Making Money doing Corporate Comedy
by Jerry Corley
Corporate comedy is a world of its own within the comedy industry. It is a segment of the business that is totally separate from the mainstream club and college work.You can do corporate comedy and make a really good living without people in the mainstream comedy world really even knowing your name. Yet, it’s a perfectly legitimate way to keep up your stand up and writing chops and bring in a nice income.
The most important thing to remember about doing corporate comedy is that the material has to be clean. There is no bigger faux pas in the corporate comedy business than delivering “blue” material—well, besides not showing up! I know several inexperienced corporate comedians who have done shows for companies and thought they were staying “safe” by asking the corporate audience if they would like to hear a “clean” joke or a “dirty” joke. Inevitably, you will have someone in the audience shout out “dirty!” The problem with this approach is that there is always someone in the audience—could be the CEO’s wife, or husband who is offended. When you offend someone in the audience at a corporate show you are not only doing yourself a disservice but also causing a ripple effect that impacts the entire corporate comedy circuit. That company, for one, will probably not hire another comedian for an event and the word will spread like wildfire that comedy equals “blue” and therefore is not appropriate for a corporate event.
In a nutshell, keep it clean!
Corporate comedy works like this: A company, say Wells Fargo Bank, calls a corporate agent or looks you up on the internet or a rep for the company sees you in a club and wants to hire you for a Holiday party, annual meeting, retirement party, etc. They say they want you to do comedy for them. You secure a price which varies. I charge $1000-$3500 depending on where it is, how much time they expect and if they want me to write and perform material customized for their organization. We arrange details: transportation, accommodations and payment arrangements. I do an interview with the contact or send out a questionnaire I prepare to get some information on their company; any pet peeves, outstanding circumstances, exciting news, competitors, local politics, etc. Then I write several jokes about their company and their industry and make sure it flows nicely around my clean act and I’m ready.
Recently I did a show for Wells Fargo Bank. I opened with some jokes about the really small plane I had to take to get into Grand Junction, Colorado:
“I was all the way in the back of the plane in seat six…The in-flight entertainment was shadow puppets!” When we landed at the airport there is no tower, there’s a guy standing on a lifeguard stand waving us in with a couple of flashlights…”
That got them on a little roll so I went into some stuff about their bank:
“You know, when Julie Link (the coordinator), asked me to perform for your company party I quoted her a firm price, but I forgot to tell her that that was just for the ATM: the Automatic-Joke-Teller-Machine. In order to hear the live comedy, it’s gonna cost you an additional surcharge…and I read the Wells Fargo is second largest bank in the U.S. with four hundred and sixty billion dollars in assets…
I invited them to applaud here by repeating “four hundred and sixty billion” and clapping myself. This gives them a chance to be proud in their success.
…with four hundred and sixty billion in assets, when you walk into a branch, don’t you think they could give you a damn ball point pen that works? And why do you have to chain them to the desk? You have four hundred and sixty billion dollars in assets! You should be giving them away…you should be throwing boxes of pens at your customers…!”
They laughed pretty loud here and gave me an applause break that I didn’t have to encourage. Once I had them, it allowed me to segue into my own clean material, but also giving them the impression that I wrote the whole act for them!
It took me only a couple hours of preparation, research and actual joke writing to come up with a little bit of humor focused on their interests and the interests of the company that hired me. I was able to do this using the same techniques that you will learn at the Stand Up Comedy Clinic.
The great thing about corporate work is that you fly in, stay in first class accommodations, fly out the next day and you’re home with a nice paycheck. You meet some nice people, have a chance to write some new material, have fun being funny and you get paid! What a life, huh?! Well, gotta go! Hewlett Packard is on the phone!
Jerry Corley is a 20-year professional stand up comedian. He was a contributing writer for the Tonight Show with Jay leno for 8 years and teaches a comedy workshop in the Los Angeles area.