Charlie Hartsock ’83 was among the first members of the Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company. Now his daughter, Sara Hartsock ’18, is the group’s first legacy.
Long before he was a successful actor and producer in Hollywood with hits like The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Charlie Harstock was a Burpee. In fact, he was one of the founders of the Denison club that—“as far as I know,” Hartsock says—is the oldest continuously running college improv group in the country. And now his daughter, Sara, is the first legacy in the Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company.
Not that she inherited the gig. A sophomore studying in the interdisciplinary program, women’s and gender studies, Sara ran the audition gauntlet last spring, and made a point of not mentioning her family connection during the process. “I wanted to get in on my own merits,” she says. She did just that, and when she made her debut at the group’s annual senior send-off and freshman introduction, Charlie was in the crowd. “I snuck in—I didn’t tell her—and that fatherly pride came out,” he said. “She did some stuff that really made me howl.”
When the Hartsocks were together in California over winter break, we got Charlie and Sara on the phone for a quick chat. It’s well worth a laugh.
Charlie: When the Burpee’s started back in ’79, we’d meet on Saturdays at I think 8 or 9 in the morning. I asked Sara if they do that, and she scoffed at me.
Sara: I brought it up at a meeting, and everyone was like, “Oh, God, we would never do that to ourselves.”
Charlie: It did lead to a certain level of dedication.
Sara: I always had my dad goofing around with me as I grew up; he was always doing funny characters and stuff, and I sort of grew into playing along.
Charlie: I’d tell her bedtime stories, but she had to give me three things to build the story from. I think what happened was that I actually bored Sara to sleep.
A father-daughter dance
Sara: He’s very, I would say… gimmicky, almost. It’s a mixture of dry humor—he’ll say something where I’m not sure whether he’s joking or not—then other times he’ll do this gimmicky goofy take on a character and just go with it for a while.
Charlie: I don’t know if I would emblazon the word “gimmicky” across a shirt….
Sara: I think you could rock it!
Charlie: You do?
Charlie: I’d say Sara is also very dry, very wry—she’s smart in her humor, yet she too is really funny, a goof. She’ll pull out characters the same way, just stick with them. There’s no end of her commitment to her characters. She’s just smart and funny.
Sara: Aw. That’s very nice. I think that’s a father thing.
Charlie: Hey, I’m not stupid.
Charlie: Who does she remind me of? I think from back in my day, I’d say she’d be sort of like Jane Curtin. Or at Second City, I worked with Bonnie Hunt a little bit, and Sara’s kind of got that. But I hate to compare. I think that’s one of the things I liked so much about seeing her in her show: She was herself. All the members of the group had strengths that they brought to the show. I think that’s the great thing about Burpee’s.
Sara: I agree. It’s a small group, and each person brings something distinct. And I think since I’ve grown up with him as my dad, he reminds me of my dad.
Charlie: Is that OK?
Sara: It’s good, no, it’s good! You’ve got a good gimmick.
Charlie: I’m a good gimmicky guy!
Sara: I would not go into show business.
Charlie: Good answer.
Sara: I really enjoy it; it’s a fun thing to have grown up around, but I couldn’t do it. It’s such a hard career, just how much work has to go into it.
Charlie: Whatever choice she makes in her career, she’s going to put in the effort, the hard work, all those things. She’s a lot smarter than I am.