Much like the intricacies of improv comedy itself, Hip.Bang! is difficult to grasp in conversation. When I ask the duo, comprised of Tom Hill and Devin Mackenzie, what kind of performance I could expect from one of their improv shows, it’s hard to get a definitive answer.
“You might see a continuous story, you might see a bunch of one-offs… It really depends on the show,” says Hill. “Expect really fast, barely noticeable transitions between scenes, a lot of fucking with each other, some mutual sabotage, and anything being a game.”
Meeting at UBC Improv in 2006, the two formalized their comedic partnership at a show put on for the UBC Player’s Club. The two gelled during a very strange, absurd performance that was only meant as an opener for the mainstage show. Whereas we can only guess the effect the show left on the small audience of UBC students, the performance confirmed a comedic chemistry and a long-lasting relationship that has led the group’s show across Canada and into the States.
As for where the duo’s name comes from, the explanation matches the alternatively odd, bizarre hilarity the group seeks to snatch out of mid-air for every performance. Much like the group’s style, the pair have no definitive answer as to how or when the name manifested; their comedy and their persona exist independently, as if scientists merely observing a phenomenon that has arisen before them.
“I’ve always liked the explanation that it’s not a literal ‘hip’ or ‘bang,’ but that the sounds, with the punctuation where it is, ‘Hip.Bang!’ the sound of it is just the energy that we perform live,” says Hill. “And it’s a very absurd show we do, so we like to capture that.”
“Yeah, and ‘Hip.Bang!’ is evocative of shooting from the hip, like quick-drawing, but also like banging hips, you know, having sex … so violence and sex. Hip.Bang! is about violence and sex,” says Mackenzie, with both of them chuckling over an explanation I suspect is half-joke and half-truth.
From their founding to the present, Hip.Bang! have managed to charm the alternative comedy community with two of their self-produced improv shows, one being their weekly Cloud Comedy show, and their most successful being 10 Speed.
“10 Speed is a monthly improv show where six improv groups get 10 minutes each [to perform] and if they go over their 10 minutes, we will fuck with them really bad until they have to leave the stage, essentially disrupting their scene,” says Mackenzie.
“It’s like an improv buffet,” says Hill. “Instead of having to order one performance, you get a whole delicious variety of things. And then a lot of crazy stunts will happen, that you’ll probably find visually disturbing.”
The duo’s 10 Speed show, which operates out of the China Cloud Theatre, is famous for its “disruptions,” the various creative ways the two can “usher you off stage.”
“My favourite was when I bought one of those remote-controlled blimp sharks and I flew it in from the back of the room while playing the Jaws music. It looked really amazing,” says Mackenzie.
“We also posted a Craigslist ad with Kyle Fines’ phone number that said he had two free Persian rugs and that you could just call him anytime day or night to pick them up,” says Hill. “He got about 60 calls in two hours. His phone was basically destroyed for a couple days.”
Other disruptions have included releasing two live crabs on-stage, eating garlic and then breathing in people’s faces, as well as attaching an enormous dildo to a reciprocating saw and “harassing the performers.”
While 10 Speed has been an established show for over three years now, Hip.Bang! have recently banded together with The Sunday Service, another Vancouver-based improv group, to establish Blind Tiger Comedy, a comedy collection that offers improv and sketch classes, with a plan to feature stand-up classes in the near-future.
“Blind Tiger is what they called in the prohibition era a speakeasy,” says Hill. “You’d pay to see a ‘blind tiger’ and you’d actually be paying for your sneaky booze. And we just loved that idea of being underground and exciting.”
So whether they’re teaching improv and sketch to promising newcomers or buying remote-controlled animal blimps for a one-off gag, Hip.Bang! is as active in the Vancouver comedy scene as ever before. And if you’re near the China Cloud, maybe stop by for a show — where else are you going to see the comedic potential of a dildo saw?
Join Hill and Mackenzie on the first Tuesday of every month for 10 Speed at the China Cloud Theatre. Visit hipbang.ca for more information.