Number 53: Joshua English Scrimshaw
City: Scenic Plymouth
Years spent living in MN: 36-ish
With the Minnesota Fringe Festival is mere weeks away, folks are getting hungry for some theater. But with 168 productions on the schedule, it's easy to be overwhelmed. Thankfully, anything involving Joshua English Scrimshaw is a sure thing. A master comedic thespian, he has appeared in Hardcover Theater's Victorian-themed London After Midnight, co-wrote the Decameron-inspired Johnny Bocca's Sex Farce for Swingin' Lovers, and co-created From Here to Maternity. He's worked with his brother, Joseph (who's also on our creatives list), on past Fringe hits including The Scrimshaw Show. Last December marked the launch of Comedy Suitcase Productions, which he co-founded with Levi Weinhagen. For its debut, the two reprised their roles as the Harty Boys in The Harty Boys Save Christmas, then followed things up with their Michael Bay/Nintendo-themed spectacular, Michael Bay's Super Mario Armageddon. Scrimshaw and Weinhagan will reunite onstage for their upcoming Fringe Fest show, The Smothers Brothers Grimm, a play celebrating the humor of bygone eras with dark fairy tales. Much like Scrimshaw's career, it promises to be a strange, humorous journey.
Name three things that are inspiring your work right now:
Laurel and Hardy.
Name three things that inspired and/or motivated you as a budding creative type:
Martin and Lewis.
Too much free time.
What was your last big project?
My last big project took an unexpected turn and now threatens to become my next big project. It's a staged silent comedy called To Mars With Tesla or The Interplanetary Machinations of Evil Thomas Edison. The title says it all really. Our hero, Nikola Tesla (with a little help from Madame Curie, of course), fights to save the Martian Queen from the clutches of his arch foe Thomas Edison. The show was created with my wife, choreographer Adrienne English, under the umbrella of English Scrimshaw Theatrical Novelties. It was originally part of the Steampunk Dream series at the Southern Theater but was postponed indefinitely due to the Southern's pesky financial woes. We hope to announce a new venue and dates soon. Look for updates at www.englishscrimshaw.com.
What do you have going on now or coming up in the near future that should be on our radar?
My next show is for the Fringe Festival. It's called The Smothers Brothers Grimm. I'm writing it with my pal and Comedy Suitcase collaborator Levi Weinhagen. It's about comedy, death, and fairy tales. But mostly death. We like to think of it as a dark comedy for the whole family. For more info, check out www.comedysuitcase.com.
Creative/career high point (so far)?
I should cite something impressive like the time I performed my one man Tartuffe for a private audience of Barack Obama, Lady Kate, and the exhumed remains of Tyrone Guthrie but a) that never happened and b) it wouldn't be a career high point if it did.
One of the things I love about comedy is its anarchic, upside down nature. High points in a comedy career would be low points in any other field of endeavor. With that in mind, here are some of my favorites:
Being hired to entertain a high school lock-in only to incite a small riot when in a fit of theatrical enthusiasm I accidentally smashed a ceiling light with a plastic battle-axe. My flight from the gymnasium was made even more memorable by the fact I was wearing a padded fat suit, a magician's cape, and a strap on fez.
Filming a wacky robbery scene in a thrift store with Bedlam Theater when halfway through the fourth take the St. Paul police burst into the store guns drawn.
Performing a Halloween show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl when a complete stranger in a Scream mask jumped through the Lake Street stage door and chased my brother and me in circles around the stage, Scooby Doo style.
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
I recently wrote an article about comedy for Minnesota Playlist. My plan was to discuss comedy's place in the Twin Cities theater scene, but the piece quickly turned into something more personal. It was surprisingly difficult to cogently express my point of view while simultaneously satisfying my self-destructive comic instinct to undermine said point of view.
How has the local scene changed since you began your career?
Everybody I know is older and fatter now. Thanks a lot, linear time.
Name another local creative type that you're currently excited about:
I'm the most excited about creative types yet to be. I teach a comedy class for Bedlam Theater's Cedar Riverside Acting Zone for Youth (that's CRAZY for short) and I'm continually impressed by the natural instincts and fearless commitment these kids have for comedy. Mostly the students inspire me, but in wistful moments I'm reminded of Kilgore Trout's last line from Breakfast of Champions: "Make me young! Make me young! Make me young!"
Favorite board game? Video game?
A favorite game would imply leisure time, of which I have none. I do occasionally spend "quality time" playing Wii with my kids. The newest household sensation is a Cooking Mama spin-off game called Babysitting Mama. It comes with this creepy baby doll with huge anime eyes and no discernable nose. To play the game, you cram the Wii remote down the baby's diaper (I kid you not) and do things like burp the baby or rock the baby or, in one bizarre sequence, keep flies off the baby. If there are any child advocates reading this, don't worry. Players who shake the baby are severely reprimanded... by a funny sounding Japanese lady with fire shooting out her eyes. Because, you know, that won't encourage kids to do it over and over again.
You have been granted the power to cancel one television show currently on the air. Which do you choose, and why?
I choose Mad Men. It's just a bunch of angst-ridden white people bemoaning their privileged station in life. Take away the slick '60s setting and it's basically a sexed up Thirtysomething.
Do you have a suggestion for someone whose work we should be checking out? Feel free to leave your top picks in the comments.
Past creatives, so far: