Comedy Group Uses Humor to Spread Anti-bullying Message
By Emily Williams
What began as a not-for-profit anti-bullying coalition has evolved into an incorporated business serving corporations and individuals through workshops and improv classes.
David Grissom, founder of Positively Funny, Inc., said he discovered his love of improvisation after graduating from UAB with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
“In the mid-1990s, I actually got asked to be part of a writing team where I was working on a new sitcom out in L.A.,” Grissom said. “So that began my comedy writing side of life.”
He went on to work with The Second City, a well-known Chicago comedy venue, honing his skill in improvisational and comedic writing. With his professional experience, Grissom came back to Birmingham with the hope of creating a space in which he could help children who fall victim to bullying in school, Perform-4A-Purpose.
“I started the not-for-profit, and then I realized that you have to have money for a nonprofit,” Grissom said.
But it was difficult to find funding in the competitive Birmingham market, he said, so he created the PFI side of Perform-4A-Purpose.
“It’s a great way of self-funding what we strive to do in the schools,” he said.
Through Perform-4A-Purpose, Grissom and his cast travel to Alabama schools and engage the students in improvisational games that help teach the children about the dangers of bullying and school violence.
While working with a class in Centerville, Grissom and his team invited children to act out characters from “Gilligan’s Island.” One student, a severely autistic child who had never attempted to draw attention to himself, stood up and performed, Grissom said.
“He felt such safety in the environment that we create in the workshops that he got up there and, actually, he was Ginger Grant,” Grissom said, referring to one of the characters in the TV show.
To keep the nonprofit alive and continue its anti-bullying mission, PFI serves the corporate community with workshops focused on team-building, leadership, sales and communication skills.
“One of the key things in improv is communication, and communication is one of those things that people aren’t very good at in life anymore,” Grissom said.
In these workshops, PFI performers utilize the basics of improv to engage a group in proper communication. Grissom said one of the most important rules of improv is the “yes, and” rule, wherein the listener must always agree with their partner as a way of acknowledging and accepting what is being said.
“You can even tell people no by saying ‘yes, and’ because you are acknowledging that you are listening,” Grissom said, adding that someone who knows how to listen will be better at communicating with business partners or colleagues.
In addition to corporate training, Grissom and his PFI cast members appear every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. at the Rare Martini in Birmingham’s Lakeview district.
“There’s no greater honor than taking to the stage every week and making people laugh,” Grissom said.
The comedy troupe also performs regularly at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham with two shows every Friday at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
The Hyatt will be the setting for PFI’s upcoming Valentine’s show, “My Bloody Valentine.”
Those who attend, Grissom said, “can expect what they always get, which is, a lot of funny, but this particular focus is going to be on relationships — which is such an incredible thing to make fun of.”
“My Bloody Valentine” will have two showings on Feb. 13, one at 7:30 p.m. and one at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.
For more information, visit www.positivelyfunnyinc.com.