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The Ultimate Experience

Photo courtesy the Charles Darwin Experience
The Charles Darwin Experience provides comedy relief for students. The comedy group, open to all majors, puts on a show every Tuesday at 10 p.m. in the Modern Languages auditorium, beginning this evening. CDE performs improvisational comedy skits on campus that encourages the participation of audience members.
By Rachel Schick
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday September 3, 2002

Five-year-old comedy group The Charles Darwin Experience improves with time

Say something funny. Right now. This second. Not too easy, is it?

For the members of The Charles Darwin Experience, an all-student improvisational group that's performed on campus for over five years, the ability to turn any suggestion and any moment into comedy is a skill; one they hone through twice weekly practices, weekly performances and everyday experiences. Does it get easier for them?

Yes. Does it ever get too easy? No because, well, how many funny things can you say about a leprechaun?

A leprechaun? Yeah. More like a leprechaun killed by an eggbeater in a sunken ship.

OK, here's the scenario. The six-member group is on stage, clad in black shirts and jeans. One member of the group steps forward and dramatically explains that someone has just committed a crime. That someone is an actor who has been temporarily sent out of the room.

The audience will decide who was killed by the criminal, what the murder weapon was and where the crime took place.

The expectant audience, after suggesting a leprechaun, an eggbeater and a sunken ship, waits for the criminal to return to the stage.

The scene takes shape.

The actors don't ever say the words leprechaun, eggbeater or sunken ship, but they say crazy things to suggest the words kind of like verbal charades. One actor works off the next and the next actor works off the first and the next actor works well you get the idea until they're completely wrapped up in interrogating the criminal. And, amazingly, the criminal is able to put together her crime and apologizes for killing the leprechaun with the eggbeater on the sunken ship.

The audience shakes with laughter at the cleverness of the actors and the scene comes to an end.

This is just one of the several improv games CDE performed Saturday night at Bookman's, 6230 E. Speedway Blvd. About 90 people gathered in the audience for the first show of the fall 2002 semester.

Starting Sept. 3, they will perform every Tuesday at 10 p.m. in the Modern Languages auditorium, Modern Languages building, Room 350. The shows are free and last about an hour.

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"Without our audience we are people without a clue."

-Kerry Waterson
Graduate Student

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Although only six actors appeared Saturday, the improv group has 13 members.

The group was founded five years ago by Tony Carnevale, who has since graduated along with the group's other founding members.

Since its inception, several former members have pursued careers in comedy ranging from writing for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" to Comedy Central to acting careers in New York City.

Director and president of the group, theater production sophomore Jason Moore, said he expects the current cast to achieve even higher success.

"After graduation, we had three members move to Chicago, the improv capital of the world. However, most of the group members that are going to move onto great things are current members," he said.

Each performances is a collection of improv games or just one long game, requiring audience support and participation.

"It's part of the audience coming into us and we give some of it back," said Lauren Sherwood, CDE member and a theater arts senior.

After all, CDE signifies the evolution of a scene, as member Cortney Wilkerson, a dance junior, explained. The audience plays a major role in the evolution of scenes for these actors.

"Without our audience we are people without a clue," said member Kerry Waterson, a graduate student. "It's about developing an understanding of what the audience wants."

Lately the group has been recognized for their work.

"Last year we won an award from UA for outreach to the school. We had a post-9/11 show with Comedy Corner that packed in 600 people and raised almost $2,000," said Moore. "It was to raise money, yes, but the most important thing was to have people laugh and be happy after the tragedy and comedy is a necessary outlet that we were proud to help out with."

The group also won an award from Aquinas Productions (in Tucson) for best College Comedy Group in Arizona.

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"When we're crying we're really laughing. Laughing is really good for you. Everyone should laugh more, it's healthy."

-Kerry Waterson
Graduate Student

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The actors took pride in being a classy act. In performances they have avoided expletives, sex talk and "going blue" as they say in the drama world.

"We try to keep our shows clean," Sherwood said. "We don't want to take the easy way out. We want to challenge ourselves."

Each group member brings something unique to the group, such as a different style, that makes the group work, Sherwood said

Members often spend summers in other cities working with comedy schools in order to improve on their abilities, said Moore.

"I work during the summers with the Groundlings. Anyone in the comedy world knows who the Groundlings are, but for people who don't, they are a comedy improv group in Hollywood that seems to put out the best sketch comedy performers in the world," he said.

The Groundlings alumni include Phil Hartman, Cheri Oteri, Chris Katan and Lisa Kudrow.

This year the group hopes to rake in a large crop of new members.

On Sept. 12, when the group holds auditions, they will be specifically looking for new members with their own personal style and who are, well, "nice."

"You don't have to be funny," Wilkerson said. "I look for people that are nice and we can work with. If you have personality and character."

So then, do you have to be an actor?

Not a requirement, according to Wilkerson.

The group looks for students of all backgrounds and all majors. It's what, according to Sherwood, adds dynamic to the group.

The success of CDE, according to the current members, comes from working well with each team member.

"I've only been doing this for a semester," said Waterson. "But I feel like I've known these people forever."

One of the biggest challenges for members is not to laugh at each other when they're on stage.

Wilkerson said she covers her laughs by breaking into sobs.

"When we're crying we're really laughing," she said. "Laughing is really good for you. Everyone should laugh more, it's healthy."

Where and when: campus laughs

UA has had several campus comedy groups over the last few years. Some feature SNL-type skits and sketches, others specialize in "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"-style improv games, while some try for both.

Comedy Corner
This group performs both skits and improv and is the nation's oldest college sketch comedy troupe.
Fridays at noon in Modern Languages, Room 350

Charles Darwin Experience
All-improv group currently in its sixth year.
Tuesdays, 10 p.m. Modern Languages, Room 350

Mechanically Separated Chicken
This more recent addition to the list of on-campus comedy group performs sketch comedy and will begin performing in mid-September.
Thursdays, 10 p.m. Modern Languages, Room 350

Ambidextrous Armada
This now-defunct group did skits and improv and occasionally featured musical guests.


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