2014 Ottawa Fringe – 5 Questions with RICHARD HEMPHILL

Richard Hemphill is probably the only guy I know who’s even more nuts about Fringe theatre than I am. Aside from being a continuing contributor to the long-running radio sketch comedy show REMOTE PLANET, he’s an avid playwright who has been in Fringe multiple times, most recently with the boffo hit comedy DID ZOMBIE DIE in 2013.  He and his company Punchbag Playhouse are back again this year with their latest, WUNDERJAMMER, and I’m just excited enough about it that I had to ask Richard a few questions about what’s coming.

– How many times is this for you in the Fringe Festival?

Wunderjammer will be our seventh play in the Ottawa Fringe Festival. We started with Murder Most Stinky – a play originally written for the radio show, Remote Planet – in 2002, and put on Die, Zombie! Die! in 2013. Both shows were Best in Fest winners. Every eleven years, we win a prize.
One of the 3 sweet posters for WUNDERJAMMER, from designer Jared Barter.

– Last year, it was zombies.  What has Punchbag Playhouse got for us this time around?

Wunderjammer is a sketch comedy show. I’ve been writing sketch comedy for Remote Planet since 2000, and wanted to showcase some of that material on stage. Director Stewart Matthews was on the exact same page. I sent him 90 scripts to read, and he narrowed those down to 45 he wanted to work with. The cast read the 45 sketches, and we selected the ones that made the actors laugh the most.
The subject material is all over the place – no zombies – but that’s the nature of sketch. The humour is what you’d expect from a Punchbag Playhouse show: silly, saucy stuff with brains. Brains! Brains!!

Who’s in the cast, and how silly are they?

The show stars Richard Gélinas, Jordan Hancey, Allison Harris, and Victoria Luloff. Yes, we only have the four actors this year, plus Gabbie Lazarovitz doing voices. How silly are they? These are very serious actors. They are dedicated to their craft, and bringing their best to this material. That means they are exceptionally silly. They are also being directed by Stewart Matthews, who values silliness as highly as I do.
– You seem pretty prolific, between Fringe shows and REMOTE PLANET. What’s your advice to aspiring writers?

Hummus is really easy to make. It just takes time. A few ounces of bean paste shouldn’t cost that much.
My writing advice is to read. Read as much as possible. Also eavesdrop.
– Two of your stars from last year, Ray Besharah and Dave Benedict Brown, are going head to head with you this year with a sketch comedy show of their own, DICKY DICKY.  Do you welcome the healthy sketch competition, or swear revenge?
Swear revenge.
We love those guys. Dave and Ray have brilliant chemistry, and they’ve been wanting to do a duo show for years. Plus, Mel is directing! I’m going to be there on opening night, Thursday, June 19 at 10:30. I’ll be in the front row, throwing tacks on the stage. Mwahaha. Sweet revenge.
It’s great seeing sketch comedy taking greater root in Ottawa. Bring it on. The more the merrier. This is not a competition; it is a movement.
If you want a real treat, on Friday, June 20, you can see the premiere of Wunderjammer at 9:00 at Academic Hall, and then take in a performance of Dicky Dicky at 10:30 in the Arts Court Courtroom. Sketch comedy double-header. That’s the only night you can do that, so you owe it to yourself to do that.
– Bonus Question: What does WUNDERJAMMER mean?
The show was originally called Wunderkammer, a legitimate German word that means a cabinet of curiosities or room of wonders. Stewart thought Wunderjammer was sillier, and sillier always trumps. We all thought it was a gibberish word until I realized that Jammer was also a legitimate German word meaning a pitiful complaint. Wunderjammer literally translates to “wonder wail”. Wunderbar!
WUNDERJAMMER plays at Academic Hall as part of the 2014 Ottawa Fringe Festival, from June 19th to 29th.  All showtimes and ticket info can be found HERE.

One comment

  1. I enjoyed reading this interview. I know Richard Hemphill, and now he is famous, so that makes me famous. No wait… perhaps not. In any case, I think Richard is awesome and writes funny plays. At least the one I saw was funny. Which is 100% so far. Go Wunderjammer!

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