Affirmative Distraction at its Halloween show at Via Vecchia Winery Oct. 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Joseph Moorer

Wine and improv enthusiasts alike will have a chance to watch comedians of color over a glass of wine this week at Via Vecchia.

Affirmative Distraction, a local all-black improv group, will perform its first show of 2020 Thursday night at Via Vecchia Winery in the South End of Columbus, Ohio.

“Whether it’s work, whether it’s home, whether it’s family or friends, or people just being obnoxious, for 90 minutes or two hours or four hours — depending on what we get booked for — I get to entertain you. I get to distract you from being that person. I get to put a smile on your face. And that, to me, means more than anything in the world,” Joseph Moorer, founder of Affirmative Distraction, said.

The group’s shows contain a number of improv games, some of which are exclusive to them. Chad Tennant, a member of the group, said a fan favorite is “Spelling Bars”, a game that has two teams compete in a spelling bee. If one fails to correctly spell the word, they have to rap four bars with that word.

The event will also feature special guests Qamil Wright, CEO of entertainment company Soul Dope Entertainment, and Eric Rollin, vocalist in local hip-hop group Mistar Anderson. Moorer said they regularly invite members of the tight-knit black arts community in Columbus to perform with them.

Shawn Burrs, a member of Affirmative Distraction, said he notices that many of their guest performers aren’t confident in their improv abilities at first.

“None of them think they’re funny. Most of them are musicians, and they’ve performed in front of crowds before, but they’ve never had to make a crowd laugh before,” Burrs said.

Moorer said he formed the group in late 2018 after leaving #Hashtag Comedy, another Columbus-based improv group, in which he was the only black member.

“When I separated from Hashtag, I immediately was like, ‘Why isn’t there an all-black improv group?’ And people started chiming in,” Moorer said.

The 11-member group performs monthly improv shows at Via Vecchia Winery, a South End winery and event space that specializes in Tuscan-style red wines made from California grapes, according to its website.

“When you come to an Affirmative Distraction show, it’s not just a black crowd. It is so mixed. It’s so diverse. Everybody comes and has a great time. And just seeing how the numbers just kept doubling, how quick we’ve grown,” Tennant said.

Moorer said he first met the winery owners, Paolo Rosi and Michael Elmer, when his band, The Conspiracy Band, played at a wedding held at the venue. He said Affirmative Distraction was outgrowing its previous venue, The Pelican Room, and managed to seat up to 130 people at its most recent Via Vecchia show.

“Every time we have filled this place up. And again, everybody that I’ve talked to — my friends — when they get here they’re all amazed at the venue itself, and then we put on a good show. So it’s almost like this place only enhances our show, or we enhance this place,” Burrs said.

Food for the event will be provided by Big Beez Lunchbox, a black-owned food truck run by Columbus native James Allen. Moorer said it is important to him to collaborate within the black community. 

“It’s opportunities that aren’t usually afforded to us, and I have to change that,” Moorer said. “And so if I can do that one vendor or one group or one venue or one act at a time, we’re going to do that.”

Affirmative Distraction will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at Via Vecchia Winery, located at 2108 S. High St. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Presale tickets cost $10 and are available on Eventbrite. Tickets cost $15 at the door.