You Think It's Funny?

Comedians and comedic groups are part of many meetings and special events. However, some meeting planners don't take the necessary "precautions" to set the best stage for comedy to truly shine.

For many years, The Goodman Speakers Bureau has worked with The Comedy Team of Mack and Jamie as well as with other comedians and comedic groups. Mack and Jamie recently shared their insights on how professional meeting planners can get the most from comedians—and how to stop shooting them in the foot (so to speak).

"In a nutshell, we know how to present comedy in a way that knocks 'em dead and makes the planner look like a hero," Mack says. "Sometimes, however, we meet up with a planner who goes out of their way to virtually guarantee a comedy act will fail miserably. It is our mission to put an end to this tragedy."

Mack and Jamie strongly suggest the following strategies when working with comedians:

Match the audience with the act. Booking a raunchy comedian for an association of church counselors is asking for a tar-and-feather party to the tune of "Kumbaya."

Keep the audience in the dark, and the comedian in the light. Audiences relax in the anonymity of a dark room, which gives them the freedom to be themselves and not have to watch the CEO for approval to laugh.

Check what's going on in adjacent rooms. We once had to do our entire act separated from an Iranian wedding reception by a six-inch airwall. We got lots of laughs doing improvisational dances to their music, but we wouldn't care to do it again.

Give the comedian complete focus. Ask any comedian, and he or she will tell you that the quality of the silence and pauses help deliver the laughs. If, during a pause, you hear someone's cell phone conversation or a waiter calling for more coffee at table nine, you've broken the spell and the laugh will fizzle.

Give the comedian as fresh an audience as possible. Don't "cap" a long, boring session or awards presentation with a comedian to leave 'em laughing. Don't expect a comedian to hold an audience that's already 45 minutes late for lunch—or has already had three cocktails, and is ready to hit the sack. Stay on schedule—use annoying bells, if you must.

Check sound and sight lines. As with any speaker, have the comedian do a microphone check and walk the stage to make sure a big portion of the audience isn't blocked by the potted palm trees or the 14-foot Plywood Sales Projections chart.

Fill the comedians in on what they need to know. Nothing can dig a hole for a comedian like calling the new CEO "Bill" when her name is Lilly.

Don't introduce the comedian before the audience is paying attention. "Oh, they'll sit down and be quiet as soon as you come on," is not a professional approach. Nor is, "They'll come in from the cocktail party as soon as they hear people laughing."

Don't allow any other activity in the room. A comedian's success depends entirely on how many chuckles and guffaws come out of the audience's mouths—which should not be plugged with lunch, dinner, or dessert. Finish the meal, clear the waitstaff, ask people to turn off cell phones, close up the craps table in the back of the room—then introduce the comedian.

Don't wear them out with amateur comedy. Trust us. No comedian wants to hear: "But before we introduce our entertainment, we've got a little send-off for Dave, who's retiring after 26 terrific years."

Don't put a dance floor between the comedian and the audience. A vast expanse of parquet makes comedians feel as if they're performing on a tarmac.

More and more attendees are bringing their families to meetings. This can be problematic for comedians, so discourage parents from bringing kids to shows for grown-ups. We're a clean act, but that doesn't mean we're a good fit for kids, and it's unfair to expect us to do a Sesame Street set just because the CEO wants to show off his tykes in their dress-up clothes.

Don't allow comedians to shamelessly plug themselves—unless they've contributed a helpful article. Then simply follow the ultimate Do: Hire Mack and Jamie to ensure that your comedy show is a howling, stomping, clapping success.

Diane Goodman, CMP, is founder and president of The Goodman Speakers Bureau. She is author of Survive the Search, a workbook to help streamline the professional speaker selection process. She can be reached at, [email protected] For more information on Mack and Jamie and other comedians, visit www.goodmanspeakersbureau.com.

Originally published July 1, 2008

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