The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday December 7th


Third annual Adult Spelling Bee unites comedy and vocabulary

Chapel Hill residents who know how to take jokes, as well as spell them, finally have an outlet to do just that.

As part of the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, the Dirty South Improv Comedy Theater will collaborate with UNC’s Program in the Humanities and Flyleaf Books to hold the third Adult Spelling Bee.

After attending the second annual Adult Spelling Bee last fall, DSI Owner and Executive Producer Zach Ward contacted the owner of Flyleaf Books, Jamie Fiocco, a partner of the Program in the Humanities for nearly three years.

Ward said he was looking for a new way to introduce comedy into a game show setting, particularly into the community.

“DSI Comedy produces ‘Match Game’ and a number of game show-themed comedy shows throughout the year and producing a spelling bee was high on our list,” he said. “Our staff was aware of one that had happened in Durham, but when we found UNC Humanities and Flyleaf were already on the job, the Adult Spelling Bee was one of our first community partnerships.”

Max Owre, interim director of the UNC Program in the Humanities, said the Adult Spelling Bee happens at least twice a semester, but could potentially increase to a monthly occurrence if steady interest remains.

The structure is similar to that of the average Scripps-style spelling bee. Fifteen participants are chosen by lot at the event and have the ability to compete in four rounds of increasing difficulty. If one misspells a word, he is eliminated from the competition, battling until there is only one victor remaining.

But at the Adult Spelling Bee, the fun comes in during the time between the rounds.

Groups are able to come to the stage and engage in word games. For example, a group may be asked to find the word “ear” in other words. The informal bee — just for fun — lasts three rounds.

In addition, two DSI comedians — one of whom will impersonate comedian Paul Lynde as a special guest celebrity judge — will be using their improv skills to judge the competition and mediate the games in between rounds, interspersing comedic banter with spelling-themed games.

“Now that we have two professional comedians on stage, I just think that the level of interplay will be that much higher,” Owre said.

“I’m also looking forward to seeing how they can make jokes out of the words that I’ve picked out. I’ve picked out some real doozies, and if they can make jokes out of them then we know we have some first rate comedians,” he said.

Fiocco said she hopes that the added draw of the new partnership, as well as the timeslot in the N.C. Comedy Arts Festival, will bring a new crowd in addition to the regulars who attend.

“It’s nice to have fun and use your brain at the same time, and it does celebrate a love of words for most of the people there,” she said. “It’s something that you don’t have access to every day of the week.”

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