usually very funny but it's safe to say we're excited about the next several shows.
CP: How important is the fundraiser for your future efforts?

JS: Well, our next show is Michael Bay's Super Mario Armageddon, so we're going all out.  Our initial budget was close to a quarter of a thousand dollars. Now it's looking like that might double. Double! 
LW:  The success of Amateur Hour won't determine whether or not we do the show, just how safe the all the explosions and high wire elements will be.  Some very funny actors' lives hang in the balance.

Amateur Hour takes place 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater (810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis). Tickets are $12. For more information, call 612.825.8949 or visit