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Fish Sticks serves laughs for fund-raisers

MEQUON, Wis. (Catholic Herald) - Perhaps there is no parish fund-raiser Catholics appreciate more than the Friday fish fry. For something new, effective, and less fattening, parishes may want to try Fish Sticks - Fish Sticks Comedy - instead of the cod or perch fish fry.

FAMILY FRIENDLY - Fish Sticks, an improvisational comedy group available to church and non-profit organizations, uses audience participation in its performances.

FAMILY FRIENDLY - Fish Sticks, an improvisational comedy group available to church and non-profit organizations, uses audience participation in its performances.


Fish Sticks Comedy is an improvisational comedy group that encourages audience participation in a welcoming, family-friendly environment while raising money for the parish or school. Fish Sticks Comedy began more than a year ago as a way to help churches, schools and other non-profits raise money and provide family-friendly entertainment.

Whit Shiller, one of Fish Sticks Comedy's founders, has been a member of Milwaukee's ComedySportz improv group for more than five years, after his wife gifted him with a ComedySportz workshop.

"It's a different part of my brain to exercise," said Shiller, a state planning and corporate lawyer. "It's fun to play around and see what develops. Some people find it terrifying to get up there when it's unscripted, some get a charge out of it, and I get a charge out of it."

Improvisational and participatory

ComedySportz is an unscripted, improvisational comedy show where audience members are asked to participate in sketches or shout out ideas to the actors on stage. The television show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" is an example of improv comedy, similar to ComedySportz and Fish Sticks.

Shiller, a Christian, was brainstorming ideas with Dave Rust, a fellow member of Milwaukee's ComedySportz.

"Dave and I share a faith and had thoughts of how we could use this for a higher purpose," said Shiller. "We wanted to make sure the line wasn't blurred; we wanted it squeaky clean. So we started figuring out the format.

"I had a 'God moment' the Sunday after we booked our first show," he explained. "After church service, the guy sitting behind me, who knew about my work with ComedySportz and is a reporter for the Journal Sentinel, said they're doing a story about Christian comedy and asked if I knew of any."

Thanks to the publicity from the Journal Sentinel article, Fish Sticks Comedy sold out its first show.

Fun way to raise $1,500

Fish Sticks has performed at churches, schools, company parties and more. Its audience demographic has ranged from 4 weeks to 92 years old. Members include Shiller, Rust, Nancy Mueller and John Guarnero. Shiller said the idea to use their comedic talents to raise money for churches came from his wife.

"We were trying to think of how to make it meaningful," he said. "The idea to raise money for churches was my wife's idea. A portion of the ticket price goes to a church or group. Most shows have a percentage going to the organization. It's a win-win for us. We're doing it for fun; we're not going to get rich, but we get to have fun and raise money. In our first year we helped raise between $5,000-10,000 for different churches and schools, so we're OK with that."

Shiller said that a church or school could expect to raise about $1,500 for a performance, depending on the amount of tickets sold. Tickets are almost always $5. The fee to book Fish Sticks is between $500 to $1,000, but Shiller said it varies depending on how the organization wants to use the fund-raiser.

"This has been a hobby and doing something with a positive impact makes it that much more fun," said Shiller. "Really, we'd just like to touch as many lives as we can and have fun as we go. It's a ministry to us, but I don't think anyone will say our names in the same breath as Mother Teresa. It's just fun; we're not trying to quit our day jobs."

Still looking to book first Catholic parish

Shiller said that organizations can either choose to take 50 percent of ticket sales, or get a fixed rate if they're not planning to open the show to the public or charge admission.

While Shiller still performs with ComedySportz, he said he enjoys the different atmosphere at Fish Sticks shows.

"It's that we really enjoy an atmosphere where everyone is coming with the same spirit," he said. "Not that Christians can be made fun of. Some (other shows) like the more raunchy humor and think that's the only way you got to go to get people interested. You don't have to be a prude about it, either."

Some games the Fish Sticks perform include Audience Sound Effects and Moving Bodies, both staples on "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" The Fish Sticks also have a game called Old Testament Ballet, which incorporates audience members doing an interpretive dance to act out an Old Testament story, which other audience members have to name. Another game, Pastor Know-It-All or Father Knows Best, uses the participation of the church's pastor who has to answer audience questions in one word.

Fish Sticks has not performed at a Catholic parish, Shiller said, but it is interested in getting involved to help some parishes fund-raise.

"When we look at the churches in this city, some are doing such positive things," he said. "Milwaukee has always been a Catholic town and we want to be a resource or support for those positive things happening."

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of the Catholic Herald (www.chnonline.org),official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wis.

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