Winging It with Cherub Improv
Jonathan Evan Goldberg '92 is a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in New York City, where his practice focuses primarily on complex commercial litigation, ERISA litigation, and employment litigation. At Swarthmore, he served as sports editor of The Phoenix, treasurer of Ruach, and played on the men's basketball team before graduating with honors in history and art history. Jonathan earned his J.D. summa cum laude at American University Washington College of Law, where he served as the Senior Articles Editor of The American University Law Review, and is admitted to the state bars of New York and New Jersey, as well as several U.S. District Courts and the Second and Third Circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation and an actor with Storahtelling. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
mprov comedy is about giving and supporting. Volunteering is about giving and supporting. It's like a match made in heaven. Welcome to Cherub Improv."
In late November 2003, while working for another law firm, and shortly after the settlement of one of my large cases, I seized the opportunity and enrolled in an improv comedy class. I was immediately smitten by the craft. In addition to simply being fun, improv fosters creativity, confidence, and teamwork, and emphasizes the importance of giving (the gift of information) and being supportive (of information given to you by the audience and your scene partners).
So I continued my studies, which included performing in numerous class shows, until the summer of 2006. By then, I also spent some of my time volunteering through New York Cares, including at a nursing home on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. One day, my father, who was aware of these activities (and a huge proponent of time management principles) asked me, "Why not combine your interests and perform volunteer improv?"
I thought the idea was brilliant.
As I was unaware of, and unable to locate, any organizations dedicated to performing and teaching improv on a volunteer basis for underserved populations in New York City, let alone anywhere, I decided to form my own. I began to assemble some "improv" friends with whom I had studied and performed and who I knew would be interested in giving back to the community. For the next several months, my close friends Steve, a social worker who will be attending medical school in Fall 2008, Joy, a television commercial producer, and I met regularly amongst ourselves and with others to brainstorm ideas, did research to gauge interest in the community, and gathered a few other improvisers who were equally interested in creating something special. On April 21, 2007, "Cherub Improv" - a name chosen to evoke the angelic nature of volunteer work, as well as for the word play of Cherubimprov - performed its first improv comedy show at the very same nursing home where I had volunteered the summer before.
In just over a year, Cherub Improv has held over 90 short-form improv and musical improv comedy events, both performances and workshops, for over 25 organizations.
Since our first show one year ago, over 35 volunteer improvisers - recruited for talent and for heart - have participated in over 90 short-form improv and musical improv comedy events, both performances and workshops, for over 25 organizations throughout New York City and the surrounding areas, including: Gilda's Club, a cancer support organization, the RUSK Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Medical Center, Project ORE of The Educational Alliance, a homeless outreach program, The Children's Village, a children's runaway and homeless shelter, Friends House NYC, a community of people living with AIDS, Saint Rose's Home, a hospice, Sirovich Senior Center of The Educational Alliance, Creative Arts Workshops for Kids, and Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.
Among other things, we have also created and developed a web site, a logo, a slogan - "We wing it." - t-shirts and sweatshirts (our "uniforms"), purchased the phone number 212-CHERUBIM (212-243-7824), and obtained fiscal sponsorship to cover our costs.
Jonathan and other members of Cherub Improv were recently named New Yorkers of the Week by NY1. Watch more.
The feedback from our audiences has been overwhelmingly positive, as shown by the testimonials posted on our website and the number of our repeat events. Indeed, approximately twice a month we run a workshop for the clients of Project ORE and regularly do the same for the teenagers and staff at the Children's Village in Westchester, N.Y. We have also had several performances at the RUSK Institute at NYU Medical Center and at Saint Rose's Home. Most of our partner organizations have asked us to return.
We have also received compliments for keeping our shows "clean" and for making our events accessible to our various audiences and sympathetic to their needs. If nothing else, Cherub Improv is about making, and maintaining, connections with the community.
One such connection resulted from a chance meeting at a Swarthmore alumni event in the East Village in September 2007. During the event I met John (Jack) Tomlinson '39, himself an actor by trade. We immediately hit it off and I invited him to join us for a Cherub Improv performance at the Sirovich Senior Center, and thereafter to several of the Project ORE workshops. John subsequently introduced us to the famed Marble Collegiate Church, where we performed in January 2008 before a large and energized crowd of active seniors.
Jonathan talks about improv comedy during At Home on Stage.
Other connections have been equally significant and, quite frankly, eye-opening. I will never forget how excited we felt when, during one of our first workshops at Project ORE, and as we were creating an improvised song with the workshop participants based on the audience-provided words of "outer space" and "pharmacy," one of the participants yelled out "asprinaut." Or the time when I asked the audience of mostly octogenarian women at the Whittaker Senior Center for two words that seemingly have nothing to do with each other so that we could perform an improvised song; "love" and "marriage" was the immediate response. Everyone's a comedian, in a very good way, during our events.
I will also never forget the bout of mild anxiety before our first performance at Saint Rose's Home, a 35-bed skilled nursing facility operated by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne for incurable cancer patients. Although the activities director was truly interested in bringing this art form to his patients, we had never performed in such an environment and did not know how the show would be received. As we joked, punned, danced, and sang in front of five patients in their hospital beds, several others in wheelchairs, as well as the nuns, priest, and other staff, we soon realized that our mission was being fulfilled: we were helping deliver the best medicine - laughter - to those in need.
Jonathan with fellow improvisers (from left) Josh, Casey, and co-founder Steve.
Although I did not explore the performing arts in college, I have always felt that Swarthmore helped foster my creativity, at the very least in connection with the numerous papers I wrote and oral presentations I made as part of the Honors Program. Without question, improv comedy can be quite cerebral and our audiences often comment on the fact that the workshops and performances make them think - Swarthmore's "life of the mind" at play. Swarthmore also engendered a strong sense of community and giving back. The College's ideals are clearly evident in Cherub Improv's mission and actions.
I am very happy about what we have accomplished to date and am confident that this amazing adventure will continue. We are still bringing additional volunteer improvisers into the fold and partnering with new organizations. We are receiving pro bono legal assistance from my law firm so that Cherub Improv can make the transition from a fiscally-sponsored organization to a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. And we have plans to expand to cities outside of New York so that, in the not-so-distant future, others can experience the many benefits of improv.
Jonathan credits his father with inspiring him to combine community service and improv comedy.
On Fri., May 30, 2008 - one week after we were honored by cable television channel NY1 as the New Yorkers of the Week - Cherub Improv celebrated its one-year anniversary at a special public performance at the Triad NYC. By sheer coincidence, the day happened to be the birthday of my father, who sparked the idea that became something important and real. Happy Birthday, dad. Love you.