9/23/2012 2:00:00 PM
With the Christmas season coming can we talk about the correct way to hire and present a comedian at your party? I know you think you know what you're doing... but you don't. Trust me.
First of all... hire the right comedian. Not all comedians are the same just like not all bands are the same. All comedians have video out there that you can watch. If the one you're considering hiring doesn't... you don't want him or her. Pick the one that you think will fit with your group the best and then let him or her do what they do. Don't hire someone and then tell them "I loved your video but it's a little too (whatever) for our company. That would be the same as hiring a rock band and telling them you only want country music. If you haven't at least started looking for a comedian for this Christmas season you'll find most good ones are already booked. I start taking Christmas bookings in January.
Go through an agency. The best ones have an agent because they get lots of offers and have lots of dates booked and they need an agent to keep it all straight for them. Many companies think they're going to save a few dollars by cutting the agent out or going with a comic that doesn't have an agent but guess what? Here's a dirty little secret about comedians. Those are the guys who keep looking for work and if something better comes along they'll call and cancel or just not show up. If you go through an agency the comic has to show up because he has a contract with the agency and if he doesn't show up or tries to cancel he risks all his other work. The best comedic agency in Canada is CALLBACK CORPORATE ENTERTAINMENT.
Be clear about how long a show you want. Most comedians do a maximum of 45 minutes. Some can do an hour. If you want a longer show you hire more than one comedian and you take no breaks between them. The first comedian gets the audience completely focused and the second comedian takes the crowd to a new level. Take a break and the second comedian has to start from scratch and all the energy created by the first is lost. For a Christmas party I recommend 30 minutes. Your staff want to socialize because it's their Christmas party.
Talk to the comedian the week of the function. They will give you tips for making your show better. Get his or her cell phone number and phone them the night of the event if you're running late or early. It's frustrating to arrive at an event and be forced to sit in the lobby for 60 minutes and it has an affect on your energy as a performer. It's never good to arrive and find out supper ended an hour ago and half the crowd is now outside or at the bar.
It's always nice to invite the comedian to join you for supper but 99% will say no. We're often coming from another show to do yours or we just don't want to feel full and tired from a turkey dinner when we go on stage. Also, as every comedian has learned, the people at the table will expect him to be entertaining all throughout supper so it feels a lot like we've been forced to do a free show.
Tell people you have a comedian. A comedy show is never a great surprise. People have to be expecting comedy or it doesn't work. Tell people the name of the comedian. You will always sell more tickets by saying the name because all comedians have fans but you will rarely sell fewer because people see a name unless you're hired a really crappy but well known comedian.
Set the room up properly. I always tell customers to think of a comedy show like the Super Bowl. 4 guys in one house watch it on a 12" black and white TV and 4 guys watch it in the house next door on a High Def wide screen with surround sound. Who enjoys the game more? It's the same game but the guys with the high def have a much better time. Make sure everyone in the room can see and hear the comedian. Never set up tables with the audiences back to the stage. Just like when you watch TV you never do it with your back to the set. If the tables are square angle them like an arrow so people look either left or right to see the stage. If they're round allow room for people to slide their chairs to one side so they can see the performer. Sit in every seat and determine if you would be able to see the comedian and if you can't... don't put a chair there. Turn down the lights in the room and light up the stage. That will help focus the attention of the crowd. Try testing the lights in the room to see how that can be accomplished. If it can't... rent a spotlight.
A comedian needs a stage. He needs to be on a riser at the very least. It allows people at the back of the room to see him. He needs a mic and a mic stand and a stool. These are the tools of the trade. I'm often asked if I would prefer a wireless mic so I can "walk out into the crowd." When have you ever seen a comedian walk out into the crowd? You're confusing a comedian with a clown. Many people assume that if it's a small crowd the comedian won't need a mic at all. That's like asking a pianist if he still needs a piano if it's a small crowd. Rent a good sound system with a hard wired mic and a single pedestal mic stand and test it before the crowd arrives and after the crowd is in. Sound changes when there's a room full of bodies to block the sound. If it doesn't sound crisp, clean and perfect... fix it.
Don't leave a huge separation between the audience and the comedian. We call that the comedy moat. Laughs go there to die. Put the first row of tables inches from the stage. I know you think we're going to pick on you but we're not. We actually have an act that we've spent years honing to perfection and none of us, at least none of the good ones, want to throw that all away to go after the crowd for no reason at all.
Ask the comedian for his intro. Don't assume you've "written him a good one." You haven't. The intro is his and not yours. It's not his bio, it's not a funny story about how you found him, it's not an opportunity to tell a joke about where he's from. His intro is his intro and it will be exactly what he wants the audience to know about him. Before you read the intro get the audiences complete and undivided attention. You should be able to hear a pin drop in the room. If the person you chose to read the intro doesn't agree to stay up there until he or she has the full attention of the room find someone else to do it.
Do not ask the comedian to make announcements about the car who's lights are on or how people can get a taxi voucher. You wouldn't ask Jerry Seinfeld to do that. If you're thinking "Well you're no Jerry Seinfeld" that's true... so hire Jerry next time for $500,000 and we won't have a problem. The guy or girl you hired is a performer and not your emcee.
Once the show is underway you must police the room. If there's a table that's talking or someone is heckling it is NOT the comedians job to take care of that. I know you think that's what we're paid to do but it isn't. If I came into your boardroom meeting and started insulting your president how long would it take for you to have me removed? Why would you allow it to happen to your comedian? You don't need to make a scene... just politely ask them to stop.
Whoever introduced the comedian should be ready to go back on stage when the comedian ends. A comedian should never say good night and leave without somebody acknowledging that he just entertained you for an hour. If the comedian did a great job... tip him. Most of these guys have $50 to $100 in expenses per show for gas, dry cleaning, parking, meals etc. If you liked the job the comedian did tell people how they can hire him or her. Remember, while it's your Christmas party, each spouse in the room may work for a different company that may want to hire him for a function of theirs and comedians need the work.
Do not leave all of this until the night of the event. Almost every company hires a DJ for their event and almost every DJ company can supply the correct sound system and lights for a comedy show. If you wait until the DJ company arrives to set up they will not have brought the right equipment.
Above all... remember... this is YOUR show. You're the producer. If the show goes badly because you failed to do any of these things that failure is on YOUR shoulders.