Films in Focus

At Montreal’s Fringe Fest last year I got to see this super funny improv show called Precinct: An Improvised Cop Story performed at Montreal Improv.  I never really gave improv much though before but I kept seeing and hearing great things about this show and well, let’s just say  Precinct doesn’t disappoint!  You can expect a quaint solid hour of unpredictable hilarity, in this intimate theatre nestled in the heart of the Plateau, a locale I had no idea existed before, where as an audience member you kind of feel on the edge of precipice. You’re kind of nervous for them, the improvisers, as they somehow adeptly make funny situations and dialogue up on the spot, and you’re hoping it works out for them as they try to make you laugh. It’s amazing because really, anything can happen, I guess. And you sit in awe, and at the mercy of these talented performers, enthralled because of the sheer guts they have to commit this daring act in front of you, the audience.  If you’ve never seen Precinct, or their newer show Films in Focus: An Improvised Movie Review Show, or experienced live improv at all, I urge you to go and engage in this magical thing that they do, as they feed off the audience’s participation in creative ways and for which  make’s a truly entertaining hour of being there, with them, in the moment! Truly intrigued by this fabulously exciting and comical live art of theirs, I just had to interview Jason Grimmer and Andy Assaf, the producers and stars of both Precinct and Films in Focus, and find out about what makes them do the funny things they do!

Samia: When and how and why did you both first get into doing improv?

Andy: I guess officially we got in it at the same time. We were in our first level one class at Montreal Improv. Montreal Improv is the school and the theatre that we perform out of mostly – and they offer classes there and we both happened to take level one. And that was about 2 and a half years ago now.

Jason: Yeah, almost three.  I was working at Drawn and Quarterly, and some of my colleagues were in improv and they wanted me to go to their grad show, so went and saw them and I had never previously thought of improv at all. And I watched them and I thought I can see myself doing this and enjoying it, and so I joined pretty quickly after that and Andy was in my class, and it was actually a really good group, I had no idea, and I was going to change the day of class I took cause it wasn’t working for me and our instructor James took my aside and said I advise you that this is really a good group of people and I advise you don’t change classes and so Andy and I  met and then Andy’s best childhood friend Dimtri joined. Dimitri is the third guy in Precinct. So we did that and then we got to level 4, I think it was when we discussed creating this thing called Precinct, and so we decided we wanted to produce our own shows, especially in the realm of narrative improv where we create a story, that’s where our interests lie. Andy is a filmmaker and Dimitri is a playwright and so the narrative thing just became interesting to us automatically. So we created Precinct and then we started working with a friend of ours, Brent Skagford, and Brent is probably one of the best improvisers in Canada if not further. He does a team with Marc Rowland one of the guys that founded Montreal Improv, called Easy Action and  looking at them, we said this is what we really want to do, so we were advised to talk to Brent for narrative, he directed Precinct,  he kind of made the show  work really well…

Precinct: An Improvised Cop Story

Andy: And he is also playing in Films in Focus tonight.

Jason: And so we did that, Dimitri signed up for Fringe, and when Fringe came around he didn’t get in at the first draw and then he got in and he was like oh man I don’t really want to do this play I’ve been writing, do you guys want to do Precinct for Fringe, and then it was a huge hit. 7 shows all pretty much sold out, award nominated, and  Fringe they asked us back. Improv does ok in Fringe but never that good, and then Jim Burke from the Montreal Gazette got interested in it and liked it and we started getting all these accolades in Fringe, and nominated for awards.

Andy: Yeah and we would talk to people at Fringe and people would go, oh improv, it’s not really for me, and we’d have to be like totally come see this, its more a narrative play and its more accessible that way, and I think with a lot of people that’s what hit with that audience really well, was that it was a mix of the two and it wasn’t so focused on traditional improv that you see in a bar, the random improv show you’d see, but it still has that foundation, based in that same part.

Samia: So who are some of your influences? How did you get interested in Improv all together?

Andy: Before I started to take classes, I did a lot of sketch. Like Jason said I’m a filmmaker and I was doing a lot of comedy sketches back in high school and  a little bit afterwards and I got into commercial filmmaking and it just sucked the soul out of it for me and I was looking for an outlet, that was going to be like this,  totally free, you can just go there and do something on stage and it’s gone forever, it’s very ephemeral, it’s very in the moment, and I guess that just kind of inspired this whole kind of journey. As far as influences, like Jason mentioned, Brent is a huge one, Brent and Marc, who are both really good, and they do narrative, so basically they are two guys and they go up and do a 45 set and its an action movie, and it’s just the two of them so they’re playing all the characters, and it gets really wild and crazy but they somehow keep it all together. They are very smart narrative thinkers, they both are on the same page from beat to beat.

Jason: They’re both actors. For me, I was never that interested in improv that much before, so I don’t really have really big improv influences but I’ve always been a big comedy fan. So when I got into improv I started to realize all the comedic people I like started in Improv, but still even now I like improv a lot but I don’t follow it. We know people who follow it and pay attention to all the improvisers. We went to New York last year for the Del Close festival which is like the godfather of improv, and we went with our improv troupe Goddam Bear. We saw some amazing improv there, but we had the worst show we ever had, unbelievable. So it just goes to show you, you can see this most amazing thing, and then experience a nightmarish terrible performance.

Goddamn Bear comedy troupe

Andy: But it goes with the trade. We’ve had bad Precinct shows, not as bad as that show. We had a Precinct show that was less laugh but you could still get some reaction, sometimes you get a star in the show and it just totally tanks, you’re off that night and something just goes awry.

Jason: Having been in bands I know how bad shows can be, so I was prepared for that. I was able to walk away from it. But our show was at 9:30 in the morning.

Andy: It was a 24-hour fest, yeah.

Samia: Maybe that’s why…

Andy: It didn’t help, it didn’t help…

Jason: It’s 24 hours, oh my gosh, so like 2 of the only people there were like…

Andy: As I walked out, someone was saying, “Well you talked me into coming to this crap…” and I’m right behind them, like I agree with you guys.

Jason: But that’s the nature of improv.

Andy: But as far as big influences for me, I might follow improv a little bit more than Jason does, you got the big hit stars like Steve Carell, Amy Poehler and you find out they grew up, came out in improv,  that’s how they got good, Will Ferrell too is a huge improviser. And now Silicon Valley which is the huge HBO show, all those guys are improvisers like Thomas Middleditch he came up in Toronto. Zach Woods who I saw early on when I started Improv, he’s Gabe in The Office.

Jason: So tons of big comedy is all improv. Improv has become bigger than its ever been, I’m pretty sure.

Andy: And I’d say only in the last 4-5 years has it started to come out and be this front stage thing that people actually want to go see, and they build Fests around it, but before which was more like what improv was, which was kind of like, it lived in bars, lived in these community theatres, and some of these people went on and became huge. Wayne Brady, and all the Who’s Line which was way early before that, but now you have your Steve Carell, your Amy Poehler, your Will Ferrell, Jason Mantzoukas –  all these people that when you actually look at their careers they all came up at UCB or at Groundlings, Second City..

 Samia: So it’s different than being a comedic actor?

Andy: It’s partially that, but it exercises the writer part.

Jason: Yeah, well I utilize improv for sketch, and things like that.  I use it sort of to work through ideas, if something good happens, this could be a good sketch, so writing it plays in that completely as well.

Samia: And I heard Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall) was at your show. How did that happen?

Jason: He came to Montreal Improv, he comes every year.

Andy: He came last year, he’s doing tours now across Canada.

Jason: He does two shows, and they set it up, so James McGee is the artistic director of Montreal Improv. He like picks teams, people to improvise with him.

Andy: Kevin does stand-up and runs a sketch workshop while he is here.

Jason: He’s really nice.

Andy: It was neat to meet him, because you think of Kevin McDonald as this.. you’ve seen him on TV and stuff, and he’s just a guy and he just kind of shows up, sneaks into the back room, and he’s just there, he’s very awkward but a very nice guy.

Jason: He had a couple of rules, one that he would not sweep a scene, he won’t do that. There are just some things he didn’t do. Which is fine. But I got to do a scene alone with him, which was really interesting. And I heard him laughing offstage and I was very very happy. He’s my favorite Kids in the Hall actor for sure by far. It was a huge thing. It was cool.

Samia:  Do you guys ever get nervous? I guess it’s an obvious thing.

Andy: I know, I’m nervous for tonight.

 Samia: Yeah? Like how much of it is planned? I know it’s Improv but…

Jason: None.

Andy: When we do show like this, Precinct and Films in Focus we have bits planned, like the show is structured the same way but the content of the show will change all the time. So like Precinct for example starts the same way, and we have a scene in the middle where Jason is playing the Captain and he does a press conference. So we know that those are the check points to delineate, ok this is the first half, this is the second half, well what happens in those halves could be anything. We have to follow where the story takes us. Similar in Films in Focus we have segments.

Jason: We don’t know what we are going to say.

Samia: So how do you get the information – is it from the audience?

Andy: I mean we riff a bit on film which we both love.

Jason: You mean in this show, or in general?

Samia:  Well what can I expect tonight?

Jason: We will come out, we will introduce ourselves, we will be in character – these two characters we created (Lars Van Leuwen and Benji Manking) and we’ll sit down and start getting movie scenes from people – where in the world we live in we are real film critics and these are real films. So it’s set up we’ll get a suggestion and we’ll be like, oh this film, and we’ll sort of talk a tiny bit about the film and then we’ll be like let’s see a scene from it.

Andy: Which everyone has written down on cards beforehand.

Jason: You’ll see, you’ll get a card when you sit down.

Samia: So you write down the movie you want to see.

Jason: It’ll be a generic title, it can’t be a movie that already exists. So it will be a made up film.

Andy: It’s a completely made up movie and then the improvisers will completely make up a scene, not us, we have a cast of improvisers who will make up the hit scene. It’s a clip show, cutting to – it was based off of Siskel and Ebert’s so they would cut to the scene where it tells you all you need to know about the movie, but its like that emotional resonate moment, so people can just start in the middle which is really neat about this show, whereas it’s still a narrative show but you start somewhere in the middle instead of the beginning, in the scene where that takes you so you are always at the climax or near it, it’s very cool.

Jason: So we get a suggestion, it’s like Evening at the Beach, say that’s the movie, we’ll say something about that and then behind the curtain the improvisers have to decide what scene in the movie would that be, is it a romantic movie, is it whatever, and they will compose a scene of that move, and then we will criticize that scene.

Andy: We rate it on the filmometer, is it hot or not, and then pretty much make fun of the choices that the improvisers do.

Jason: I’m a bitter kind of film critic.

Andy: I’m more of…

Jason: Less bitter

Andy: Yeah, less bitter but still bitter.

Jason: It is very much based on Siskel and Ebert, and that sort of curmudgeonly dynamic.

Samia: What’s the feeling you guys get when you are doing this?

Andy: Dread, terror.

Samia: (Laughs)

Jason: It depends on the night and I don’t know what feeds into it but generally I like not knowing what’s going to happen, because you have to trust yourself and you have to go – I’m going to get through this and I can be funny or I can make something out of this.

Andy: And trust other people too, trust your teammates.

Jason: I’ve always hated practice of any kind and memorization of any kind, I hate it, so basically Improv is for me in this way.

Goddamn Bear

Andy: And we do need practice and rehearsals and workshops to try ideas and really critique them, see what works and what doesn’t then you can develop these tools to use in a show and people would go why would you practice improv it’s all made up. You’re still making it up on the spot but you’re confident going in, you’ve done a million scenes and you’ve seen most of the possibilities out there. There’s always scenes that pop up and you’re like – I have no idea what to do here. For example, transactional scenes is like an early thing you learn in improv, pretending to be a cashier and a client and that can get caught up in the transaction it’s kind of boring so you find something else to do. That comes from rehearsal and stuff but the feeling you get when you go in is like, it balances on that terror of anything can happen, and something can go wrong but at the same time we’re prepared for this, and we’ve practiced this and we’ve done this so many times so that most avenues you go down we will be able to navigate.

Jason: Yeah you practice these skills to the point where you’re kind of confident, somebody creates something, we’re here and that’s like the base reality and let’s say Andy says we’re in a hospital, this is some other thing and I go no we’re not, it just ruins everything, right and so basically you know those rules, I’m going to follow that and add on to that too and they’re going to hook on to what I’m doing and that makes good improvisation but you can throw it all off track.

Samia: Right, so there’s things you’re not supposed to do.

Andy: They’re peer rules, they’re loose and they can be broken. Like for example, there was one time there was a block, someone contradicted some information but the audience liked it cause we were messing with someone on stage and it happened to be something they liked so, I think it was the Australian scene. We did an Australian  scene, people really loved but it was really silly. You could tell the improvisers were kind of embarrassed by it, so we pulled another movie and said this is not an Australian movie, I think it is, and then they had to do another Australian scene and people loved that. Again It’s a long convoluted way of saying the rules can be broken and you can do a transaction scene that’s fun, you just have to figure out a way to do it.

Jason: And the fun in improv is when you remember, oh these people are making things up it becomes enjoyable; the humor is different. You can do a lot more trope things in improv than you can in sketch. So basically, if you’re playing a trope of a doctor you can get away with acting things that doctors do in popular culture because it is what people think of first thing and the audience reacts to that whereas if you were in a sketch you’d do a more classic doctor scene. There’s just a different kind of energy, a different kind of a playing of a scene and how the audience reacts.

Samia: Did you ever get strange reactions to things you wouldn’t expect.

Jason: Sure.

Andy: But they’re not always bad, sometimes people can react in disgust, or I don’t know, surprise and when you get them in those moments, sometimes it can be really fun cause you’re like the things I just did on stage actually had a tangible reaction.. James, who is also in the show tonight, a very actor-focused type improviser. He mentioned to me once he was doing a really traumatic scene, a scene that was fun but then turned really dramatic, a real heartfelt monologue, he looked down and he saw someone with a tear in their eye which was like the first time that he’s ever gotten that reaction and he said it was beautiful, cause that’s the beauty of improv. You can reach people, I mean this is kind of getting a bit esoteric, because they bought into whatever his character was doing and it’s pretty cool that people will extend their disbelief to that extent. This is a silly improv show but I’m invested in whatever this person’s doing. I’ve never had someone cry but..

Jason: I’ve cried at some of the things you’ve done. Yeah I realize now after taking improv I see the appeal of that and I see the appeal of that at that age, like that outlet of what improv gives you. The whole main thing is listening and support, you can’t step away from that at all because if you do the whole thing falls apart.

Andy: Improv sort of develops that sort of camaraderie. That can almost turn into a cult.

Jason: A cult?

Samia: You’re all in it together to support each other and you’re all going to goof up.

Andy: You know that if you make a mistake somebody is there to help out. And they’re not going to tease you for it or they’ll do it lovingly.

Jason: Yeah, there’s camaraderie on stage and then everyone just goes back to hating everyone just like every other human being.

Samia: Do you do anything to prepare? Any rituals you do before a show?

Andy: Zip Zap Zop..

Jason: Oh god, I’ve come to dislike doing warm ups, which is a regular thing in improv.

Andy: Improv people love games so they’ll start and that’s how you get in the zone, sort of like a word jumble game, or like name five things that fit in a restaurant. But they work for the most part.

Jason: I’m the type of person that gets very nervous before I go on stage so I don’t like to hang out back stage for very long. But I’ll do those games out of camaraderie, like everyone’s there, to kind of get on the same page.

Andy: Probably our biggest ritual now is just to drink.

Samia: (Laughs)

Jason: That’s actually not a new ritual for me.

Andy: 2-3 beers, that’s the perfect amount.

Jason: It’s true you do get more relaxed, just generally.

Andy: I got drunk at the Nuit blanche, at the improv all the way till 3 am which was a fun experiment, and you get really choppy after the 3rd or 4th beer, you start slurring your words and are like where am I?

Jason: There are different factions of improv in the city. So what Andy’s talking about, he’s talking about the Theatre Saint Catherine, and they do a different type of improv. Theirs is a little bit more, how they like to be termed is punk rock, so less rule based, less polished, more kind of crazy, there’s a lot of heckling and stuff like that. And that’s fine for some things. And Montreal Improv is a lot more disciplined and sort of following a lot more rules. Both can complement one another, and a lot of people who improvise do both.

Goddamn Bear poster

Samia: And how long has Improv in Montreal been going on?

Andy: There’s improv that goes back to the 30s and 40s. Theatre actors who would do these games and would turn into shows. But as far as Improv as we know it today, I guess you would call it a class format or as a craft let’s say it would probably be more around the 80s, Del Close before was like the godfather in the States, in fact he really pushed it into the mainstream, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey came right up under him, in the 90s. In Montreal I’d say most of it started with Marc, Vinny, all the guys, but even before then there were other people too, we don’t go that far back.

Jason: It started in force in Montreal I would say, I mean we were just talking about the whole Theatre Ste. Catherine Montreal Improv thing which was probably what, how many years ago was that?

Andy: 10 years, Montreal Improv is 10 years old.

Jason: So anyways everyone was doing improv together and then they sort of separated into 2 factions, and started Montreal Improv and TSC so basically it was around that time and that’s when the whole current crop of improvisers really comes out of, so TSC every Sunday night they have free drop ins, and Montreal Improv has levels like semesters, 1, 2 3 4..

Andy: But it also feels like Montreal doesn’t have that many older maverick types, like there’s only a handful of them because most of them moved to Toronto. If you are exceptionally good there is a talent train up to Toronto and eventually the States.

Jason: Yeah like Kirstin Rasmussen who is in Toronto who was originally from here, she’s in Second City now. And DJ Mausner…yeah that’s kind of the story, and then again like everything in Quebec there’s a whole French side of that. Montreal Improv does have a French side as well.

Samia: Do you have ambitions to go outside Montreal, or had you done things outside of Montreal?

Andy: Yeah we toured a bit, we did NYC, we did Vancouver last fall which was fun.

Jason: We’re doing Precinct in Toronto next week or the week after, we’ve done it before and during this festival we got asked back. So yeah, we’ve been doing it elsewhere. The issue with it is we think something like Precinct could appeal to many many people but the marketing of it was difficult to do so we really have to do it ourselves and hope that people want to bring us back.

Andy: Also as creative improv is there is a limit to it, as far as where the money comes from. You can only do certain size rooms. For example there’s Thomas Middleditch in Silicon Valley and Ben Schwartz who’s done a million things, they’re like two of the most popular improvisers now of the young crop and they’re in a tour currently across the States and they’re going  up  to Vancouver in 300 people rooms which isn’t heard of. They have mics and everything and they’ve even said on Podcasts, you don’t really do this in improv because improv is supposed to be intimate and fun and you connect with the audience and you yell out things. If you’re in a room with 300 people it kind of breaks down, right? Probably the biggest room I’ve been in was 150 down in UCB in LA, it’s like this huge warehouse, it’s really cool but it feels disconnected from the people on stage and you can only throw out your voice so far.

Samia: Were you participating?

Andy: No I was watching.

Jason: Are you talking about the Two Man Movie?

Andy: Well that one was another one we saw. That was probably 200-250 which was like a main stage in NYC. Those are for the biggest improvisers in North America. It’s kind of tough to set up a tour especially if your indie. No one really knows you. You kind of have to develop your own following.

Jason: When we got into the Vancouver Improv festival, we were trying to get Precinct, we’re like we think it will do well but they have no clue.

Andy: Fests are the way to go but even then you’re traveling on your own dime, they’re not paying you for it.

Jason: One thing we want to do is produce more shows. Andy produced a show recently called Video Island.

Samia: Yeah I was gonna ask, what was that about?

Andy: It was kind of me bridging that filmmaking side of me back into improv. So what I do for a living mostly is videos, specifically wedding films, so I do a lot of that stuff, it kind of pays the bills and gives me time to improv. But I wanted to get back into making short films, and sketches and there’s this huge crop of talent in Montreal but nobody really shoots in Montreal expect maybe Danny Belair so I tapped him and a couple of other guys who would maybe do good on video, I gave them two weeks and access to all my gear, and I said go, shoot it, a 10 minute video, film, short film, and the stuff they produced really blew me away, like they really did time, put in the effort, some of the ideas were really fun and so then Jason helped me produce the live show which was a fake awards show.

Jason: So that was me rounding up comedians that we worked with before, and basically said look you’re going to play a character at an awards show so come up with a character and in some cases they had one fully formed or developed character that would appear in a show. So for example there is a fantastic sketch troupe in town called Employees of the Year. They did this thing where they were just jaded children of actors, so specifically he was the son of Tarantino and she was a Culkin. And they were just messed up, like drugs, screwed up, and they just came out and then they presented an award.

Andy: I presented the films so then you would watch a sketch and then a film, a sketch and then a film. It was really fun and we are going to do it again probably in the summer at some point.

Samia: And what’s Party Dinosaur?

Jason: Party Dinosaur is a sketch show that I was doing monthly for almost two years and then I stopped in 2017 because it was too much but  we’re doing it again for Sketchfest. Party Dinosaur is a sketch show that involves 9-10 improvisers, comedians, sketch performers that changes generally every show. It’s kind of like Saturday Night Live wherein it’s all produced in a week, it’s all written, cast, rehearsed in a week and then performed on the Saturday of that week, but the performers change except for me. Like some people will carry over, I carry over a lot, there’s no fast rule but generally as a rule I’ll try to find new people and then bring old people back and those people will work with people they might not have worked with before and the goal is to write something fun, so it’s an hour-long show. We’re doing that for Sketchfest, first time since last year. It’s a lot of work but fun, if you like sketch. So we meet, everyone brings sketches they’re going to write, we talk about them, work through anything that needs to be worked through, then we go, ok you’re in this sketch, you’re in this sketch, we learn our lines, we rehease a week before the show starts, even leading up until the doors open we’re still memorizing our lines..

Andy: You used to advertise that in a week, it’s really like 4 days to do it.

Jason: It’s literally probably 6 hours.

Andy: Of actually rehearsal.

Jason: The beauty in that is that you can belabor writing too much, oh this isn’t good, but you have to get it done. That show has always done pretty well, the audience seems to love it and they sort of accept the fact that’s it’s not going to be done perfectly.

Andy: Yeah, you’re there to watch sketches, that and sketch republic are really the only other sketch shows, and if you’re a sketch fan you’re there already to see sketch which is good but then it’s kind of this more experimental side  where these aren’t people who’ve worked together too much except when I’m on it or Jason. So you see two people who you wouldn’t think work well together but suddenly write a sketch that’s hilarious. So it’s kind of fun that experimentation with different people.

Jason: For the next one coming up on May 12, Andy myself and Dimitri from Precinct will be in it and there’s people from NY and Toronto that are going to be in town for it for the festival.

Andy: It’s going to be really fun.

Samia: So lot’s of stuff coming up. What about the Scientologists, what’s that?

Jason: So Andy and I are in Goddamn Bear, which is me, Andy, Dimitri, and Laura so we started all together and we’ve been doing Goddamn Bear for a while. But then I want to work with other people because I want to try out improv with a bigger group so I created one called Scientologists and I asked Andy to join.

Andy: We’re just like a back up team. (laughs)

Samia: And do you have other things you are working on?

Jason: Right now we’re trying to write something for a short film.

Andy: Yeah we always try and produce stuff and write stuff and guest star in. Like I’m doing a show tomorrow, it’s like a reading show, which I haven’t written my thing for yet.

Jason and Andy Precinct

Jason: This is a cool show, actually. This is a friend of ours, Emery Fine – who has worked with us quite a few times. He does this thing where it’s like this literary event, he invites authors to come and read their works . So I did the last one, Andy’s doing this one. And basically you play this sort of author and you read prose that you’ve written in the guise of that author.

Andy: I still have to write it. But tomorrow I’m going to be Tom Clancy’s nephew. The only way that I can accept his inheritance is if I read his final novels like right before he died. I’ve heard they’re all hackneyed attempts to appeal to a younger demographic, so it’s going to be a Tom Clancy novel but written for kids.

Samia: So who writes that?

Andy: I write it

Samia: And when is this?

Andy: Tomorrow night. We’ve been busy.

Jason: The one I did I played an ancient author of a different time, so he was kinda misogynist in a way that was inadvertent, he did adventure stories and Laura from Goddamn Bear played my ex-wife in the crowd and we kept bantering so it’s wide open character play. There’s a lot of great performers in the city creating these crazy weird shows. There’s a really good stand up comic…called Jacob Greco, he does this one called Rat’s Nest which is based on Shark Tank, so he has a couple of comics playing these characters, they sort of assess the business ideas and then you come on and you pitch a business. So I did one with Amanda McQueen where she pitched a box she could scream into so I played this guy who lived under a bridge where she would scream into a box. Everyone’s just calling eachother, I have this idea, and then we do a show .

Andy: I think that’s an element of Montreal specifically. Montreal is a cool city where it’s really cheap to live here, so it affords us the time and the money not to expect to be paid for these shows and to experiment. Like if you have a slot at a local theatre and you know you don’t have to sell tickets like you would in a bigger city you remove that pressure which opens up avenues to experimentation, especially when we travel to bigger cities there’s a different tone there but I’m not going to shit on it. There’s a place for it and I get why people are I guess I would call it more mainstream or traditional in comedy. Montreal is this weird, experimental little island. So yeah that’s what I really love about this place, you can do weird shows that come off the top of our head and if they fail you just try another one. So the only hit you take is with your ego.

Jason: We’re also putting together, this is another thing we’re doing, we’re putting together a three month stand at the Wiggle Room, on Sunday nights, this is a big project, we’re going to be doing – in Vancouver there’s a great show, what’s the name of the show again?

Andy: Sunday Service

Jason: At the Fox theatre and they’ve been doing it for years, and it’s this amazing improv show, and we want to do that here, it’s a weekly, every single Sunday night they do it, holidays, it doesn’t matter. We want to do something like that here. Of course no one wants to say yes to that! So we got three Sundays, three months in a row to try that out and see how that’s going to work.

Andy: If there’s one show to plug it’s that one. It’s just straight improv but we’ve asked the best people we want to work with to just give a killer two-hour show. There’ll be stand up. We really want to give the, hopefully  eventually weekly, but monthly hang. The Wiggle Room’s awesome I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but good drinks, good cocktails.

Samia: Where is that?

Andy: It’s on St-Laurent Blvd, I guess right below Rachel, it’s a burlesque club and they’re giving us a shot at improv.

Jason: It’s got that cool look, beautiful. So I’m pretty excited about that.

Andy: Yeah, we’re going to try to make improv cool.

Samia: What do you love most about improv and how has it changed your life?

Andy: I smile because it definitely has. So my ex-girlfriend at the time she was my girlfriend, she was doing improv as a hobby. And she was like, you should try this, do sketch, you’re really funny you should do it, and for the longest time, I’d say 4-5 months, I was like nah, it’s super nerdy. And my opinion of that is that it has not changed. Extremely nerdy and extremely niche but it’s definitely taken a big turn, in at least my creative life. At the time I was doing commercial work and I was miserable, I was editing shoe commercials for Aldo, and that was my day job and there was no creative outlet there,  and with improv you can be totally yourself or totally someone else, and you just have fun and be with people that aren’t judgemental and you get to just experiment and do stuff and if you make a fool of yourself people forget it the next day. Or sometimes you make a fool of yourself and people love it. So it really is this…I called it a cult because its super addictive and people get off on it. I never would have met this guy, and I never would have met my really close friends now, So it’s definitely been huge for my development, I mean I wasn’t a performer for improv at all, and I think it’s helped my brain as far as writing again, it would not have been possible without it.

Jason: For me, I’d been in bands, I’d done lots of stuff on stage, then I ended up working doing big literary events for Drawn & Quarterly, like 800 people for Margaret Atwood, or like 800 people for Neil Gaiman, I would have to present them and give a speech beforehand. I developed stage fright in a pretty heavy way, I did not like at all being on stage, so I thought I’ll try improv to help me out, people do that. It did help me out with that. It got to the point where I guess I was good at it, so I kept doing it, but now it’s at the point where basically I’ll leave the comfort of my home for a show at 9:30 at night, I’ll walk down, and there’s something so unbelievably romantic about the idea of sort of walking to a place, knowing you’re going to perform onstage, and just like for 30 minutes, and that’s going to happen, it’ll be over, and you’ll never do it again. And that for me is something I really look forward to. Even though sometimes I’m like I don’t feel like going out, I don’t feel like doing this, it’s always like when I walk through the doors of Montreal Improv, I feel lucky that there’s something like that for me to do that.

Andy: There’s something meditative and ritualistic about it. It feels primordial, this need to just go do this thing, and it’s silly and people come and see it and they enjoy it, it’s the oddest experience and often I’ll pinch myself and go this is weird that we’re doing this but it’s awesome.

Jason: And you don’t think about any other problems at all when you’re doing it.

Samia: So how much time do you spend doing this like in a given week?

Andy: When we’re producing I do this more than I do my day job.

Precinct scene

Jason: I help run my girlfriend’s dance studio, Variations Mile End, so I do that and then this. That’s basically it. And then we have a daughter, so I have a family! So I have a family and that job, it’s not a full time job, and this. Basically it’s just a lot of coming up with ideas and getting those ideas ready and working on them. I’d say a large portion of every week. I’m at the point where I’m going I have to validate this with some money at some point but I don’t know if that will be with improv.

Andy: Or some sort of performative aspect..

Jason: I’m probably going to start doing stand up in the summer. I’m not saying that as a way of making money, but I’m just saying. I’m going to start to try and do something different.

Andy: You don’t even count the hours too since it’s something you like doing.

Samia: Do you still take classes?

Jason: Well we do, there’s a form of improv called Harold, which is different than what we do in Precinct and stuff.

Andy: It’s a format with a lot of rules and we practice that, it’s like a new skill we’re learning.

Jason: We do a practice a week for that and we do a show every Wednesday night.

Andy: So that’s kind of a class. Montreal Improv has a lot of options too for classes especially when you finish the main levels which are basically core curriculum of how to improvise, they get you to a performance ready level. But they have advance classes. We did a narrative class and they offer other classes that you can take and if I took one of them now I’d find value. I thought about taking musical improv classes even though that’s probably the geekiest thing ever.

Jason: Some people take improv for other reasons, they don’t care about performing. For us we were performing and we wanted to produce shows.

Samia: What would be some other reasons to take improv?

Andy: The Saturday class is notorious for doctors and lawyers, people that just want to get out of their comfort zone and be good at public speaking but it’s more a life experiment than an actual performance. They’re not actors, they’re not performers or comedians. And I love that element of improv too, especially in an original group the fact that we weren’t all actors was novel. Playing with real people with real points of views, real opinions and ideas, they just come up with different ideas than improvisers.

Jason: They may want to perform to a certain extent, they just may not want to produce shows. But we had great teachers who really mentored us in that direction, you guys are good at this, this is what you should do, and then the chemistry worked out for us.

Andy: Yeah a  lot of credit goes to Montreal Improv and the teachers there that really helped nurture us.

Jason: I probably wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t met Andy and Dimitri so it has to do with us as well. When we decided to do Precinct, we gelled together in a way that really just worked.♥

Check out the next  Films in Focus show on May 26th, 8pm at Montreal Improv, tickets $8, Espace B 3713 St-Laurent Blvd. Montreal, QC!

Precinct Poster

By Samia