Five person comedy troupe Dame Judy Dench rocked the Fringe festival last summer with their original show That’s Just Five Kids in a Trench Coat!. We got the Outstanding Sketch/Improv Performance-nominated group members Chris Leveille, Claire Farmer, Gavin Pounds, Jessica Greco and Shannon Lahaie together to answer our questions about their creative process and the worst joke they’ve ever told.
How did Dame Judy Dench first come together? Had any of you worked together before?
Us ladies were all in the same Second City Conservatory class, after graduation we decided we wanted to write together. A few months later we were accepted into Toronto Fringe 2014 and decided to each invite a new male member to the group, two stayed. Chris Leveille had performed with Claire Farmer previously and Gavin Pounds had also graduated from our Conservatory class. We (the ladies) lucked out, we had admired the gentlemen’s work and were looking for an excuse to collaborate with both of them.
How’d you land on the name?
We thought it was funny. That answer comes up a lot. We liked the idea that every time we performed the audience would have to welcome to the stage “Dame Judy Dench” It was the original name the three ladies came up with, and it just stuck. We were almost Dame Maggie Smith.
Who are some of your comedy heroes?
Catherine O’Hara, Carol Burnett, Maria Bamford, Kyle Mooney, John Cleese, the entire SCTV gang, Looney Toones, Monty Python, Chris Leveille, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph…..there’s so many….
What’s the best bad joke you’ve ever told?
French ghosts give me the crêpes……
(we all contributed offerings, but this one from Claire Farmer is clearly the winner)
How do you approach creating new work?
We start with potato chips, that’s key to our creative process. Each week we bring in work. A script, a concept, a pitch and then we sit around and read, we improvise jokes ask questions, we play. Sometimes a sketch has an irony that we want to explore, and sometimes they’re just nonsensical fun. But everyone contributes to each sketch, our rule is the funniest joke wins. We’re not precious about our work, we often write for each other. And again, theres always potato chips, so that helps.
Tell us about That’s Just Five Kids in a Trench Coat!– what’s the method to its madness?
We started writing, performing, and testing material for “That’s Just 5 Kids in a Trench Coat!” 6 months ahead of time, we wanted to build a canon of material for our director Marty Adams to chose from. We wanted the show to reflect our strange brand of comedy. Each member of Dame Judy Dench comes from a different performance background but all studied at the Second City. This gives us each a unique perspective but a strong sense of structure. We wanted to put together a show that was unpredictable, that kept you guessing about what we might do next that was going to make you laugh. We like looking for the absurd in serious subject matter. We’re weirdos.
What were some of the sketches that got cut from the show? Were any added at the last minute?
The sketch we call New Zealand was a last minute addition. It’s a sketch about a kiwi music teacher and an eager musical prodigy. It came out of an improv set we did just before we locked the show. It made us laugh so hard the ladies insisted the gentlemen put it in the show. It’s a personal favourite.
A sketch about singing ovaries got cut. (I mean we’ve all see that done before).
You rely on audience participation for one of the production’s key jokes. Have you ever had something like that go very wrong (or unexpectedly amazing)?
Usually unexpectedly amazing, we’ve gotten very lucky with grabbing people from the audience, all have been graciously down to play. There was one time that the brother of the ex of one of our troupe members got pulled up. The two look VERY alike, that caused 2sec of internal panic. But he turned out to be one of our best volunteers.
Do you have a favourite moment in the production?
Backstage moments are our favourites. The madness of quick changes, the smell of chilli wafting through the dressing rooms, dancing along to the transition music… But Chris Leveille said it best, his favourite moment is when you’re backstage, listening to the laughter building, waiting for that huge laugh that you know is coming. Standing there knowing that your cast mates are killing it on stage. It’s the best.
What are you doing now? Plug your upcoming project(s).
Dame Judy Dench is preforming at Toronto Sketch Fest Wed March 9th 10pm, at The Comedy Bar. We’re very excited to be bringing back some crowd favourites from Trench Coat, and new material. We’ve also been accepted to Toronto Fringe 2016, so we will be Fringing for the 3rd year in a row!!!
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
We’re all over social media, so if you’d like to keep up with us and what we’re working on, look for us on…
Shannon Lahaie: @slahaie26
Chris Leveille: @ChrisLevs
Gavin Pounds: @GavinLbs
Jessica Greco: @TheJessicaGreco
Claire Farmer doesn’t believe in Twitter
Shannon Lahaie: @sha_lah
Claire Farmer: @stuffeyesee
Jessica Greco: @TheJessicaGreco
the gentlemen don’t believe in Instagram
And our sweet hash tag #DJD