Ever wondered how Wake Forest’s campus came to be?
President Nathan O. Hatch looked at the vast swath of land before him. He ordered for there to be many bricks, squirrels and kids from New Jersey. As a final requirement, he created an active student body. After a few trial and errors on this front, an active student body of crusaders arrived with signs touting “Impeach Reeves,” “I want to toast my own bagel” and “Bring back Campus Grounds.” Over the course of six days, Hatch created Wake Forest. On the seventh day, he declared a reading day — even though the students complained that Sundays were already a day of rest.
At least, that’s how the Lilting Banshees told it.
Their re-imagining of the creation story for Wake Forest opened their Saturday, Jan. 25 “Best Of” show in Brendle Recital Hall.
Saturday’s show served as the 25th anniversary and reunion of the Banshees, with more than 40 alumni of the comedy troupe in attendance. For them, the evening capped off a day of reliving their best college memories, writing new sketches and performing old classics for the other generations.
“Being in these classrooms in Tribble today writing jokes with people, I laughed harder than I think I’ve laughed in a long, long time,” said Nick Gray, ‘04. “It’s funny to see this bond that we share through so many years; not knowing the [more recent] Banshees, we still seem to have so much in common just because it was like we were the weirdos.”
The Banshees were founded in 1993, when a group of students involved in theatre, including Ben Tomlin, ‘94, and Matt Jones, ‘96, realized there was a need for a comedy troupe on campus. Even now, 25 years later, some of the Banshees’ processes and traditions have remained the same.
“The khaki pants and white shirt was something I started,” said Tomlin. “Unfortunately I saddled them with it, to which I say I’m sorry, but they seem stuck. It feels like a brand now.”
It also on-brand for the Banshees to border on sexually explicit. The second skit of the night was a family dinner riddled with sexual tension between the father and mother, who brought out a rotisserie chicken and an eggplant. The skit ends, children cowering in the corner, with the mother straddling the table, and the father, shirt ripped open, with the chicken (which was later flung into the audience) on his chest. Admittedly, it’s difficult to see those two Banshees in a class or around campus having seen them get hot and heavy on stage.
You could tell when the Banshees were performing past skits, like the one with the caveman discovery of a cow’s udders, because the alumni were laughing before anything even happened. And once it did, they couldn’t control their laughter.
Even during the show, there were more evident interactions between the current and past Banshees. After a skit that mocked a UPS meeting, the Banshees, in all states of beige undress, climbed into the audience of alumni and played “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. Banshees are equally as known for their between-skit dances — let’s petition for the Banshees to release a Spotify playlist, because they play more bangers than a frat party.
What made this reunion special was the announcement of a fund for the Lilting Banshees in memory of alumni James Buescher, ‘98, who died in a car accident in 2010. Organized by Shane Harris, ‘98, and other members of the Banshees from the earlier years, this fund will help support the Banshees “in their efforts to grow and become more nationally recognized,” said Harris. That can mean funding to attend a comedy festival or to engage in comedic competitions.
Before the show, the older Banshees mingled in Brendle and laughed over their favorite skits from their time.
There was one called Final Exam, which featured “Flight of the Bumblebee” and was just people doing different exam preparations. Without any words, one student wore a sombrero, one did yoga stretches and many were pretend throwing up. Another favorite mentioned was a mock fashion show based on the clean laundry you had left.
Tomlin, in addition to many other alumni, noted how the level of comedic genius has grown as the troupe has aged.
“If I were to attempt to audition for the Banshees today, I wouldn’t make it,” said Tomlin, the founder of the Banshees. “Today we had the opportunity to see skits that were performed by several different generational groups, and they get progressively funnier, smarter, more abstract. I feel like they’re better informed about comedy and writing than we were. We just wanted to goof off and write our own material. I don’t think anybody really thought too hard about it. What’s happening here is more sophisticated.”
Kristen Eppley England, ‘98, joined the Banshees when she auditioned to avoid a biology final.
“I didn’t know what it was, and it ended up completely changing my life,” she said. “25 years later, here I am with my dearest friends, and I can’t wait for my stomach to hurt so bad from laughing.”
The Banshees anniversary have proven that comedy transcends and ties together generations. For Harris, coming back is like seeing a baby that you created — but didn’t raise — and seeing that baby succeed.