J.J. is making his second appearance on the Theatre B stage as Pastor Greg in Hand to God. A proud Fargo native, you’ve probably seen (or heard) J.J. before, either onstage with the LineBenders or on the Mix 101.9’s Mix Morning Show. It doesn’t matter where you’ve seen him, his lighthearted and humorous nature lends itself to a raucously good time, and his performance in Hand to God is no exception.
TB: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
JG: I’m proud to say that I was born and raised in Fargo, ND. After I graduated from high school I moved to Chicago, IL to study film at Columbia College, which ended up not being the right fit for me. I made the decision to leave and start studying improv at Second City and ImprovOlympic (now IO), and I loved it. I returned to Fargo when I was given the opportunity to become the Aristic Director of The LineBenders Improv Comedy Troupe. I absolutely love Fargo-Moorhead, I think it is one of the greatest places in the country, and I am very proud to have made my home here. My entire family is very civic minded, my great grandfather was the mayor of Fargo, and my parents have always worked hard to help make Fargo-Moorhead a great place, which is something I’ve begun to do as well. It is my aim to tell as many people about how wonderful this area is and continue to help make it a great place to call home.
TB: When were you introduced to Improv?
JG: I was fortunate enough to attend Fargo South High, which is the home of the region’s longest running imrov troupe, the Donkey Hotey’s. I was a really shy kid growing up, and only auditioned because a friend of mine encouraged me to. I got in out of sheer luck and was very blessed to be there, working with so many other talented students (including Jacob Hartje, who is also in Hand to God). So when I moved to Chicago I made a conscious effort to soak up as much improv knowledge as possible. Now I refer to myself as an improv ambassador. Improv is in a world of its own, but it is much more than “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”. The majority of my time is spent teaching folks about communication. We lead corporate workshops, work with police officers and mental health professionals on crisis intervention skills, and a myriad of other things.
TB: What would you say is the main difference between improv and a performing in a scripted piece?
JG: The ability to hone in on a character is the main difference for me. In improv you’re only seeing a tiny moment in the life of a character, but in a play you really get to dig into it and develop a whole life for the character. There is also something really special about being in an actual theatre – the technical elements add an extra layer to the performance that you don’t get in improv. It is like comparing apples and oranges really, they’re both fruits, but could not be any more different.
TB: Do you have a favorite past role or theatrical experience?
JG: I played Albin in La Cage aux Folles while I was in Chicago, not the musical because I can’t sing, but the play. The cast was the most giving and forgiving group of artists I’ve had the pleasure to work with. The space was really interesting, a theatre made out of an old loading dock that sat 32 people, it was the most guerilla theatre experience you could imagine.
TB: What has it been like working on Hand to God?
JG: This is my third time working with Theatre B, I worked backstage on Sylvia and performed in The Underpants, and each B show has been a very different experience. It is wonderful to watch and work with people who take a professional approach to making theatre. The work always makes you think and I’m so humbled to be a part of the process. The cast of Hand to God is really talented and I’ve enjoyed working with everyone so much. Dream come true.
TB: Why should audiences come see Hand to God?
JG: This show is insanely funny; you’ve never seen anything like it. It is challenging material, especially for audiences in Fargo, but that’s what makes it so important to share and see. It is not like watching a sitcom; it is an experience entirely of its own. Plus sock puppets.