Six years ago, the parishioners of the St. Gregory Byzantine Catholic Church in Upper St. Clair came to the realization that, if they wanted to start a ministry of some sort, they would first have to pay off their mortgage.
Built in 1976, the church required follow-up repairs, which further added to its indebtedness. Parish administrators knew that something had to be done to pay off debts and began thinking of practical ways to raise money.
Field trips, a fun spirited Mardi Gras, a mystery dinner and cookie and kielbasa sales supplemented the church’s mass offerings, but the biggest fundraiser of all came about after a chance meeting between fundraising chair, Mike Kiss, and Pittsburgh-based comedian, David Kaye.
"I met David at a comedy fundraiser for the softball team my daughter, Emily, played on," Mr. Kiss recalled. "After the show, I asked him if he and his fellow comedians could stage a church-appropriate show, one with priests and nuns in the audience. David reassured me that he had an ample supply of jokes that could be tailored to every crowd.
In its first year, the show proved a success, thanks partly to a marketing campaign that promoted the event in the church bulletin and email list. According to Mr. Kiss, the comedy show, aptly titled the Funny Fundraiser, has grown by leaps and bounds since.
"Last year, demand was so great we had to stop selling tickets," Mr. Kiss said.
Now in its fifth year, the comedy fundraiser is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 in the church social hall, 2005 Mohawk Road.
"The doors open at 6:30 because we encourage people to bring in a picnic basket and have something to eat before the show," Mr. Kiss said. "In the past, some have ordered pizza delivery, and we also sell a limited amount of halushki, stuffed cabbage and pierogis."
In the first year, David Kaye brought along two fellow comedians and took part in the show himself. Every year since, he’s served as the show’s emcee that still features two comedians. Slated to be back for another stint as emcee this year, Mr. Kaye has since had to withdraw because he was asked to open a show at the Carnegie Music Hall in Homestead that same evening for national touring comic headliner, Jim Norton.
In his place Pittsburgh comedian Lisa Dapprich, former host of WPXI’s Date Night TV for four years and finalist in Bud Light’s Ladies of Laughter competition, will emcee the show that will bring in fellow Pittsburgher John Knight and Jay Boc of Seville, Ohio.
"For the past few years, the Funny Fundraiser has been one of the premier events that I do," Mr. Kaye said. "All the headliners I use are full-time, professional comics as are eight out of ten comedians I bring to the stage. Over the last three years, I’ve helped raise more than $500,000 for charitable groups, athletic associations, church groups, fire departments and high school and youth sports groups."
For his shows, Mr. Kaye provides the backdrops, professional-grade light and sound equipment, even a stage if needed. In his past four years at St. Gregory’s, he has never repeated the same comedian.
A total of 225 tickets are sold at $20 each and Mr. Kiss estimates that about 70 percent of the attendees are non-parishioners. The church stages a raffle at the event, which always falls the last Friday before the start of Lent, and also sells jewelry.
"The idea for the show is to give people a local place where they can enjoy some good, clean fun," Mr. Kiss said. "We invite anyone in the area who’s looking for an interesting evening of fellowship and laughter to come join us."
A mortgage consultant with Pennsylvania Equity Resources in Carnegie for the past 20 years, Mr. Kiss, a resident of North Fayette, told church administrators that he’d be willing to come up with one-, three- and five-year plans of action designed to pay off the church debts.
Since Mr. Kiss put the five-year plan in place the church eliminated close to $600,000 in debt and expects to be debt-free in five years.
"The fundraisers have not only aiding the church financially, but have also made it a social venue where people can congregate and enjoy themselves," he said.
For tickets call 412-835-7800.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.