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Bring In the Pimps

Concept: A bunch of (fictional) pimps get together and do improv comedy. Sound absurd, or absurdly offensive? It’s more than the sum of its parts, says creator Marz Timms.

Photo: Gregory Hollimon

“I always look at comedy as a competition,” says Marz Timms. “It’s us onstage competing with the things that are going on in your life. Our job is to make you, for the hour that we’re onstage, forget about those troubles.”

If comedy is a competition, the North Lawndale native, 47, and his comedy group Pimprov are definitely winning. After all, what better to make you forget your worries than watching a couple pimps doing improv at the local comedy club?

While on the road to shows in Minnesota and Michigan, Timms talked about Pimprov and how the show upends expectations every Friday night at CiC Theater in North Center.

Hey Marz, how are you?

I’m doing all right. Gearing up for a tour of Southeast Asia, myself, doing standup and Pimprov doing shows and teaching workshops the whole month of March. A producer that really liked the show thought we’d do well over there — Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore, maybe Hong Kong.

Will this be your first time touring outside the country?

Yes, I mean, unless you want to count Canada.

That’s exciting. How long has Pimprov been together?

Pimprov has been together for 16 years now. I had a show that I’d created that was running for about three years, and at the end of the show, we always had about 20 minutes to play with before we had to get out of the theater. I wanted to create something to fill that 20 minutes, and I was like, What’s something that has strong characters in it? ’Cause great comedy comes from strong characters. Then I was like, well, pimps are very strong characters, with the costumes and the language and the music. And pimping is a term in improv for getting your scene partner to do something they don’t necessarily want to do. A lot of comedy is derived from that.

The first time we did the show, it was basically just us standing there making fun of each other’s outfits. It’s evolved into this whole thing, with games and our character intros, and then into all the charitable work that we do.

Yeah, I noticed on Pimprov’s website that you all donate toward efforts that aim to stop domestic violence. Why that specific cause?

I have family members who have gone through domestic violence issues. Domestic violence is one [problem] that I felt was near and dear to my heart. We get toys for kids that have to stay in domestic abuse shelters during the holidays, [run a] Thanksgiving food drive, and raise money at every show. We donate to the Neopolitan Lighthouse in Chicago and Sarah’s Inn in Oak Park. We used to try to do all of the shelters that were in Chicago, but then we just narrowed it down. We’re huge fans of Neopolitan Lighthouse; we do the toy drive with them every year.

When I saw some clips from the show, it wasn’t what I assumed it would be. I was expecting jokes about slapping bitches or something of the sort, and it wasn’t that.

A lot of people do expect that. When people go to see the play Miss Saigon, a major character in there is this Vietnamese pimp, but people don’t go “Oh, it’s all about these pimps” — it’s about so much more than that. Pimps are just the comedic characters. We’re not out there to glorify pimping. They’re funny characters that wear these flashy outfits and have this lingo. They’re like, “We’re these strong, mean men,” and yet, they then have to play these folivore characters. They have to play women; they have to play children and trees and animals. The whole comedy is derived from the fish-out-of-water element. And so that’s what the show is: taking these characters out of their element and forcing them to do all these other things that you wouldn’t normally expect them to do. That’s where the laughter comes from.

What are the pimps’ background stories?

Second City had a thing called the Player’s Workshop, and it was what people did before the Second City Conservatory. Every year, pimps have this thing called the Player’s Ball. And so [the pimps] saw this and they’re like, “This is kind of just a class where you go and you learn how to behave [like a pimp], at a Player’s Workshop.” And it’s not at all what they thought it was going to be. It’s this improv class, and they’re like, “Oh… well, now we’ve been through this class, so we’re going to take what we learned and apply it to the stage.”

How many members of Pimprov are there?

We’ve had a lot of people come through — 16 years is a long time to be around. Chris Redd from SNL used to do the show. Lamorne Morris, who was on New Girl, has done the show. We have Matty Robinson now, who’s on the Comedy Central show South Side. We have members who have gone on to do a whole bunch of things. Chucho Pérez, he’s in this group called Handsome Naked; they’re a rap group and they were just on an NBC comedy show [Bring the Funny]. We’ve touched a lot of comedians’ lives.

With the current political and social climate, everyone seems to be a bit more sensitive and people are trying to stay as politically correct as possible. How has Pimprov managed to survive cancel culture?

You come to a show called Pimprov, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. We’re going to make fun of everybody — black, white, straight, gay, it doesn’t matter. And it’s not done with malice; it’s done with the purpose of laughing. Laughter is the end all, be all: If you can’t laugh, it’s going to be a very depressing world. Comedy is your escape from reality.

People hear “pimp” in the name Pimprov, and they’re immediately turned off. That’s understandable. Pimps have done horrible things. Like I said, we don’t advocate anybody being a pimp. I’ve had people call me, like, “Hey man, I’m a pimp. How do I get to be a part of your show?” It’s like … you can’t! We’re not the pimp training ground; this is a comedy show. This is a vehicle in order to help bring awareness to domestic violence, then raise and donate money to that cause.

So, yeah, I mean, cancel culture? Whatever! We’re not there to coddle anybody. We will let you know right up top, if you come and you want to sit in the audience and be mad and upset, we will come right in your face … or get in your face. That came out wrong.

Has anyone actually tried to “cancel” Pimprov?

We’ve had people that have been like, “Hey, we were going to come boycott your show because it’s about pimps. But we saw the show first and realized that it’s about comedy." 

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