Rare Bird Show

Funny on the fly
Improv groups to present free comedy show at College Misericordia
By: Mary Therese Biebel

Say 'ostrich,' and members of the improv comedy team Rare Bird Show might act as if they're burying their heads in the sand. Or they might pretend to be ostriches who can take off for outer space. Or ostriches who turn into vicious predators. Or ostriches racing to vacuum the rugs.

"Because it's improv, you never know what will happen," said Matt Holmes, a former Mountain Top resident who co-founded the group in 2003.

The only rule seems to be that Rare Bird Show will take a simple suggestion from the audience - it could be a word like 'cat' or 'hat' or 'chair' - and devote an entire show to building on that word. Interested? You can see for yourself how it works tomorrow night at College Misericordia in Dallas Township, where the Philadelphia-based Rare Bird Show and New York City-based Rogue Elephant group will present two separate, half-hour comedy shows.

Rogue Elephant also includes a member with local ties, Nate Smith, formerly of Bear Creek, and uses the same 'long-form' comic strategy of taking one audience suggestion and stretching and exploring it as far as it will go. This could mean you'll see the actors flapping their arms and swooping around to impersonate the kind of bat that flies, or they could re-enact a baseball game to bring a wooden bat into play or ...well, just about anything might happen. And, no, the team doesn't huddle and start muttering, "OK, the theme is winter. Let's all pantomime skiing," or "Let's show the coldness and isolation of winter." Someone just launches a performance - and the other players follow his or her lead.

"We jump and figure it out as we're falling," said Smith, who graduated from Coughlin High School in 1996. "We just kind of follow wherever the show goes.

"If somebody starts, you follow what they started and abandon your own idea. That's part of the fun of it." Also part of the fun is just doing crazy things on stage. "I was the host of a European version of 'Wheel of Fortune' in one scene," Smith said. "I've done scenes in complete gibberish."

Though improv is ad-libbed, Holmes said Rare Bird Show meets each week "to come up with ideas off the top of our heads and get a feel for how the other people in the group work and think and act and move."

How do the members of his team think and move? Someone asked them to describe their personal styles in one word, Holmes remembered, and "Alexis (Simpson) blurted out 'Robot, Pirate, Ninja.'

"I was surprised at how astute that observation was," said Holmes, who graduated from Crestwood High School in 1998. "I'm the robot, very methodical, almost like I'm trying to find a code for funny. Alexis is the pirate. She attacks the scene and smuggles the funny out. Nathan (Edmondson) is the ninja. He'll stealthily go in and surprise you with something amazing.

"I think one of the great things about Rare Bird Show is the combination of three different kinds of energies. We're a fun-loving group. We definitely try different things and don't limit ourselves to one style of humor. Each show can be different, depending on audience and venue and the suggestion.

In making arrangements for the show at Misericordia, Holmes said, "We haven't had any discussions about keeping it PG or PG-13, (but) it's probably not for children." "You can expect the show to be spontaneous and maybe a little weird."