I have outlined in past stories here the best ways to approach a corporate event. The most important thing I have stressed is even if the client says say whatever you want onstage, IGNORE THAT. It’s nice to hear that so you know you have a little leeway in pushing the PG envelope a little more, but you need to always try to do a show that is less dirty than they expected it to be. By doing this, you can never get in trouble with the booking agent.
A few weeks back I did a show that ended up being an exception to this rule. First thing you should know is that my contact person, Dawn, was great. I could tell she was a lot of fun from my pre-show phone call to get the scoop on the company. This helps a lot, as if your contact person seems to be nervous and not totally committed to comedy, they are going to make you nervous about the show. I get there a couple hours early and pull up to the event which was being held in a bar/restaurant in Wisconsin. Let’s break down this sentence.
- The show was at a bar. This isn’t always such a great setting for a comedian, but it does create an atmosphere that is a little looser. Definitely looser than a employee breakroom like the one I wrote about a few months back.
- The show took place in Wisconsin. This is my favorite state to do comedy in. People are nice and in general, very open-minded, especially because many of them are libationally lubricated.
I should also mention that this wasn’t just any bar. It was a bar that has bands play on the weekend, so there was good sound and lighting, plus a stage. I always try to eat dinner before my corporate event so I can get a feel for the group and I don’t come off as much as someone who is just a hired gun. The impression I quickly got from this group was they like to have fun and they all get along pretty well with each other. Things are looking good.
Before the show I was told that there is one employee who sees himself as an amateur comedian. (Definition: Potential Heckler) I had hear he made things a little difficult for the past couple of comedians they had at their events. Good info to know.
So I get up onstage and I’m pretty confident that I’m going to do great. I might be a little delusional on this front, but pretty much in any situation I expect to do well. I have followed opening acts who haven’t gotten a laugh the whole time they were onstage and I still expect I will turn that around. It’s a mix of me believing in my track record of doing well in almost any situation and enough of an ego that no one can stop me at being funny. (As regular readers here have discovered, that doesn’t always happen for me, though:)
I did not do very well at the beginning. The setting was pretty good, but like many one-nighter bar shows, there was a portion of people at the actual bar who were focused on talking with each other, not in listening to me. This is not something I can go off on about, as this was their company christmas party so I can’t yell at them for doing what they want. The majority were paying attention but I wasn’t connecting like I expected. Then my heckler buddy started up.
Now, I have stressed that I never want a heckler. I’m really good at shutting them down, but I have worked hard developing my material, so I would rather do it than just rip away. I hate to admit this, but a handful of times a heckler has helped my show. When there is an audience that is not all on board with listening to you, an added variable like a heckler can get the audience more in tune with your show—as long as you do well slamming them. (If you don’t win that heckler battle, though, you will probably lose almost everyone in the audience, as they weren’t totally on your side to begin with.)
So my high-wire situation began. If I connected a few blows to this heckler, I can turn this fight around. If I swung wildly and missed, it was going to be a long fight of me taking a lot of body blows and then losing the decision. I connected. The crowd loved that I hit him hard as many of them were used to these guy heckling them at work. To keep them on my side I started to push the envelope a little on my material. No F-bombs and no graphic sexual material, but I started to loosen up what I said a little and added more attitude like it was a bar show.
The rest of the show went great. I grew up in a small, Midwestern town. I grew up in a blue-collar house where both my Grandfathers and my Dad worked in a factory. This group was like my family. So when a couple other people threw comments at me. I hit back at them. It was like I was accepted as just another one of the guys who work there.
I have always admired most about Bill Clinton the way he can walk into any demographic of people and connect. I can do high society type shows and I can do dive bar type shows. It’s no accident I can do this. I’m a well-read person who has an instinct for what people are interested in and I work hard at connecting with my audience. I know that sounds egotistical, but I’ve worked hard to get to this place. I’m not a former President of the United States, but I know how to kiss the babies and press the flesh.