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Uci Club Provides Outlet For Campus Comics

November 20, 1986|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Computer science and comedy may be an unlikely pair of interests, but as a member of the UCI Comedy Club, Donald Rose is pursuing both with equal vigor.

Rose, a UC Irvine graduate student working on a degree in the artificial intelligence branch of computer science, is also an aspiring comedian who will perform tonight on campus with seven other Comedy Club members. The free 8 p.m. show, to be held in the Heritage Room, will also feature professionals Larry Willmore and Steve Briscoe.

Rose acknowledges that doing research in the artificial intelligence field--which he says seeks to develop "machines that can think and reason like humans"--may at first seem incongruous with writing and performing stand-up comedy.

He's even joked about his research on stage, saying, "We already have machines that think. For example, my smoke alarm always tells me when my toast is ready."

Said Rose: "I always wanted to do stand-up comedy since I was really young. I was kind of doing it with friends, anyway, but I couldn't get a complete monologue together. . . . The great thing about the UCI club is it forced me to organize (my observations) in a coherent way."

Other members also feel that the club, which was formed last February, has enhanced their ability to perform--and create --comedy.

Jon Nalick, 19, said that before joining the club, he had participated in some skits and shows while in high school. But those generally involved performing "other people's sketches and plays and stuff."

In contrast, Nalick said that as a member of the UCI Comedy Club, "you write your own material.

"It's not like you're doing a Monty Python sketch or an Eddie Murphy routine or something. It's all yours. And when it's all yours, you feel like it's really something. Now when people are applauding, they're applauding you ."

Clearly, Nalick and Rose are hooked on writing and performing comedy, and they credit club founder-adviser Jim Birge for much of their enthusiasm.

Until last year, Birge guided the UCLA Comedy Club, which he formed in 1979. After taking the group to the UCI campus for several performances, Birge was approached by Betty Tesman, UCI manager of lively arts, and asked him to help create a campus comedy troupe.

But last year, Birge was hired by UCI as a community college outreach officer and was able to establish the club himself. The UCI group presented its first show last May.

"I really thought they did a heck of a job with that show because across the board it was their first time doing (stand-up)," said Birge, 38, who receives no pay for his Comedy Club efforts.

In a videotape of that performance, which featured eight UCI comics and two professionals, the student comedians came across well in their stand-up debuts, appearing surprisingly comfortable during their five-minute routines.

Karen Sitland delivered her routine from left field: Dressed as a bag lady and pushing a grocery cart, she "interrupted" the show to get up and grab the microphone. She then dispensed a series of odd thoughts in a deadpan monotone a la Steven Wright, one of her favorite comics.

Taking a more conventional approach was Donald Rose, who turned in a strong, original set. For instance, he revealed that he "had a mixed background: My mom was Jewish and my dad was Christian Scientist--so we had the loudest reading room in town."

And some of Rose's bits operated at more than one level. He told the audience he recently had his hair highlighted but was angry and surprised that "they used this," pulling out one of those marking pens used to highlight books, computer printouts and documents.

In preparation for tonight's show, the club has been meeting at least once a week to work on material. The most striking aspect of a recent writing session was its supportive, generous tenor.

Loosely directed by Birge, the meeting involved each comic taking the floor to share new pieces, ideas and observations. Other members then offered suggestions for that comic, free associating on how to re-phrase a bit, broaden a premise, tighten a punch line.

The club now has about 10 members and Birge is anxious to recruit new people. He feels that having more members encourages better writing because there will be increased competition for the shows' eight spots.

And Birge knows what some "healthy competition" can do for a campus comedy club. In its heyday, the UCLA Comedy Club had far more members than spots, forcing everyone to work harder on their material.

The group has turned out several professional comics and comedy writers. Perhaps the most notable is Ed Solomon who, immediately after graduation, landed a job writing for the TV comedy series "Laverne and Shirley."

Solomon has since done film scripts--including "Gremlins II" for Steven Spielberg--and now writes for Garry Shandling's critically acclaimed sit-com, "It's Garry Shandling's Show." Other UCLA Comedy Club alumni have gone on to regular work at Hollywood's Comedy Store or New York's Catch a Rising Star, appearances in commercials and writing screenplays.

None of this is lost on members of the UCI group, some of whom, of course, wouldn't mind following suit. "I definitely want to keep going, keep working at it," Donald Rose said.

"I really feel like I could be good at this. And I feel like I'm going to make it some day."

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