Charity Calls on Wharton Alumni to Laugh
- by Matthew Brodsky
Despite their solid understanding of how free markets work, Wharton alumni are giving away stuff for free. Not just any stuff. Some of the most valuable stuff in life—smiles and laughter. They’re doing so through a charity called Cherub Improv.
“Cherub Improv brings volunteer improv comedy to those in need of laughter and people who in their own volunteer and other work can do so much more by learning and applying the techniques of improv,” explains Ed Goldberg W57, board member of the organization since it was co-founded in 2007 by his son Jonathan, a law firm partner who serves as president of Cherub Improv.
Since its creation, the group has partnered with hospitals, senior homes, veteran centers, hospices, children’s and homeless shelters, cancer support organizations and similar organizations to perform and teach short-form improv and musical improv comedy for free. It’s put on over 1,300 improv comedy performances and workshops. When asked for help, Cherub Improv loves to say “yes” —the first rule of improv, says Ed Goldberg.
This past spring, Cherub Improv said “yes” to the Wharton Club of New York (WCNY). The idea originated from Jeanne Marie McPhillips WG95, one of its most dedicated “Cherubs” (as Cherub Improv’s volunteer performers are known).
“As a Wharton Follies alum, my passion has always been the pursuit of comedic performance: acting, improv, speaking. When I learned of Cherub Improv’s mission to bring laughter and healing to people that needed it most, I wanted to help carry out that mission and feel lucky to have been chosen to do so,” she says.
Led by Jonathan Goldberg, McPhillips and the other Cherubs helped all the Wharton alumni in attendance perform a variety of improv ice breakers, exercises and games, then two- and three-person short improv scenes.
“Laughter is the best medicine,” Ed Goldberg says, citing the ancient saying. Hence, the reason why they perform for the infirm, elderly and vulnerable. But Wharton alums in New York City and other high-powered business groups?
Apparently, improv is also a great decision-making and leadership training exercise. According to performers, improv inspires positive energy—which business leaders can never have enough of—as well as develops listening skills, creativity, spontaneity, self-confidence, public speaking and teamwork. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a quality that perhaps your leadership coach has broached with you, and improv touches on basic EQ skills especially, such as: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.
Coincidentally, soon after the WCNY performance, Cherub Improv strengthened its Wharton ties in another way. It brought on a new board member—Matthew Higbee WG14. The charity and the alumnus were connected through the Wharton Board of Directors’ Resume Book, an alumni service through Wharton MBA Career Management that connects business leaders looking for board service with organizations looking for new board members. (Read more about it in our article, “Boosting Boards With Directors’ Resume Book.”)
The elder Goldberg reports that Cherub Improv has expanded the board to meet the surge in demand for its services.
“The notion catches on by wildfire,” he says—mostly by word-of-mouth.
What’s propelling it is that these are real talents doing the improv and training. As Goldberg explains, the Cherubs typically are either professional actors looking to hone their craft while doing good, or people who have a background in comedy or acting, have a day job now but want to get back into it on a part-time basis Their reputation precedes them into their engagements, whether with the Wharton Club of New York, the NYC Bar Association, a retirement home or a center for the blind.
Another thing probably propelling it. It’s free for those in need.
Editor’s note: For more information about the organization, including board service and to schedule some laughs and skills development, visit the Cherub Improv website at www.cherubimprov.org.