Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July
Back to Basics
By Joe Keefe
PRODUCING COMEDY EVENTS
How to avoid planning pratfalls when making them
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
KEEP IT SHORT
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.
OPEN WITH COMEDY
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
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
JOE KEEFE is executive producer and monsignor of comedy
at Chicago’s Second City Communications (www.secondcity.com).
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