Jape is made up of Aaron Hagey-Mackay, Adam McNamara, Simon Pond and Eric Turkienicz. They’ve been a staple on the Toronto sketch scene for the last five years or so, meeting with success soon after their initial formation around 2003. They’ve known each other since their early teens, however, having met in the Second City teen program.
In comedy, where groups come and go and crowds are tough, Jape’s longevity speaks for itself: they’re still doing this because they’re good. Quite good. But they haven’t let that get to their heads. “I think part of what makes the sketch and improv community very supportive is that there’s no money to be made,” said Simon.
Their name, slang for ‘practical joke’ in the UK, is often assumed to be an acronym.
Says Eric, “It almost works, because we’ve got Adam, Eric, Pond and...” “And my code name is Joaquim,” adds Aaron.
Having never won the Fringe Fest lottery before, it’s clear these guys have really put their all into their show, Jape Presents: The Grapes of Khan, going so far as to have made limited edition bottles of Grapes of Khan wine.
All members of Jape are former U of T students, studying everything from archaeology to philosophy. This sort of eclectic background really shows in the unpredictability of their highly referential material. But not to fear, chances are the jokes won’t be over anyone’s head.
“Anything you need to know about the pop-culture stuff is presented to you right from the get go, so you have the context,” says Eric.
Simon adds, “In the Fringe show, the references are actually more turn of the century. Like, there’s Sherlock Holmes, there’s Orson Welles…”
And the list goes on. Notably absent, however, are any references to the show’s title. Simon explains: “I think there’s a rule in comedy that it’s hard to parody comedy, and John Steinbeck is just so funny on his own.”
Part of what makes Jape stand out is their dedication to their craft. As Aaron puts it, “You’re able to explore premises you wouldn’t otherwise be able to in improv…to pre-plan an idea and see it through to its logical conclusion. I think there’s an inherent value in the writing and performing of it that you’re not going to get from other kinds of performances.”
It’s this sort of serious analysis of what they do that helps Jape avoid producing comedy that relies on gags that are common or crass—generally. “[Our show]’s most definitely a safe place—well, you might be offended. But you’ll be offended as a group and not as an individual,” says Simon. Aaron jumps in to clarify—“It’s a physically safe place.”
So what can audiences at Fringe 2011 expect from the Grapes of Khan? “To anybody who hasn’t seen us, you’re really seeing us at our best, and to anyone who has, there’s a handful of new things in there…It’s like listening to a good best –of album,” explains Simon.
“Yeah, nobody wants to go to a concert and hear them say ‘now we’re gonna play stuff from the new album. Everyone’s like, ‘No, play Taking Care of Business!’” adds Eric. “No matter who the band is,” quips Adam.
Aaron sums it up best: “We’ll do a sixteen dollar show for eleven dollars.”
“Ten, if you come at the door,” corrects Simon.
Jape performs monthly shows. For more information, visit JapeComedy.com.