July 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 1999 Current Issue
July 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Joe Keefe


How to avoid planning pratfalls when making them laugh

A group of attendees finishes a tough meeting; now they want to be entertained. That is the planner's cue to bring out the heavy artillery: comedy. In the capable hands of seasoned professionals, comedy offers many benefits. It is:

  • Universal. Almost everybody loves a good laugh.
  • Relevant. Good comedy deals with the here and now.
  • Engaging. It crosses many lines, opening communication among the group.
  • Cathartic. Laughter releases tension.
  • Energizing. It is difficult to laugh without moving. The following are a few basic rules for planning a funny event.
    The first rule of comedy is "leave the audience wanting more." This rule is misunderstood frequently by those who associate the duration of a performance with its value. Providing an energetic 40 minutes is infinitely better than forcing an audience to sit still for more than an hour.

    When an evening full of entertainment is planned dinner, music, dancing, comedy, etc. start with the comedy. OK, let them eat first, but then go directly to the jokes. Having a comic follow dancing or a band does not work because comedy demands attention; the audience needs to be receptive. If they have been drinking and dancing, they are done for the night.

    Establish a schedule and stick to it. This one works: reception at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:45, dessert at 7:30, comedy at 7:40, and music, dancing and drinks at 8:30.

    Hire a real comic, not the boss' nephew who makes everyone howl at the annual holiday party. Comedy, like all occupations, demands years of blood, sweat and tears to refine the craft.

    Qualified performers will reality provide testimonials, demo tapes and references. If at all possible, see the act live; at the very least, check references.

    Most acts prefer to tailor their material to the event, ensuring an entire category of jokes that are certain to work. Each act will have its own system to identify the information needed, so be prepared to answer questions about the audience.

    It is imperative to confer with the performers beforehand to be certain the material is accurate and appropriate. Make sure they understand what the audience is likely to consider too risqué. When reviewing the material, focus on its accuracy, not its comedic worth. Performers have tested almost everything in front of live audiences; they know their stuff.

    All comics have done corporate gigs. Many stars at the highest level continue to entertain in the business world, but they don't have to. They will take the gig if the offer is lucrative enough and if it works into their schedule.

    For TV stars, prices typically begin at $50,000. Movie stars can run into seven figures, not counting travel expenses for the star and her entourage. Check the contract specs carefully.

    In the middle range, prices for nationally known comics range from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on how hot they are. Sketch-comedy groups in this category include Second City, Dudley Riggs, Capitol Steps and the Groundlings.

    In the lower-budget areas, try local comics. Many have interesting specialties: comedy magic, comic songs, storytelling and stand-up.

    Comedy is great for business groups because they need it so much. For a comic, nothing is more satisfying than a corporate audience laughing out loud as they watch a show tailored to their world.

    JOE KEEFE is executive producer and monsignor of comedy at Chicago’s Second City Communications (

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