For many years my services have been engaged to perform standup comedy at corporate functions, including things such as product launches, seminars, work breakup parties and many others. Here's a little guide for anyone thinking of hiring me for such an event, or any comedian for that matter.
You see, corporate entertainment does generally pay well, and so it should. They can be the most difficult gigs of all. Picture a bunch of people who really aren't there to see comedy. Picture a venue where the setting might not be ideal for a comedy set. And then there's the dreaded mediocre sound and lighting that often accompanies such a thing. So here's some tips to consider if you'd like to get a comedian to come along to one of your events to entertain your guests and add that little touch of humour to your evening or afternoon.
- SOUND AND LIGHTING
Please ensure that the P.A. being used is adequately loud and very clear in order to capture the audience and hold their attention. It's also very important that the comedian is highly visible as well, so please ensure there is ample lighting. A comedian's facial expressions are often a major part of the jokes, and without that, some guests might even think that the comedian is being serious!!! We never are, but unless you see the accompanying facial expressions, those who don't see a lot of live comedy might not really understand the context.
No, I'm not referring to a comedian's timing of his jokes, although that's also very important. I'm referring to what stage of the evening a comedian should come on. This is a crucial part of it. A comedian should always go on within the first 2-3 hours of any given function. Any later than that and you'll probably find a tiring audience that has possibly had one or two drinks too many. It is also important that if you're doing a presentation during your event, or even speeches at a wedding for example, that a comedian should not follow any instance where the guests have been sitting for some time and listening to lengthy speeches or a long presentation. It'd be best to put the comedian on before such a time, or if that's not possible, then give your guests a rest before introducing them to the comedy set. And even though this may seem obvious, it's very much worth mentioning that comedians should NEVER be made to perform during any sort of meal service. Surely we all know how difficult it is to laugh with a mouth full of beef or chicken, and how distracting the sound of cutlery on plates would be to speakers of any sort, let alone a standup comedian who requires the full attention of his onlookers.
- APPROPRIATE INTRODUCTIONS
The way a comedian is introduced is paramount to a successful gig. Comedians never go out of their way to cause offence at a formal event, and particularly, during such occasions, the material is usually of a family-friendly or PG-rated nature. We certainly know it's poor form to come to them using foul language and taboo topics. That said, comedians do push boundaries, and it is almost impossible (especially these days) to not offend somebody in the room. So, when a comedian is being brought on, a simple thing like making it clear that the next speaker or form of entertainment is actually a "comedian" actually goes a long way towards preparing your guests for what's coming. Knowing the speaker is comedian and not meant to be taken seriously may give the potentially sensitive guest enough foresight to make allowances for those jokes that may otherwise make them a little uncomfortable. I've been at too many events where I was given a poor intro and it often took several minutes for the audience to relax enough to start laughing at my jokes. It seems trivial to some, but it's vitally important.
- PERSONALISING THE SHOW
It's become a little specialty of mine to come to an event armed with information pertaining to the people who'll be present. For example, I've done many end of year functions for businesses where I've been able to ascertain information about key people who work for the company that hired me and have created comedic poems where I've dedicated a couple of lines to each person. It's always very light-hearted in nature and invariably is very well received. I've also "roasted" the boss with hilarious results, but always take great care to not insult anyone. And even as a wedding MC I make efforts to get to know a bit about the couple so I can sound knowledgeable on the night and hopefully come across as a friend rather than some guy who got hired to MC the event. Sometimes those who hire me don't want this, and that's fine too. But if they do, then I'm very willing to put something together. Generally I will run things past somebody prior to the event in order to avoid potential embarrassment, but if something like this is appealing, then talk to me and I'll explain more about what I do.
- LASTLY - YOUR GUESTS
More often than not, the guests at these events look forward to a bit of light entertainment and are usually up for it. However, there has been the occasional instance where the guests can be a bit rowdy and inattentive. Alcohol can often be the reason, but some people are just downright rude. In that scenario, the best thing to do is to politely ask said person or people to calm down and take a seat and either watch the show or wait outside if they're not interested. The one thing that kills any corporate comedy set is a rowdy room with no controls in place. You guys are the ones spending good money to have an entertainer present. He or she needs every chance to be able to perform at their best. When it becomes a battle, the last thing you want is for the comedian to try and control the crowd. Yes, to some extent we can do so, but asking someone to be settled is usually far more well-received from their peers than by some comedian who's a veritable stranger to that person trying to do a job. And before you ask, no, heckling is not "part of the show". We'd prefer not to ever have to deal with it, and even though we are usually equipped to handle such things, it doesn't always work out for the best.
Anyway, I hope this helps you understand the plight of a comedian facing a corporate gig. I've done some rippers in my time. I've had some great times and sincerely hope I've added something to those nights. What I have learnt in my 24 years of doing standup comedy is that many people don't fully understand the ingredients required to do a good show in a setting not designed for comedy. Hopefully these tips can help you when considering hiring a comedian for your next event. And furthermore, you'll set it up in such a way that you get full value for the money you spend.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Gabriel Rossi -Comedian/MC