Jan. 29, 2010
Business as a Laughing Matter
From Emory Report
Allison Gilmore grew up in a funny family.
Before she became director of admissions and student services for the doctoral program at Goizueta Business School, Gilmore was a perturbed second-grader who could not understand why her teacher was always laughing at her. Later, she was the only one among her group of friends allowed to stay up and watch Johnny Carson and "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in."
During one particularly mortifying high school moment, she discovered her mother directing traffic in a gorilla suit, complete with trench coat and top hat.
"What's really funny is the truth," she says, deadpan.
A 25-year veteran of improvisational comedy, founder of Laughing Matters and one of the Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy, Gilmore now uses her business acumen and intrepid stage presence to train prospective and current leaders in the art of intuitive and spontaneous thinking.
"The lessons are applicable to any age group or profession," says Gilmore, who has taught corporate CEOs, children, pastors and emergency medicine residents. "It's all about human interaction, being present in the moment.
Through DuMore Improv, the company she founded in 2006, Gilmore uses physical and linguistic team-building activities to wrest participants from their comfort zones, encouraging them to become engaged, nonjudgmental listeners.
One exercise involves having participants stand in a circle, throwing and receiving an imaginary ball, which then morphs into a chainsaw and eventually into a wet baby. Another game persuades students to chat extemporaneously about their spring break escapades.
Gilmore, who previously served as assistant director for Goizueta's Executive MBA Program, trains executive and evening MBA students as part of the school's Leadership Initiative. Previously, she helped faculty to enhance their classroom ad-libbing skills under the University's Master Teaching Program.
Gilmore also manages admissions, marketing, scheduling and the universe of student services for Goizueta's PhD Program. The program now enrolls 39 students training to be tenure-track research faculty, and boasts a 100 percent placement rate upon graduation.
Gilmore admits that she stumbled into a marriage of comedy and business as a struggling comedian looking for a steady gig. A theater major at the College of Charleston, she spent a year after graduation traveling across the country in a ragged van, "eating Triscuits laced with Velveeta," and performing scripted comedy. The repertory group played officers' clubs, country clubs and specks of towns in the Midwest "that had been deprived of any comedy whatsoever."
Later, while waiting tables in Little Five Points, she joined an improv workshop taught by Atlanta guru Robert Lowe.
From that group, Laughing Matters, Atlanta's longest-running improv comedy troupe, was born.
Meanwhile, Gilmore took a job as a part-time receptionist at a small Atlanta brand design firm (what is now Iconologic). She worked her way up to vice president of marketing, and was integrally involved in the city's bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics.
On the side, Gilmore continued to indulge in comedy, feeding off the energy and ingenuity from the audience, trusting her team not to leave her hanging on stage, which she likened to floundering "out on a limb with a saw behind you."
"The worst thing you can do in improv is tell a joke," she says, adding that cutesy one-liners put the kibosh on creativity.
In a male-dominated field, Gilmore grew tired of being relegated to the roles of wife, girlfriend or secretary. In 2000, she helped start the Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy to give female comics a venue to play the head of intelligence, president or even dad. The Gorgeous Ladies are now on a hiatus, after several members moved out of state.
These days, performing is taking a back seat to teaching in Gilmore's world. Raising two daughters and serving as the chair of deacons for First Baptist Church Decatur, she relishes having her Saturday nights free again.
"I had to find some balance," she says. "I looked at all the things that were bringing me joy and I prioritized. Teaching improvisation brings me hope for our future leadership."
Quite possibly the only administrator at Goizueta sporting purple nail polish, Gilmore manages to get her kicks in other ways.
"There are a lot of funny people in this school," she says.