Improv Hits the Streets – Punch Club

Improv Hits the Streets – Punch Club
Punch Club poster - promises good times

Good times within

Two teams square off in a series of short improvised sketches on a given theme, while a referee keeps teams in line within certain rules and the crowd votes for the most entertaining team at the end of every sketch.  The concept should be familiar to anyone who has been through CEGEP or University in the province.  This is Québec’s own brand of improvisational performance – often simply called impro.

Over the last year or so, however, a new twist on the concept has emerged.  Three impro veterans – Ogden Ridjanovic, Dominic Lapointe, and Karl-Alexandre Jahjah – have taken the concept, stripped it of its frills and most of its rules, and unleashed it on the streets in the form of the Punch Club.  This street impro, as they call it, is somewhere between an 8-Mile style rap battle, professional wrestling gala, and a traditional impro match – all under a rich frosting of satirical Dadaism.  It’s brilliant – so long as you realise you shouldn’t be taking yourself too seriously.

Players François Jean and Manon Chouinard delivering a song spoofing James Bond openings

Players François Jean and Manon Chouinard delivering a song spoofing James Bond

The term street impro is certainly very appropriate.  Matches are a minimalist 3-on-3, the clock is the only rule, and the crowd is the only judge.  Matches are held in small, cramped bars in Québec and Montréal, and animated by Ridjanovic’s larger-than-life stage persona Robert Nelson.  Players are hand-picked from the best of the impro community and set the stage in a series of satirically insulting “call-out” videos before competing in a two-hour no-holds-barred improvisational comedy beatdown.  Anything goes – there is no distinction between the stage and the crowd, and someone’s hat left unattended may well be a prop in the next sketch. The three winners take home 100$ cash each, while the evening’s MVP is given an additional 40-oz bottle of cheap liquor for his or her efforts.  It’s deliciously trashy.

Be forewarned, though – Punch Club is not for anyone even remotely puritan.  There’s a damn good reason matches are held in a bar.  Players effortlessly flow between profound sociopolitical satire and the most crass toilet humour you can imagine – often within the same two-minute sketch.  Meanwhile, as the night wears on, the crowd just gets louder and rowdier.

Ridjanovic as "Robert Nelson" in foreground while winners celebrate their cash.

Ridjanovic as Robert Nelson while winners celebrate their cash victory

I went to their latest match the evening of February 9th, pitting Olivier Goulet-Lafond, Pierre-Luc Bouchard and Julien April against Guillaume Plante, François Jean and Manon Chouinard.  Most of the players started in their CEGEP days, rising through the ranks of the tight-knit impro community to cement their reputations as top-level players.  They’re students, technicians, stay-at-home-moms, and come from all walks of life by day, but by night they’re the street superstars of the impro world.  Goulet-Bouchard-April won the match 24-13 after a match that featured torn underwear and a surprisingly skillful spoof of James Bond opening numbers.

Although it’s still in its infancy, Ridjanovic hopes there is a bright future for this style of impro in Québec’s urban centers, and hopes Punch Club will become synonymous with the pinnacle of street impro.  Punch Club is also one of the first examples of an impro league for profit, opening the way towards making impro as mainstream as poutine.  And if it fails?  “Worst case, I’ve had loads of fun setting up some of the best impro matches ever,” says Ridjanovic.

Next match is March 16th, at the Bar-Coop l’Agitée.  I know I’ll be there.  Find out more at the Punch Club website.


About the author:

Farnell is passionate about discussing (amongst other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to as a valued member of our, in-house, writing team.

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About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset has an engineering degree from Université Laval and common law and civil law degrees from McGill University, where he also studied economics.

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