The Gotham Comedy Foundation
Bringing Humor To The Needy
By Clarisel Gonzalez
Editor & Publisher
Carmella Chessen turned to the Gotham Comedy Foundation to bring laughter to homebound seniors because “laughter is good medicine.”
Her agency, Selfhelp Community Services, is one of 15 community partners throughout New York City that work with the Gotham Comedy Foundation, a charitable organization that sends stand up comics to hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers and social services agencies at no cost to bring humor to the sick, aged and lonely as part of its humor therapy program. The foundation also provides scholarships to New York City public school students to study stand up comedy and it supports research on the use of humor in health care.
“We live in difficult times in every way,” said Chessen, outreach/volunteer coordinator of Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center. “If you can put a little laughter in your lives with the help of ‘professional’ laughter makers, why wouldn’t you? Thankfully, there’s an agency like the Gotham Comedy Foundation to reach out to groups that need and appreciate a lift in their lives.”
Giulio Gallarotti, a comedian and actor, has been volunteering with the foundation for about six months. He has visited several senior centers throughout the city doing standup. His goal is simple: “to give people a good time and a high level of comedy.”
His approach to performing standup is the same: “to present yourself to the people and make them laugh.” Depending on the audience, he said, a comedian’s act is cleaned up a bit. “We keep it pretty PG, but still funny,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s the same. They smile, they laugh. If they like you, they tell you.”
Chessen said she is glad to have the Gotham Comedy Foundation as a partner and to use technology to bring humor therapy to the homebound seniors who participate in online classes using video chat technology, “so they can see, hear and speak to each other and the class facilitator.” Up to 14 people can join a class this way.
“We are very happy to have the skills of a laughter yoga performer provided by the Gotham Comedy Foundation,” she said, adding that homebound seniors participate in the ongoing laughter yoga online program twice a month.
The Virtual Senior Center is part of Selfhelp Community Services, Inc, a not-for-profit organization, which is dedicated to maintaining the independence and dignity of seniors and at-risk populations through housing, home health care and social services. It is applying new methods and technologies to address the changing needs of its community.
Chris Mazzilli, a leader in the New York comedy club industry and who is the co-founder and managing director of the Gotham Comedy Club, and Bill Drewes, an attorney who is a cancer survivor who used laughter therapy in his recovery, are the co-founders of the Gotham Comedy Foundation. They are making things happen for the foundation, thanks to their business expertise and contacts, their extensive network of comedians and their love of comedy and commitment to giving back to the community.
Because of his position as comedy club owner, Mazzilli enjoys the following of comedians who include stand-up comics who have attained celebrity status, those rising to the top of their careers and those who are beginning their careers. Many of these artists are participating in the foundation’s programs.” Our goal now is to raise more money,” Mazzilli said. “The more money we could raise, the more we could do. And, we want to do a lot.”
Mazzilli’s comments are echoed by board secretary/director Peter Fields, a partner in the entertainment law firm of Ritholz, Levy, Sanders, Chidekel & Fields, who, when interviewed for this article, said the foundation’s focus now is to raise funds. “Long-term goals for the foundation include having an office space for the foundation, paying a full time executive director and support staff as well as money to pay comedians for their work.”
Right now the Gotham Comedy Foundation relies upon donations through its website: and benefits in its honor sponsored by groups of friends. Harris Bloom of “Stewie to The Rescue” fame and a stand up comic himself organized and hosted the foundation’s first fundraiser in May. It is hoped that others will now follow his lead. The co-founders also hope to eventually attract private foundation grants and major corporation sponsorships.
“We need to move forward beyond our all volunteer start up phase. However we know that we have to crawl before we can walk” said Bill Drewes. “Our motto is bringing humor to those who need it, one laugh at a time well, our fundraising motto is becoming a lasting humor institution one donation at a time!”