As part of an ongoing series on "How to Be a Comedian", Larry Weaver brings exclusive insights from influential comedians, writers, and insiders from the world of comedy. Enjoy these "Guidelines for Corporate Comedy" from the First Lady of corporate comedy, Jan McInnis.
Five of Jan's Guidelines for Corporate Comedy
Be clean.Just taking the F word out of a joke, doesn't make it clean. You need to have clean, funny material before you get booked. And that means you should be able to do a 45 - 60 minute show without even saying the word "crap." And the subject matter, even if it's clean, should try to stay away from sex and drugs.
Find out about the group.Even if you don't plan to write jokes about them, and just want to do your boilerplate act (mistake in my opinion!), you should know your audience. If nothing else, it'll keep you out of trouble by not bashing gas companies at the WPMA meeting because that is the Western Petroleum Marketers Association, you know, the people who make their living selling gas. AND it'll give you ideas for marketing - like how about the Eastern Petroleum Marketers Association.
Tell them how to set the show.You're not dealing with a comedy club owner who knows how to make comedy work, this is a meeting planner who's concerned with a thousand other details, like getting 500 people fed on time. They may not know that comedy shouldn't be going on while the waiters are serving the 5-course meal, or that a big dance floor moat between you and the audience kills the intimacy of the show. Heck, they may even have you performing behind a podium. You need to take charge and tell them how to set the room, when is the best time to bring you on (after dinner, before awards), etc.
Show 'em you've done this before.
Unlike comedy clubs, who want to make sure you've got the time if you say you can headline, companies are more concerned with making make sure you've done this for other companies - they don't want to be your test animal in the corporate market. So give them names and quotes from other companies for whom you've performed. If you're new to corporate shows, then start doing as many shows at whatever price that you can get, just to get those testimonials.
You don't always get to win.
This is a hard one for comics, because in the comedy club, we're paid to be funnier than the heckler. In the corporate market, the heckler may just be the drunk boss. And if he starts in on you, you need to goof lightly, and then let it go.
And your extra bonus guideline... It's not about you.This is about these people and their event. They didn't choose to come to a comedy show, the entertainment was decided for them, and you were brought into their world. So running over your time, being a prima donna backstage, etc. . . are big no nos.
These are just a few of the many things you need to pay attention to in the corporate market. Some comics think the corporate market is too stuffy and they can't be themselves. And they might be right. The only really hard and fast rule of comedy is that you must be true to yourself. If you cuss a lot, then by all means do it in your act . . .you'll find your market and be a success. If you try to clean it up just to make a buck, then you won't think it's funny and your audience will agree. There are tons of different types of comedy avenues, from bar gigs to churches. Find the one that fits you first, and then work hard to become a star there.
Jan McInnis is a corporate comedian and comedy writer. She was featured in the Wall Street Journal as one of the most popular convention comedians, and she's done hundreds of shows for companies and associations.