Some horror movies are great, some are good. And some are so bad that they result in unintended hilarity.
Jordan Hirsch likes those the best. A devoted horror movie aficianado and dedicated, talented, and brilliant improvisational comedian, Hirsch is the producer of a monthly show at The Unified Scene Theater called “Oh, The Horror!,” a show combining his two passions, improv and horror movies. When it comes to horror movies, Hirsch knows the good from the bad, and the bad from the so-downright-awful-it’s-unintentionally-hilarious. The cast of improvisational comedians in “Oh, The Horror” takes that unintentional hilarity and makes them intentionally hilarious. Throughout the show, clips selected randomly by Jordan (but not revealed to the rest of the cast until they’re shown) from some of the worst horror movies he can find are played to both the actors and the audience. After viewing, Jordan and the rest of the revolving monthly cast take the stage to finish the scenes in laugh-out-loud, improvised ways. Simply put, there’s no other show like it in the area. And again, it’s all the brainchild of Jordan Hirsch (as well as his former “Gas Station Horror” castmate J.W. Crump), who’s been studying, teaching, and performing improv since 2005. He’s a founding member of Washington Improv Theater’s JINX and iMusical, and has performed improv all over this land, including a 5-year stint in New York City. While in NYC, Jordan performed regularly at the Magnet Theater and the People’s Improv Theater, where he co-created the wildly popular “Gas Station Horror,” upon which “Oh, The Horror” is based. The Unified Scene Theater sat down with Jordan to chat him about the origins of the show, and about what is it that makes a horror movie so bad that it’s, well, actually good.
The Unified Scene: Tell me briefly about the history of “Oh, The Horror!” What were the show’s origins?
Jordan: When I was living in NYC, former DC improv scene mainstay were J.W. Crump and I were talking one night about our mutual love of bad horror movies. Not long after that, I happened to stop at a gas station just off I-95 during a road trip where I purchased a 4-DVD pack called “Backwoods Butchers.” Given the price point of $2.99, you can imagine the quality of these films. So of course I called up J.W. when I got home and said “we’ve gotta hang out and watch these together.” After our movie night, J.W. reached out with the idea of doing an improv show based on these “films.” The idea was simple but powerful: we’d show short clips of the non-horror part of the movie (think teenagers packing up the car to go on their doomed camping trip), then have improvisers take the stage to finish the scenes in new and hilarious ways. Naming it “Gas Station Horror,” we debuted a few weeks later – thanks to J.W.’s persistence and hard work – at the People’s Improv Theater (PIT) in New York City. Over time, the show grew in audience and quality, as we nailed down the core of our rotating cast and discovered what worked best in our format. Gas Station Horror is still going strong with a monthly slot at the PIT, and has received tons of great press since its inception.
Sadly, I had to leave the show behind when my family and I moved to Washington, DC in the summer of 2015. Once I got my feet under me in DC, I realized how much I missed the show – and I decided to take advantage of the incredible wealth of improv talent in this city to launch a new version of it for a new city. I started making clips, reached out to some of DC’s best improvisers, and Oh, The Horror! was born.
The Unified Scene: You’ve a bit of a horror movie buff — not surprising, since you helped create this show. Give us a couple of your favorite “bad” horror movies — the ones we can’t help but laugh at even as they’re trying to scare us. And your top three actual greatest?
Jordan: My all-time favorite bad horror movie is definitely Frank Henenlotter’s 1982 masterpiece, Basket Case. It’s the touching story of a young man making his way in the big city, armed with nothing but optimism and a picnic basket containing his hideously deformed, homicidal twin brother with whom he shares a psychic link. Other favorites include C.H.U.D. (1984), featuring a young John Goodman and exploring the nuclear mutants populating New York City’s subway system, and the original Silent Night, Deadly Night (also 1984), which opened the same day as Nightmare On Elm Street but was pulled from theaters a week after its release due to its “unsavory” depiction of Santa Claus as a homicidal maniac. Go figure.
Top three greatest? Not an easy question, but: Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), Evil Dead (1981), and Martyrs (2008). Oof, Martyrs. That’s a tough one to watch.
The Unified Scene: You were already a veteran of DC’s improv scene when you moved to NYC and became involved in improv there, gravitating between a number of theaters. What do you think the main differences are between DC’s scene and NYC’s? How has DC’s changed since you’ve returned?
Jordan: Both scenes are jam-packed with talented players, coaches, producers, and more. The biggest difference is the size: NYC has 3 major improv theaters, several up-and-coming ones, and more indie teams and venues than anyone could reasonably keep track of. When I moved to NYC in 2009, I was shocked at how big the scene was based on what I was used to back home. Upon my return to DC in 2015, I was shocked again – this time at how much the scene had grown here in DC. Not only were there more groups, more players, and more dedicated venues, but the overall quality of shows had gone up, up, up. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of talented players whom I’d never seen before who have agreed to be a part of this show and are making it consistently hilarious.
Another difference is that in NY, most people you play with are looking to go pro. It’s a tough town in which to be a hobbyist with a day job. The way that difference manifests here in DC is that here, this is our fun time – we’re not doing this to get discovered, we’re doing it for the love of the game. So I’ve found that people here tend to put more of an emphasis on having fun, and are more invested in something if they’re having a good time doing it, as opposed to how “far” it might take them (which is not a knock on the NY scene, it’s just different!).
The Unified Scene: You have a revolving cast of talented performers. Did you go looking specifically for performers who share your passion for horror movies? If not, besides talent, what do you think was the key component for rounding out the OTH Repertory players?
Jordan: A passion for horror movies is ideal, but is also surprisingly hard to come by, at least so far. So instead what I’m looking for when I cast the show is talent and diversity. It’s a particular kind of show – essentially a unique short-form game exploded into a long-form format, and it takes a certain kind of player to make it work. You need a good sense of short-term gameplay coupled with an eye for what’s going to be a great callback in 25 minutes. Diversity is something I’m striving towards as well – I’d like the cast to feature improvisers of all colors, genders, shapes, and sizes.
The Unified Scene: What are your thoughts about having found a home at TUS? What is it about the space, or its community, that makes it unique?
Jordan: I am thrilled to have found a home at The Unified Scene. This is a new show in DC, and it’s not your typical improv show. It has multimedia, short-form and long-form elements, a DVD giveaway, and a midnight movie vibe, so it makes sense to me that it’s at a space like TUS that doesn’t feel like other spaces. The place hosts a range of improv and comedy shows as well as showcasing local artists and more, and the layout gives the show an intimacy that’s just right – it feels like huddling up on your couch with the lights out to watch something scary…and hilarious.
The Unified Scene: What if I don’t like scary movies? Will I like this show?
Jordan: Yes! We don’t show the gory or scary parts of the movies, we show parts that showcase the incredibly poor writing, acting, lighting, production, sound, and overall filmmaking that you tend to find in low-budget (and even some high-budget!) horror movies. That said, if you’re a fan of horror, you will like this show – yes, we’re making fun of these movies, but the guiding force behind this show (me) is a genuine fan, who has whiled away many an evening taking in some piece of crap or other – and always coming back for more. The humor comes just as much from a real love of this stuff as it does from recognizing – and playing with – the material’s shortcomings.
Tickets to “Oh, The Horror’s” upcoming show
More info about “Oh, The Horror” on our House Troupes page
“Oh, The Horror” on Facebook