Joseph Scrimshaw: "John Scalzi called me a bitch multiple times"

Joseph Scrimshaw: "John Scalzi called me a bitch multiple times"
Photo courtesy Joseph Scrimshaw
Fresh off rubbing shoulders with the geek elite on Jonathan Coulton's JoCo Cruise 2012, Joseph Scrimshaw turns his attention to his home state with a new storytelling/standup show, How To Swear Like a Minnesotan, which runs this month at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

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You mentioned in the press release about being able to tackle topics (and language) that wouldn't fit in with your normal performances. What kind of groups have asked you to talk in the past, and what kind of limits do you feel when talking to these groups?

I've worked as a writer and/or performer for a lot of Minnesota institutions. In particular, I've co-written an awards show for General Mills, and done a lot of different work for the Minnesota Historical Society including being a tour guide. All of these institutions allow and encourage clever, witty performance. But they frown on the old f-bomb and Betty Crocker slash fiction. (Both of which will be in my show.)

Beyond the obvious, they want a tone that fits their audience -- which is a wide, family-friendly demographic. The great thing about doing a comedy show in a cabaret theater attached to a bowling alley and bar is that the audience expects a comedian to break the rules.

I've done gentle ribbing about Minnesota culture before. For this show, I can do blatantly aggressive poking.

Hot dishes. Explain.

Hotdishes are baked metaphors for the Mid-West psyche.

We all know the cliches about Minnesota humor, be it the weather or our somewhat repressed, passive-aggressive ways. Do you think this show goes beyond that? Or are you happy in that territory?

I think a joke about Minnesota weather is like a dick joke: It is well-traveled territory for a reason. So the challenge is to say something new or say something in a new way.

A lot of the show will be both making fun of and legitimately searching for a Minnesota identity. I've noticed when people are asked to define Minnesota (myself included), it often comes off as a somewhat defensive list of factoids. 

Things like, "Well, we're not on a coast, but the shopping bag was invented in St. Paul." Things that are almost self-defeating. I plan to play around with why we do that.

Also, we are really passive-aggressive. I wasn't going to bring it up, but since you did with your question, I guess it's fine. Just fine.

You mentioned growing up in Brainerd and north Minneapolis. Did the two areas affect you in different ways?

Yes and no. They're obviously very different parts of Minnesota in terms of one being a very small town and the other being a very urban community. But for being a nice gentle Minnesotan boy, I witnessed a lot of violence and conflict in both places. So the show will deal more with their similarities than anything.

How are hoping to merge storytelling and standup for this show? Do you have other styles in mind as well?

Sometimes, I'll read from a music stand. This means storytelling. Sometimes, I'll say jokes into a microphone. This means standup. Sometimes, I'll stand close to the music stand and everyone will be afraid that I'm going to sing. 

I've been lucky to do a lot of different kinds of comedy -- sketch, improv, standup, storytelling, traditional theater acting. Each form tends to build up its own internal rules, and audiences get accustomed to those ideas and rhythms. I've been having a lot of fun trying to blend them all into something that just feels natural and fun for both audiences and myself.

Also, with the audience's help, I'll be doing some improvised storytelling about that eco-system destroying the giant Paul Bunyan.

How was the JoCo cruise and what else do you have in the planning right now?

The JoCoCruise was amazing. I recorded an episode of my podcast, Obsessed, with Wil Wheaton talking about his love of beer. I played a video game called Artemis for a live audience. During this game, noted author John Scalzi called me a bitch multiple times.

The shows are great, the other performers are great, the audiences are great, but more than anything I enjoy the surreal atmosphere. I had one of those out of body moments when I realized: I'm standing on an ice rink that has been converted to a stage inside a cruise ship on the Caribbean. I'm drinking a martini and dancing to "Sure Shot" by the Beastie Boys, which is being played by DJ John Hodgman who is wearing an odd hat that makes him look a little like Raiden from Mortal Kombat.

In terms of other adventures, I'm in the midst of planning shows in Portland and Los Angeles, I'll be a special guest at CoreCon in Fargo this May, and I'll be heading back to Comic-Con this summer.


How To Swear Like a Minnesotan
7 p.m. Saturdays, March 2-23
Bryant-Lake Bowl
810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
For information, call 612.825.8949 or visit online.
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Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater

810 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408


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