corporate stand up comedy

The 2 biggest impediments

Let’s get straight to the point. The 2 biggest impediments in corporate stand up comedy are poor logistics and inappropriate material.

Poor Logistics

When I use the term ‘logistics’ I’m talking firstly about all the technical elements. When they’re substandard it may include poor sound quality, insufficient or inappropriate lighting, the lack of a stage or a stage that is too high, a tricky room layout featuring an L shape and perhaps a noisy kitchen alongside. I also include the schedule of activities or running sheet in the term logistics.  The flow of the night is very important to you as a comedian and factors like the timing and length of the food and beverage service, awards ceremony, charity auction, silent auction, fashion parade etc can have a very detrimental effect on your performance. You need to try to control the logistics by finding out as much as you can about the event at least a week or two before. Then you need to make your preferences clear, in writing if possible. Click here to see my 10 point wish list that I send to clients prior to a gig. You may fear that you’ll seem unprofessional by appearing needy. It’s actually quite the opposite. Your client has booked you, a professional, and you know what is required for a successful performance. Your wish list should fill them with the confidence that you have experience and, in the right environment, will do a great job.

Poor Material

Equally important in corporate stand up comedy is your choice of material. I address this particularly to comedians who are not household names. Chances are the audience haven’t come to see you. In fact, you could argue the opposite, you have come to see them. This is in fact the starting point that I use and I find that it works really well for me. I step into their world first then bring them into mine. Psychologically I’m talking in my opening about THEM, the topic all people are most interested in. I do this in the most crucial part of the routing, the first 5 minutes. Once they relax and laugh at themselves I move further away from their lives and into material about mine. Note: I firmly believe that there are NO rules in comedy. Each comedian can have success in any style if they’re funny. However, I do believe that every experienced comedian has endured the hit and miss nature of our work, particularly in corporate stand up comedy. They can’t all be gold! But I believe I have a few tips that can help corporate comics increase their success. I believe in the mantra ‘Connect, Connect, Connect’. My aim is always to engage and connect deeply with my audience. I believe that to do this I need to know exactly how they tick. I want to understand their industry and/or company, their successes, failures, their biggest competitors, their motivations, frustrations and their plans for the future.

crowd sitting at a recent corporate stand up comedy gig

My crowd on a recent corporate stand up gig.

Corporate stand up comedy is different

Notice a difference straight away between corporate comedy and club gigs? There is a lot more preparation prior to a corporate event to pull off a great gig, particularly without a public profile. Celebrities can simply discuss their celebrity and the audience is fascinated. Non celebrities take a greater risk if they only talk about themselves. I’ve seen excellent comics lose the audience despite having great jokes. In many cases the audience is tired after a full day of meetings. The trick is to talk about THEM. Writing custom material about a company or person has the same effect on the audience as being in a daze and suddenly hearing someone calling your name. “Blah, blah blah yadda yadda FRED…FRED…FRED!” You suddenly snap out of it and become engaged. Doing your homework on the audience prior to the gig will give you a better connection with your audience, more material and equip you with more flexibility to improvise.

Picture yourself as a guest at a conference gala night. Your company is part of a renewal energy association and you are surrounded by colleagues and competitors. Each year there is a different entertainer. Last year was a magician. This year is a comedian you’ve never heard of. Your mind wanders and you begin thinking It must be hard to make a whole room laugh. How do these comedians do it? What if they fail? I wonder who this guy is? He better be good! Then the comedian is introduced and your colleagues are still talking with their backs turned to the stage. You are distracted. In fact you realise you’re feeling a little sorry for the comedian. He began with jokes about Facebook then Star Wars then his wife and his cat. It seemed funny but why aren’t people watching him?

The answer is that without knowing the comedian, the audience may only give a percentage of their attention to them. They didn’t come to see the comedian but they did come to network and do business. As they are part of an association there’s no boss to impress so they can behave as they like. What follows is a section of the crowd at the front engaged while the section at the back are disengaged. This is very typical in corporate stand up comedy gigs. What’s the solution?

I believe the solution is in the material. If the comedian came out during the renewable energy gala and immediately started with a thought provoking opening line like “Solar panels are our future? Seriously? Didn’t work for me” then inserted a very funny joke about installing them indoors, I believe, the response would be totally different. The audience would be immediately engaged in the topic they know so much about. Even a line like “Realising you’re all about renewables I’m going to use the exact same jokes I used last year” and then continuing to talk about renewable energy would be a better start. I like referencing the person who booked me to come along “When Gary Anderson asked me to perform tonight I originally said… no way get lost”. Any time you mention characters in the audience up front in the set it looks like you know them and therefore you’re accepted by the them i.e. you’re part of the team. Psychologically it’s suddenly a lot harder for the audience to reject one of their own (i.e. you).

So to summarise, I believe the most important factors at a corporate stand up gig are the logistics and your material. When either of these are substandard they become a huge impediment to a successful experience.

Take the time to request what you need in advance and do your homework on your client. It’ll pay off for you in a much higher percentage of successful gigs in the future.

Good Luck!


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You never stop learning

I keep hearing over and over that corporate stand up comedy gigs can ‘destroy your soul’ as an artist. This is perfectly understandable given the difference between a club gig and a corporate gig. I find that I never stop learning ways to improve my corporate stand up odds for success. Let’s look at the differences between the two environments.

At a Comedy Club

At a club you are most likely working in a controlled environment that is designed for comedy. The logistics are well thought out, from the sound, lighting and stage height, size and position. The crowd has also come to see you in particular or comedy in general. The crowd is also more educated in comedy and many are regulars meaning they are more likely to understand your material and accept and appreciate your persona. The venue staff should also know how to operate in this environment priming the audience for a great night through good quality, efficient, and at times subtle, table service. All of these factors make for a great night.

At a Corporate Event

Contrast this to a corporate event where the environment may be out of your control. The logistics of the sound, lighting, stage, room layout and schedule may all run counter to a great night. There may also be political rivalries in the room where business colleagues or competitors may have created tensions with each other. Suddenly you enter the stage hoping for success in what may be a totally foreign environment for you. How do you raise the odds of success?

My tip is to try to resolve as many issues as possible by making as many demands as you can immediately after you have been booked for the gig. Chances are you will have an agent to negotiate for you. If so, give the agent your wish list. It’s a document that lists everything you would like in a perfect world. Acknowledge that it may not all be possible but if you have a few that are deal breakers, let your agent or the direct client know. The earlier you get your list in the more chance you have of getting what you need. Don’t expect to get the full list if you only ask on the night.

Here’s my 10 point stand up comedy checklist for corporate gigs:

• I would like a stage that is higher than the audience by at least 30cms.

• Please provide me with a hand held radio mic tuned so that I can walk into the audience without fear of feedback.

• I would like to have the room lights dimmed just before my introduction. This will help focus the crowd.

• Please provide a natural wash of light on the stage. If you only have a coloured wash, please include 1 or 2 white spotlight(s) as the dominant stage light. (Note, a projector is not acceptable)

• I would like a straight mic stand placed in the centre/front and a high stool (or a small card table) to the side.

• I perform with a glass/bottle of water on the stool/card table.

• Please have the host introduce me using the supplied introduction. Also please read the preamble, regarding turning off mobile phones and turning chairs to the front, prior to the main introduction.

• I recommend placing my performance after the main course and before desserts. Please ensure I perform before dancing begins. 

• If I am following a long segment, for example an awards ceremony, please consider giving the audience a short refreshment/restroom break prior to my performance. 

• Please ensure there is no table service during my performance.


Although the list may seem very long, if I was producing my own show, it would be even longer! By the way, be careful though not to scare the client, especially if they are new to running events. Make it clear that this list is designed to make your set, and therefore their night, more successful. You are trying to connect with your audience and this list will help enormously. Remember to be flexible though; if you don’t get some of your wishes, decide if they are deal breakers or not. If you can negotiate on some of the stand up comedy checklist then well done! If you are very unhappy, don’t do the gig.


There are 2 main impediments to having a successful corporate stand up comedy gig.  In my next blog I’ll share these with you, give you the solutions and give you some great tips along the way.

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