After over a decade of performing comedy in comedy clubs, theatres, hotel ballrooms and conference centres, I’d thought I’d put together a quick post for all those who have been put in charge of planning their office holiday party – or even more stressful yet – hiring an entertainer.
There are seemingly endless varieties of entertainers you can hire for your company party, but I’m going to jump right to ‘how to hire a comedian’ because that is, after all, what I do.
Erica’s Top 5 tips for hiring a comedian:
Standup comedy works best with great sound, a seated audience and a dark room with a spotlight on the performer. The only one of these three that can be really sacrificed is the spotlight. If your event involves people wandering around – standup comedy will almost never work.
Many holiday parties are done without the spotlight, but good sound and seating are key. If you are using round tables, whoever is introducing the comedian should ask people to turn and face the stage.
Most people in the crowd realize two minutes into a performance that they are craning their necks, but are too shy to make a fuss and turn around.
#2. The Dance Floor.
I’d guess that 50% of the parties I perform at over the holidays involve a stage with sound equipment, a DJ and me all facing an empty dance floor.
The tables have been set up around the dance floor causing what is often referred to in the comedy business as ‘the comedy moat’.
Comedy works best with the audience close to the stage, as seen in almost every single comedy club across the continent. A giant empty space in between the comedian and the audience and it’s hard to feel connected.
You’ve paid good money for a comic, have the tables set up on the dance floor and ask the catering staff to move them before the dancing.
#3. You Get What You Pay For.
It’s nice how I hid this right in the middle, because it’s generally something that you’re told right before someone quotes you a price and milk may or may not fly out your nose. But it’s true.
Look for a comedian who has references, and/or television credits. TV credits let you know s/he has been given a guideline of content and language restrictions and worked within them.
There’s no shortage of people who will offer up their comedic stylings for a ridiculously low price, but if they’re the only people telling you they’re funny – that could be a warning sign.
#4. Language & Content.
I can only speak for myself here, but I’m sure many other comics feel the same way when they say they have no desire to offend a group of people out for a turkey dinner with their coworkers. Most of us are pretty good at reading a crowd and if we walk into a party full of octogenarians, we’re probably not going to talk about twitter for thirty minutes.
I use this to describe content, and it seems to make it clear to both parties.
TV Clean- this means any content you may see on television that airs before 11pm on a network. I find this is usually the best for corporate shows because it’s not offensive but also not bland. I usually refer to Two and a Half Men as the benchmark of content. There will be innuendo but nothing graphic and possibly a few light curse words but nothing profane.
If you have someone in your organization that you are afraid might be offended, I suggest letting them know ahead of time there is a comedian performing and if at any time they want to step out, no big deal.
*if there will be children in attendance – let the comic know well in advance, not the day of the performance.
#5. Where to put a comedian?
It is always greatly appreciated when a client invites the comic to come for dinner before the performance, but the invitation is rarely accepted.
Most comics don’t like to eat right before a show.
I sometimes like to poke my head in the room and look at the audience, but eating a meal and engaging in small talk is tough to do when you’re in a pre-show headspace.
It sounds anti-social, but before performing comics generally like to sit at the back of a room or back stage alone with their note book and a water or a beer.
A little prep can go a long way and save you heaps of stress on the day of your holiday party!