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Friday February 23, 2001

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Flogging fishies and Cheez Whiz pies

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Charles Darwin Experience cast member Mike Schwitzing gets pelted with eggs at the group's improv comedy show last night in the Cellar, as one of a series of wacky stunts put on by the troupe for its fundraising efforts. The cast of CDE is raising money to help pay for their trip to an improvisational comedy workshop in Chicago called The Second City.

By Angela Orlando

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Earlier this month, the comedy group Charles Darwn Experience (CDE) found out it has a secret admirer.

An anonymous letter - along with $250 - was dropped in the donations jar at a recent CDE performance. The letter read:

"To the cast of CDE - Your shows have provided me with several years of laughter and happiness. I've been to several professional shows, none of which can compare. This money doesn't even come close to how much I would have paid if you charged similarly. Please do not attempt to return this gift. Enjoy Chicago!"

CDE, a university affiliated comedy troupe formed in 1997, has stopped at nothing to collect cash for the chance to participate in a May 4-6 improvisational comedy workshop. Although CDE never charges its audience to watch its weekly performance, tomorrow the group will put on a benefit show with a small admission fee to raise money for the trip.

Led by the producers and founders of The Second City, an improv theater group which gave rise to legendary comedic stars - most notably "Saturday Night Live" actors Mike Meyers, Chris Farley and head writer Tina Fey - the annual workshop welcomes comedy troupes from across the country.

Also included in the workshop are the zany, competitive Improvolympics as well as the eccentric Annoyance Theater.

With devil-may-care hoopla and wacky, often food-related stunts, CDE is giggling its way to Chi-town so as to experience the funniest of the funny. For every $25 they raise through donations, they will perform another absurd stunt - so far dabbling in the arts of public body shaving, being hit in the face with near-lethal quantities of Cheez Whiz pie and flogging bikini-clad club members with dead fish.

"(Improv artists) have to be funny people, obviously, but beyond that they have to know dynamics and not edit themselves," said Tami Torok, longtime CDE member and acting president. "We have to continually justify what we're doing on-stage, and that means immediately establishing relationships with audience and the setting."

On a more conventional level, "we plan to apply for funding (before the workshop)," Torok said. "I did write a grant (proposal) to the College of Fine Arts."

Admission to the workshop costs $225 per person. Airfare will cost about $250 each and additional per person expenses (such as food) for the weekend will total approximately $100. CDE is only one-tenth of the way to their total financial goal of about $5,000, which would allow them to send only eight of 15 people in the improv group.

Another available source of money for university clubs such as CDE is the McDonald's fund. The restaurant in the Memorial Student Union sets aside a designated amount of money for university clubs, based on each month's profit.

"This grant is available to student organizations who collaborate (with other organizations) for the university community," said Brain Keintz, assistant director for student programs for Arizona Student Unions. "The amount of money we award depends on each individual proposal. We've awarded as little as $25 and as much as $1,500."

Keintz and his committee determine the amount of the award. A request for the funds must be made on or before the first of every month and is awarded during the third week of the month, he said. Applications are available online and can be accessed through the Web site

CDE will continue to perform Thursdays at 9 p.m. in The Cellar for free.

"We're a lot like 'Who's Line is it Anyway?'" Torok said. "We don't know what we're doing until the audience suggests it. We come in with the games we're going to play and which ones of us are going to participate in them, and that's it."

She added, "We're continually amazed and grateful to the audience, who not only donate, but come to see us."