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Davis, California

Monday, February 26, 2024

Birdstrike packs improv, laughs and quick wit

Looking for a lively outlet that will break the monotony of a typical Tuesday evening? Birdstrike’s production of “Birdstrike + Princeton = Nirvana?” takes place at 8 p.m. this Tuesday, January 26 in 1001 Giedt, and it may be the answer you seek.

If you’re not already familiar with the group, Birdstrike is made up of 11 UC Davis graduates and undergraduates that perform Chicago-style long form improvisational and sketch comedy. Their performances are typically between one and 10 minutes long and presented in vignettes called sketches.

Birdstrike performs several small shows throughout the quarter, as well as one big quarterly show. In addition to having trained with improv groups such as Second City and IO Chicago Comedy Sportz, Birdstrike has also hosted workshops, shows and festivals in locations ranging from Davis to the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

Charles Uselman, president of Birdstrike and a senior at UC Davis, said that Birdstrike is a group of friends that comes together twice a week to make “the funny.”

“We’re a long form improv troupe, which is a form different from what most people are familiar with when it comes to improv,” Uselman said.

Uselman drew a distinction between traditional senses of improv and Birdstrike’s style of comedy.

“Most people think of the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? But we do this form that was pioneered 20 years ago in Chicago where basically we ask for a suggestion from our wonderful audience and then improvise small scenes based on that idea.”

When asked how Birdstrike came about, first-year troupe member James Sears said Birdstrike was originally created by an executive order issued by President Bill Clinton to increase the amount of humor on our lovely-yet-sometimes-too-serious campus.

A fact check with Uselman, however, said that the group was actually set up by two UCD students. Set on forming an improv group, UC Davis alumni Greg Gaye and Rachel Bogart began Birdstrike five years ago.

Although the shows usually have a theme, this upcoming show on the Jan. 26 does not. However, it will be different from Birdstrike’s other small shows on account of Princeton comedy troupe Quipfire, who will be joining Birdstrike for a collaborative effort. This will be Birdstrike’s first time working with Quipfire.

“Over the break, I got an e-mail from a friend of mine, who is a member of Quipfire,” Uselman said. “He told me that they were touring California and he was wondering if our troupes could do a show together. So I said of course – I’m really excited to work with these guys. I’ve seen two of their members improvise in Chicago and it was really good.”

Allison Stevenson, a junior Birdstrike member, shared Uselman’s enthusiasm for collaborating with another group.

“Improv groups generally have their own panache that they form after being together and practicing for a while, so it will be exciting to see what Quipfire’s style and humor is versus ours,” Stevenson said.

UCD students who have attended their shows can say that Birdstrike performances are at once enlivening, animated and quick-witted.

“Within the first 10 minutes, I knew it was something I was going to keep coming back to,” said Carlo Rosales, a sophomore chemistry major. “It is really impressive how quickly some students can come up with clever things to say. Being aware that the actors are improvising seems to add more authenticity to the performances.”

Rosales said that Birdstrike is one of those student groups that show that college is not just about lectures and homework. “It’s just a place where you can forget about your classes and release some stress through laughter.”

Cast members of Birdstrike seem to have just as much fun working on the shows as UCD students have watching it.

“I hope that I can speak for every Birdstriker when I say that our meetings are something we look forward to every week,” Uselman said.

“It’s like being a little kid again,” said Katelyn Hempstead, meeting organizer of Birdstrike and a UCD sophomore.

Members seem to unanimously embrace the camaraderie and creativity of such a group, where the bulk of their ideas arise casually and whimsically.

“We had to pitch ideas at this one meeting so I just started talking, and the first thing that came to my head was a sketch where a guy was arrested for eating a banana,” Sears said.

“I thought it was possibly the worst idea ever, but I guess someone liked it, since it ended up in our show,” he said. “In conclusion, people on Birdstrike can make even the dumbest ideas into hilarious sketches. “

Such comfort in spontaneity illustrates the tight-knit dynamics of Birdstrike.

“We get along really well as a group,” Stevenson said. “Like freakishly well. You might say we’re like a family of some sort.”

Upcoming Birdstrike shows will include mini shows on Feb. 5 and 19 at 8 p.m. in Kleiber Hall, as well as their “Big Quarterly Show” on Mar. 5. The theme of the big show will be MONEY.

For further updates on Birdstrike, join their Facebook group.

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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