Corporate Gigs: How Comedians Score the Laughs

6 September 2017

With awards season  soon to be upon us in the events world, there are a few decisions to be made in order to create the perfect recipe for event success. If you are hosting a glamorous ceremony for your company and colleagues the host of said awards  is the glue holding your whole evening together. It is always good to opt for a host with natural wit who can tame a boisterous crowd, so the natural choice falls to comedians .

However, many comics are used to low lighting in a basement bar, where cheap drinks are flowing and everyone is looking for a good time. They want to laugh. Whether this is performing at the Fringe  or one of the UK’s comedy clubs, it is a very different scene to the corporate set. The glitzy black-tie dinner in a huge room with raucous tables waiting for their awards, the comedian is not always the focal point of the evening. With twenty precious minutes to impress a crowd, compared to the hour-long gig, it is a tricky business translating the solo show to a corporate setting. We spoke to a few comedians  who know the tricks of the trade to see how they manage to do it, and most importantly what they can bring to your awards ceremony.

First up we spoke to comedian, actor and MC Alistair Barrie . Renowned on the comedy circuit, Alistair performed at Speakers Corner’s very own showcase.

He commented: “it’s vital to tailor your performance to the audience at any corporate event. This is even truer if you are there as a working comedian, rather than a celebrity one - who will be being paid for their magic showbiz gold dust as much as their ability to craft a decent one-liner. Not wishing to belittle my trade or those generous enough to pay me to practice it, but as their monkey, it is not unreasonable for them to expect you to dance for them a little.

Unless it’s specifically requested, it’s quite tricky to shift a solo show wholesale to a corporate setting, and it’s important to remember these shows are more about the audience than presenting your carefully polished bauble for critical consideration at The Edinburgh Festival. I did a very well received solo show on my wife’s breast cancer for instance, but when I was asked to do a set at a corporate cancer charity event, I very much adapted it to the people in the room.

You also need to think about practicalities. Not everyone wants to hear your coruscating twenty-five-minute diatribe about housework/gym bunnies/global warming etc. slap bang in the middle of a 90-minute awards presentation. Knowing when less is more is an invaluable skill.

I always think it’s a good idea to write some specific material relevant to the audience, but it is worth bearing in mind you are unlikely to come up with a golden half hour on, I don’t know - the actuarial sector, so do include some well-worn stuff that you consider the closest thing you have to a bulletproof vest.

Alistair Barrie

In general terms, I find the internet an invaluable tool. Company websites often provide some delightful ‘corporate-speak’ which it is easy to poke gentle fun at. And that is, I think the main skill of a corporate set – being able to gently mock, but with manners. Any company or group that cannot laugh at themselves probably shouldn’t be booking a comedian, but then again, any comedian that plays a corporate set should have the skills to adapt his performance and the good taste not to bite the hand that feeds too hard, even if he is a monkey.

Comedian Rod Woodward  made similar points to Alistair, focusing on the need to find the right balance with audience humour, he highlights the importance of remembering that this is a set you’ve been hired for, rather than one the audience has paid entry to.

Rod stated that: “I believe that in order to consistently strike the right chord as a comedian at corporate gigs, you need to be prepared to adapt your approach and try to broaden your appeal. Unlike a comedy gig where everyone has come out and paid the admission with the intention of having a laugh, often the entertainment at a corporate event is a more incidental part of the day and the audience - whilst they may be up for a great time - tend to be more cross-sectional with a very varied taste in humour.

Rod Woodward

Sometimes they may not even be expecting a comedian. With that in mind, it can be hugely destructive to go steaming in with the comedy club ethos that anything goes for language and material, as corporate audience are often more self-conscious and conservative. It's generally a good idea to keep it clean, accessible and inoffensive. It's also good to do a bit of research. Find out who the audience are and what the event is - personalised or relevant material usually goes down a storm…  oh and it also helps to be a bit funny!”

Comedian and TV presenter Mark Dolan  made Speakers Corner a video to tell our clients his top tips for making a comedy set work in the corporate environment.

Thanks to all our comedians, it is great to hear from experienced comedians who will provide a safe pair of hands. Every act has something different to bring to the corporate circuit and we are always happy to chat through individual talents and offerings.

To book, or for more info. on any of our speakers, call us on +44 (0) 20 7607 7070 or email us at .

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