DSI Comedy closing down Aug. 28
Owner Zach Ward announced on Wednesday morning that Chapel Hill’s DSI Comedy Theater will shut down permanently on August 28.
Ward had promised to have a transition plan in place on July 10 following allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination from former employees.
While summer camps and classes at the theater will continue, shows will be postponed for the summer.
Ward, who also runs a company called YesAndLife and serves as the organizer for the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, stated that he hopes his employees don’t receive the same treatment as he has.
“While I have lost the business I loved due to these attacks, it is completely unfair to subject DSI’s instructors to the same personal attacks and public shaming simply for being loyal to the commitments they have made to their students,” Ward stated.
Vinny Valdivia, a former comedian at DSI, made a Facebook post as a space to discuss the “toxic” environment at the comedy club on July 2. Facebook commenters from Boston said they had shared and said they had similar experiences working with Ward.
“And nobody wanted to say anything, and I think people didn't say anything, they were worried that people would get sued, so I made it as easy as possible,” Valdivia said. “I just said, 'Here's a place where you can talk and let's do that.' And then it got way bigger than I imagined.”
There are now over 100 comments on Valdivia's post. Former DSI comedian Grace Carnes described in a Facebook post a “sexual misconduct gray area” experience she had with Ward.
Carnes, who originally intended to leave her post as a comment on Valdivia's thread, said that she hopes her story doesn't dominate the coverage of Ward's stepping down.
"Everyone's stories should be heard and weighed equally," she said in a Facebook message. "And the ultimate goal of all of this should be healing for those who are hurting and a continued compassionate call for Zach to seek help and therapy."
The hashtag #yesandwebelieveyou has also arisen from the conversation. It's building on the phrase "Yes, and," which serves as a starting point for many improv scenes.
Kate Harlow, a former member of DSI Comedy, said it’s difficult to pinpoint exact instances of abuse and to identify the negative behavior.
“The reason that this seems to be coming to light now is that the people who've been scared or intimidated into being silent are starting to speak up and we're all finding that we have a lot of common thread, and everyone is starting to connect the dots,” Harlow said.
Harlow said DSI Comedy has garnered an increasingly negative reputation.
“Again, to keep going back to the same analogy, they're the snotty kids,” Harlow said. “And they're bullies. And I don't think there's really a way to reconcile that without taking it apart and putting it back together as something new.”
Valdivia said he’ll never be able to support DSI Comedy as a brand because of the allegations against Ward.
“He took advantage of that community and he used it however he wanted to, that name and even the building — I personally won't be able to walk into there,” Valdivia said.