The Dead Parrots are flying once again.
With their victory at the College Improve Tournament’s Northwest Regional on Jan 18, The Dead Parrot Society, Western’s improv comedy troupe stamped their ticket to the national College Improv Tournament in Chicago for the fourth year in a row.
“It’s not really like a sports competition in the sense that there’s much less of a winner mind-set, you go into it with the mind-set of creating a good show, and your first goal is to do well and put on a good set… First and foremost, it’s about having fun and doing improv well,” said Greg Phelps, Western senior and four-year member of the Dead Parrots.
The competitions function through a series of matches between teams. Each set is judged by professionals in the improv comedy world who choose the winner.
The Dead Parrots’ strength lies in storytelling, said Phelps, “A lot of improv schools of thought will say ‘just entertain, just be funny and don’t worry about plot or storylines, or those kinds of things. We’ve been able to tell a consistent story or linear narrative, as we call it, we like to look for ways to tell a linear narrative that’s also really funny. And so we bring this sort of weird Bellingham flavor with us, where you get invested in the characters and you want to see where the story goes.”
The Dead Parrots beat out UBC Improv from the University of British Columbia to claim the regional title. At nationals, major contenders include Improv Mafia from Illinois State University and Droppin $cience from Columbia College in Chicago.
“Really nice teams,” Phelps says, “but very, very good.”
At regionals, the Dead Parrots showcased their “group mind,” as it is called in the improv world, their ability to work together seamlessly without really knowing where the story is going. The cast does use a variety of forms with which to perform. For the first regional round, the cast used a particular form they call a montage, but as Phelps said, “It’s improv so it’s all made up, but it’s sort of like a really, really loose mad lib.”
Transitions are a big part of the craft. “One moment we’re a rock band playing crazy air guitars and the next moment we instantly transition into a boy scout troop on the top of a mountain, just with some little gesture, we’re all on the same page,” Phelps said.
Even at the extremely high level at which the Dead Parrots perform, Improv isn’t about doing everything they can to win. It’s about putting on a great show. “The attitude we have about it is that we’re not going to win first place unless we put on the best show possible, and if we put on the best show possible, it doesn’t matter what place we get,” said Phelps. Even in defeat, there isn’t any competitive bitterness in this game. Post-set conversations with other teams are always positive.
“If we’re beaten by a team, we’re going to go up and shake their hands like ‘you guys were so f****n’ funny, and you deserve to win,’” said Phelps, “It’s like the mandatory high fives at the end of a baseball game except we actually mean it.”
The perennial strength of the Dead Parrots is a product of dedication and cohesion, as Phelps puts it, “We don’t have any members that are like “Eh, I kind of like improv.” If you get into the group, you can’t not do it, and anyone else in the group would say the same thing… We view it as a family, everyone that’s a part of the club is our extended family, so it’s such a big part of all our lives.”
The national competition will be held March 1 at the Vittum Theater in Chicago.