Where do people turn when they fall on hard financial times but want quick returns?
Many will believe that some honest-to-true company wants to make them rich if they buy their unheard-of miracle products and sign up their family and friends to do the same, at the expense of losing contact with, well, their family and friends forever. A similar situation happened to some members of Jacob Greco’s family circle some years ago when they tried to rope him into some multilevel network marketing bullshit similar to Primerica or Herbalife.
Well, the whipsmart whippersnapper at the time could already spot a pyramid scheme from a mile away ya see. As he was trying to reason with them, this situation would become the comedic seed that he would later “just exaggerate to the max and show how insane these multilevel scams are,” says Jacob, looking back on what inspired him to tell this story in an hourlong comedy show, Legitimate Investment Opportunity, which will play for three consecutive nights at 8pm, from December 1 to 3 at Theatre Sainte-Catherine.
Not being too far from the truth, the show begins with the premise that we, the audience have been led into, as Jacob puts it, an “Octo-Annual Annual Assembly Presentation Conference Meeting,” led by a bunch of crazy weirdos who will lie and cheat their way to our money, by saying everything and nothing at the same time, with meaningless buzzwords.
After that fateful family gathering, Jacob has since continued on his comedy path, learning some improv and performing standup. While working the comedy club circuits, he formed strong friendships with this group of equally funny people he’d frequently run into, who would later go on to be part of his sketch troupe. Being a comedy nerd and wanting to be close to the scene, he soon started putting in time at Theatre Sainte Catherine, where he quickly became a local fixture by helping out any way he could at the theatre: cleanup, ushering, wrangling the artists who perform there, whatever was needed. It was also the perfect place to learn firsthand from the resident geniuses about writing and performing sketch comedy.
When preparations for Fringe Fest 2015 were underway and a one-hour spot had just opened, the theatre’s co-owner and then Fringe artistic director, Alain Mercieca, encouraged Jacob to write something to perform at the festival.
Since his Legitimate Investment Opportunity idea had been percolating in his mind for quite some time, Jacob without hesitation laid the groundwork for the show by first writing down the skeleton for the script. Wanting to involve his newfound tight-knit group of standup cronies, he made sure there would be a part for each of them: Shawn Stenhouse, Daniel Carin, Brad MacDonald, Chris Sandiford, Scott Carter, Tommy Marshall and himself.
Needing to move beyond the short sketches he was used to writing while in other troupes, Jacob now needed to write something that would last an hour. Well, if those Herbalife cons can fill up a conference room with an hour-long presentation, why not model the play after something similar, he thought.
As Jacob explains, “The format of these seminars are already built like a standup show,” where you get some guy to come in at the top of the show with a powerpoint presentation or some bar graphs and say, “This is what we are, and here I’m going to bring in the next idiot to explain more of all these dumb things to you while throwing a bunch of marketing words that you can’t understand.”
The challenge in writing the script was that his performers at that point solely did standup and had never touched sketch, improv, or let alone acting, with the exception of Daniel Carin and Chris Sandiford, who were already doing all three for about six years as the comedy duo, Ladies & Gentlemen.
Keeping that in mind, Jacob knew that giving them back & forth dialogue would require a lot of work to get their lines right because most of them weren’t used to that kind of thing. Fleshing the characters out, he started matching an actor to each of them, seeing how it played out at brainstorming sessions, then rewriting it, while always making sure the characters played to the skill set of these comics.
To Jacob, the best thing was to write them monologues, which allowed the gang to trust their own instincts and their own timing, to know their own lines and hit all the beats as well as add their own jokes. Basically allowing everyone to mess with their monologues, which helped in eventually re-tweaking the script. Part of the process was to make them comfortable. “I was very open with the material,” recounts Jacob. “I had jokes in there that had to stay, and they had jokes that they threw in there and I was like ‘absolutely,’ this is perfect.”
Another problem was although the guys did quite well with their lines, they needed to take their performance further. During this time, Jacob quickly became riffing pals with sketch partner and Theatre Sainte Catherine’s thespian extraordinaire, Paul Naiman, so he wanted to add him to the show. “I like to run all of my ideas through Paul,” adds Jacob. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make it to any of the rehearsals. So the next best thing was to enlist Paul as director instead, who basically gave the standup performers a crash course in stage presence and in acting, to make the show what it is now and to give it the dynamism it deserved.
When time came to fill out the application form to perform at Fringe Fest 2015, Greco was stuck at the part where he needed to write in a company name. So he took to the then nameless troupe’s Facebook group messenger (which is still in existence to this day) for a suggestion. Being that Brad MacDonald was the only one to reply to the question, “Disgraced Structural Engineers Support Group” ended up being the name that stuck. “D.S.E.S.G. is all of us guys, but none of us are structural engineers,” Jacob explains.“Technically, we never even gave it [structural engineering] a shot, so you could say we’re disgraced in that way.”
Needless to say, the show ended up being a huge success at Fringe Fest 2015, where all productions in the festival each run for six consecutive nights. “There was so much love for what we made, we were sold out on most nights, and on the other nights the attendance was nearly complete,” Jacob humbly bragged.
They had so much fun together as a team, the need to remount it was a no-brainer, but when? With everyone on the team’s hectic schedules, Jacob confides that “in fact, our first and only rehearsal was actually our first performance.” And the end result, when you think about it, is a standup show disguised as a get-rich quick seminar, with a host and a bunch of individual acts posing as salesmen. It also culminates with the headliner, “but in this case you’ll meet the C.E.O king shit of this made up company,” Jacob reveals without giving away too much from the show. “He comes out, and towards the end some stuff is revealed and crazy stuff happens.”
Riffing through improvisation is very much a big part in how Jacob Greco’s troupes write their sketches. Whole scripts rarely come out of their writing sessions. “Nowadays, one of us will have an idea, and then we’ll meet up or text someone, running by everyone another bit that was added, then we’ll sit together and just riff it out, see what happens,” Greco says. They’ll act out the parts with vague ideas of the characters while someone else from the group transcribes it, and if anything funny comes out of that, the best lines get written down. Now as Disgraced Structural Engineers Support Group is comfortable with improvisation, the scripts can be looser, still keeping in mind the jokes that need to be said, but everything else in between can be left up to riffing. Jacob also adds, “Leaving room in there also makes it fun for the audience to see that the cast is actively engaged with the script, and there’s an element of surprise on both sides of the stage.”
Legitimate Investment Opportunity runs from December 1 – 3 at Theatre Sainte Catherine (246 Sainte Catherine East) at 8:00 pm each night. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door, available here.