Punk Rock HR Episode 125:
Today’s guest is my friend Zach Ward. He is the former owner of a comedy theater whose career was ended in 2017. Zach was canceled before it was trendy.
Zach is someone who fulfilled a dream which many of us have. He came back home after college, created a community, and monetized his passion. But in creating that community, other things happened. Eventually, allegations were made against him and he was canceled.
I want Zach to not only survive this tidal wave but rebuild his life. That is why I brought him onto the show. In today’s episode, we are talking about serious issues like cancel culture and sexual assault allegations. Zach helps us understand where his career began and the lies that eventually made it come to an end. My hope is that, by hearing Zach’s story and his commitment to transparency, we can all begin to pause and ask our own questions when we hear accusations.
In this episode you’ll hear:
- Zach’s college experience and how he came to open DSI Comedy Theater.
- The smear campaign against DSI and Zach.
- How he managed the rumors in the marketplace.
- The Facebook thread in which he was accused of sexual assault and the details that made it untrue.
- The collateral damage from those accusations.
- How these lies followed him to his new job.
- Social isolation and his perspective on it.
- Takeaways for business leaders and professionals.
WHAT WAS THE SMEAR CAMPAIGN AGAINST ZACH AND THE DSI COMEDY THEATER?
It all started when another company implied directly and indirectly that DSI was an unsafe space for women in the community and that Zach was a dangerous person. They leveraged that feeling in a heated time in the country, to the point where any other small issue became escalated. Anyone who had a small grievance was motivated to pile it on and help take Zach down. Facts and evidence were irrelevant because of the way people were positioning that DSI was unsafe. There was an urgency to rallying the community around it. Everyone began to feel like Zach–as a leader in the community, mentor, and positive role model–had been hiding something from them the whole time.
HOW DID ZACH MANAGE THE RUMORS IN THE MARKETPLACE?
It can feel like one’s personal and professional lives are intertwined when he owns a small business in the theater world. Because of this, Zach felt like he had an obligation to sit down with a leader of the opposing theater company to find out what was being said and what was actually going on. However, that meeting was positioned as part of their smear campaign. He sat down with them and got a lot of heated emotional information but only one real accusation that they all knew was false and misleading.
WHAT WAS THE FACEBOOK THREAD IN WHICH ZACH WAS ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND WHAT DETAILS MAKE IT UNTRUE?
An employee at the new opposing theater company posted one sentence on Facebook about the bad experiences many had had at DSI and that it was time to talk about them. Within hours, the post had taken off. The comments were all very similar and used the same language around abuse and retaliation. One woman began to join Facebook groups related to improvisation, theater management, and comedy and started sharing this thread within those groups. The next day, she posted a story with an account of a “sexual assault gray area.” It was a false narrative of the first time she and Zach had slept together 3 years earlier and one that called on the internet to label the encounter as rape. There were many details in the story that proved it was untrue. One specific detail that she included was that they had sex on a ping pong table in the office of the comedy theater. Zach revealed that, in fact, there had never been a ping pong table in any building or room related to DSI.
WHAT WAS THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE FROM THOSE ACCUSATIONS FOR ZACH?
Firstly, Zach was forced to close his theater. There was no avenue for him to share his story or fight back against the accusations. As soon as the woman’s Facebook post got embedded into a national news article, he knew he had to close. His theater was buoyed by his personal business as a corporate trainer, speaker, and business consultant and those revenue streams were gone immediately. Additionally, his reputation was trashed. When he started looking for a new job in the marketplace, he couldn’t get hired anywhere. Eventually, he began to consider suicide because he saw no way to survive the tidal wave.
Resources from this episode:
Indy Week DSI Comedy Owner news article
Indy Week Misogny news article
News Observer DSI Comedy Owner Steps Down news article
DSI Comedy Insanity Reddit article
News Observer Indy Editor news article
NY Times Cancel Culture: Part 1 podcast
NY Times Cancel Culture: Part 2 podcast