On a rainy Monday afternoon, James McGee meets me at a Tim Horton’s to talk about his show, “LOOK AT THIS GUY!” presented at this upcoming Montreal Fringe Festival.
McGee mentions “I’m in a bad mood,” as he orders a small iced coffee with “only one pump of sugar” and a plain doughnut.
It’s a rainy day.
Upon sitting in the booth, McGee groans “I don’t deserve to have anything on my doughnut.”
Did I mention it’s a rainy day?
For those not yet familiar with James McGee, he is a Montreal-based professional wrestler, improviser, and teacher at Montreal Improv Theater.
In his one man show, McGee portrays various characters, while a central character comes back throughout: “There’s a story arc, and that was something that I struggled with for months and months and months”, McGee explains. “I would love to have February back. In the same way that in February, I would have loved to have December back. So that’s why I don’t deserve anything on my doughnut and one squirt of sugar in my coffee. I deserve it to be bitter.”
So, what is the story arc, exactly?
“The character is an orchestra conductor who gets torn from that life, or that art, or that job, and begins a great journey, discovering all these characters along the way that may or may not be pieces of himself that he becomes or recognizes were inside him the whole time,” McGee explains. “Most of the characters, for better or for worse link back to at least one piece of my core. Whether it’s one guy who’s completely self-deprecating and uses that to get reactions from people. Or, someone that’s unabashed in their positivity, or someone that has to deal with expectation. This guy’s just living a whole lot of life in the span of 45 minutes. It’s the most outrageous spectacle you’ll ever witness. There we go, not a bad little pitch, huh?”
Many bow down to those putting on solo shows, seeing it as a great act of bravery. For McGee, of all the things making him nervous about the process, the idea of being on stage alone isn’t one of them. “Anytime I have been on stage alone,” he explains, “I always feel at peace because I am in total control. That’s one of those things that I am not worried about at all. But again, I never feel alone because of the audience — working together with them. Whereas with improv, I’m just bouncing offers to my teammates onstage– the audience is my teammate. I’m bouncing things to them, you know?… Like even before shows at the theatre, I’ll bail on ‘Smackdown’ warm up and I’ll just stand on the stage alone and walk around and feel the stage on my feet and try and pinpoint points of the stage that makes noise and recognize that — just the different quirks of the stage or whatever. Walk to the edge of the stage and keep my feet off, hanging and just looking and visualizing things on the stage, you know? So in respect to being alone on stage, that I’m fine with. I like carrying a load alone. That’s the fun challenge. Just me. I can’t rely on anyone else. I am fully responsible for hitting a home run or at least a couple of line drives.”
And there is no doubt he will knock it out of the park! If you missed his two minute preview at the FRINGE4ALL this past June 1st, you’ve already missed too much. In under two minutes, McGee was able to elicit such a sonorous reaction from the audience that — just Look At This Picture:
What does it mean to be performing this piece at Montreal Improv Theatre, rather than anywhere else?
“I think Montreal improv is the best place for comedy in the city, whether it’s stand up or sketch, or anything,” McGee being a permanent fixture within the Montreal Improv theatre community explains the importance of the space itself. “For me, that place is my breeding ground. I have received help from the people that run that place and a lot of opportunities arose because of the theatre. Being able to walk up that staircase of the theatre calms the terror just a little bit. It’s like okay, I’m home. It’s okay. Cause home is where the heart is, you know?”
Any final thoughts on the experience, what people should take away from the show, or something completely unrelated?
“I think when people come see the show for whatever reason; whether it’s someone who just needed something to see in between seeing ‘Everything is Normal’ or ‘Total Liquidation’ or whatever or if they just needed something to kill some time, if I’m that show, great. When they leave, I would love if they had a great time because I think that’s what performing is about. I want them to have fun. When they leave I hope they recognize that I had fun doing it and that they saw something that was like “Wow! That made me feel happy. I got to laugh!”
Look At This Guy is at Venue 7 the Montreal Improv Theatre (3697 St Laurent) on Sat, June 13th @ 22h30, Sun, June 14th @ 17h00, Mon, June 15th @ 21h45,Fri, June 19th @ 23h59, Sat, June 20th @ 17h15, Sun, June 21st @ 20h30. $10/8