#NCCAF Staff

Zach Ward

Zach Ward Founder and Executive Producer

Chapel Hill native and proud Carolina graduate, Zach Ward has been performing and directing comedy professionally for 20 years. Zach owns DSI COMEDY THEATER in Carrboro, NC where he serves as Executive Producer and Artistic Director for both the theater and #NCCAF.

In the world of comedy, Zach has been employed as Managing Director of IMPROVBOSTON, a 501(c)(3) non-profit Comedy Theater in Cambridge, MA, by the Chicago Improv Festival (Associate Producer), Toronto Improv Festival (Producer), Richmond Improv Festival (Producer) and ComedySportz Chicago (Director of Education).

Zach has received critical acclaim from the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Tribune for his performance with DUAL EXHAUST (Critic's Choice, Top 10 "Most Influential Comedy Duos of the Past Decade") and THE BEATBOX (Critic's Choice, Best Bet, "Top 5 Latenight Shows in Chicago"). Zach can currently be seen performing and teaching at theaters and festivals around the country.

Zach has studied the art of improvisation with Todd Stashwick (Burn Mahattan), Mick Napier and Susan Messing (Annoyance), Craig Cackowski and TJ Jagodowski (ImprovOlympic), Matt Besser (Upright Citizens Brigade), Amy Poehler (SNL), Michael Gelman (Second City), and with every student he teaches. Zach translates success both in business and on stage to Professional Speaking, Business and Brand Consulting, Leadership Development and Team Building for clients including GSK, Biogen, Cisco, Motorola Latin America, Old Navy, P&G and the YMCA. He might enjoy making suits do comedy most of all.


Ashley Melzer

Ashley Melzer Associate Producer, Programming

Born in North Florida, Ashley is the Associate Artistic Director of the DSI Comedy Theater and a freelance media professional with a Bachelors in Cinematic Arts from the University of Southern California and Masters in Folklore from UNC-Chapel Hill. She has been a credited author, photographer, producer and editor of print, film and digital media. Ashley spent the last three years on staff organizing the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Ashley has worked with the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC, the Independent Weekly, Thornapple Films, eMusic, Paste Magazine, NPR Member Station WUNC, and the Southern Foodways Alliance. Ashley believes the best work comes out of impeccable preparation in advance and cool-headed flexibility in the moment — no surprise, she's also an improviser.


Paula Pazderka

Paula Pazderka Associate Producer, Education

Comedy School Director for the DSI Comedy Theater, Paula has been performing and teaching comedy for over a decade. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Art Institute of Chicago, is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and has a Masters Certificate in Project Management from the George Washington School of Business.

A veteran of ImprovOlympic, The Playground Theatre and ComedySportz Chicago, Paula studied the art of improvisation with Mick Napier, Charna Halpern, Noah Gregoropoulos, Susan Messing, and Joe Bill. She has been recognized for her work with THE PLACEBO EFFECT, The SPEAKEASY PLAYERS, and CHEETARAH as well as with the sketch troupe ASTERISKS (CHICAGO SKETCHFEST 2004-2006). Paula can currently be seen performing with MISTER DIPLOMAT at DSI and around the country.

Paula has conducted improv workshops for professional growth for years; most recently she has worked with Motorola, Duke University, Durham County Health Department, Town of Chapel Hill, SUN (Southern University Newspapers) Conference and Leadership Triangle. Needless to say, Paula takes comedy seriously and believes in serious applications of comedy.