There’s lots of ways to ruin an event. Let’s talk about ruining the entertainment portion, especially if you have gone with comedy.
With any type of live entertainment there is a relationship between the audience and the performer. And nowhere is this more pronounced than with comedy entertainment which, when performed at the highest level, is much more like a dialogue than a monologue. The audience might be able to chat amongst themselves and still enjoy a rock band, but not so with, say stand-up: to be successful the craft requires an audience that is totally engaged.
A professional, experienced and talented comedian knows when an audience isn’t with her and will prattle, prod and engage an audience until she knows they are focused and only then will he get to the heart of her act and the business of making them laugh.
But how, you may ask, can I make a comedy entertainer’s job as difficult as possible?
Let’s say you’re a professional event planner or someone who is otherwise responsible for planning an event for your company. You’ve done your homework and found an comedian who is accomplished, a pleasure to work with and perfectly suits your needs. Now the question is, what can you do to thwart this his remarkable talents and years of experience and make everyone in attendance uncomfortable at the same time?
Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure that the delicate, essential bond between an audience and a comedian is tenuous at best or, better yet, never established in the first place.
Schedule The Entertainer Immediately After A Break
The room is pumped. The most-popular, hardest-working guy or gal in the company has just received his well-deserved award from the CEO and the energy in the room is at its peak. Whatever you do, don’t harness the audience’s energy by immediately introducing to the stage the entertainer you’ve budgeted a sizable sum to procure. Instead, have the CEO, emcee or whoever has the floor to announce a break “of about 15 minutes”. That should be enough time for the room to deflate, the energy vanish and allow the stragglers to head back into the room and settle into their seats while chatting with their fellow fellow employees about golf plans for the following weekend.
Seat The Audience At Round Banquet Tables
For the love of God, you’re not going to ensure that all the seats in the audience are facing the stage, are you? No, no, no. When an entertainer walks on stage you want roughly half the audience facing the back of the room. That way more people will be able to tell when the line for the open bar is down to only a few people. You might also consider leaving the doors in the back of the room open, allowing those seated with their backs to the stage to “people watch” the smokers, stragglers and maybe even catch a glimpse of that woman from the coat check with the ineffable aura about her. Ideally, you want these people who face the back of the room to be completely unaware of what is going on on the stage. Think muzak.
Serve Food During The Show
When a world-class comedy entertainer and a mediocre salad go head to head, the salad wins every time. Anything requiring utensils is best – after all, people are capable of enjoying a comedian with finger food like popcorn just as they are capable of enjoying a movie. Of course, it never hurts to have hard-working servers bustling from table to table pouring water, grinding pepper and sending that steak back to the kitchen until it’s done right.
Arrange For A Large, Empty Space Between The Stage And The Front Row
Nothing is more conducive to an attentive, engaged audience like seating them as close to the stage as possible. There’s an intimacy to this seating arrangement that mimics the openness and rapport of an private conversation. This is why you want a large empty space surrounding the stage. Many venues place a small stage against the wall of a large banquet hall and surround it with a large, empty dance floor: this is the ideal way to ensure your money and reputation go to waste. Nothing sends the the audience the signal “You have nothing to do with this performance” quite like seating everyone no less than a metric mile of the edge of the stage. This way audience members can chat with each other throughout the show while feeling – wrongly – that it has no impact on the overall performance.
The above are just a few basic, feng-shui examples of how to ruin the entertainment portion of your event. The truth is, there are almost as many ways to ruin it as there are second-rate entertainers to ruin it for you.
Do you know other ways to ensure that entertaining at your event is as uphill a battle as possible?
Red Buttons headlined an event honoring Circus Producer Irvin Feld. It appeared he was starting late…but no. Mr Button’s “people” held the show until all plates and cutlery were cleared from the dinner service. He did a sensational show, held the audience, and honored Mr Feld. Clearing the tables was in his contract rider, and wisely so. “I was there.” -Tuba Heatherton
I couldn’t have said it better with one exception. I recently worked a high roller event in Indian Casino Lounge that was layed out with several of the pit falls you describe.. When they asked if I was ready to start, I said I will be as soon as you turn the music off. The so called casino event coordinator asked, All The Way Off? Unbelieveble !!…
All the way off? – – I am still laughing at that!
Try being the sponsor for a show like this. After prepping 700 “in-seat” collateral pieces late into the night prior, the association announced last minute alternative activites drawing the crowd down to less than 150. Tough event all around. The day before, the tradeshow was open for 7 hours and the association bused all attendees off-site the entire day. All of the exhibitors learned how to play Guitar Hero.
LOL so right, as a professional comedy hypnotist, I’ve been faced with round tables, (great if your a Knight) very poor lighting making peoples faces wash or shadow, etc. As for sound, I like to get into the venue for sound checks long before the show begins. (I know settings can get moved or changed) So bring coloured tape and mark your settings for the Mic and music volumes; then if it’s bad you can make some jokes about the sound person lol. Good post, I hope the caterers / event planners read it.
Funny thing, but I remember in my club days when managers or owners thought that they would leave all the TVs on with the football game in progress, the pool table open and so on and so on. It amazes me how they think that works. What I did was during my monologue I would continue a routine while I nonchalantly picked up the cue ball off the pool table and threw it out the front door. If the TVs were on, as I mentioned, I would stand in front of each one, one at a time. You won’t believe how that got the whole place on my side. I would then do a half hour instead of 45 minutes. Only once did I have the manager complain. I told him “why not? you threw my cue ball out the door before I started!
Dance floor in front of stage is a dead certain killer.
Agreed. Did a magic show for funeral home association with HUGE dancefloor in front of the stage and all tables on the outside behind the support pillars. No fun….
I wrote a similar article recently – though not funny like this one – There’s a graphic people should send to event planners..
If you want a .doc version of the graphic so you can edit it for your own purpose just email me.
Larry – That’s a great way to convey such a big, yet easily-overcome problem. Thanks for sharing!
Great post David and I’ve had so many of these recently. Especially when hosting award ceremonies with record breaking sized dance floors of death. Bad PA’s have been another one too small to fill the room. Nothing more joyous than being on stage for an hour with 500 people not being able to hear a word your saying. The sound of talking really helps the focus I feel. 🙂
David, my boy – this is perfect! Every venue planner needs to read this to understand some reasons why their “prize event” may not have gone off as they had hoped. We performers have performed many more times than almost any event planner. We just KNOW what needs to be in place to ensure the best possible show – which, ironically, is what the planner wants in the first place. Once, while I was performing – they had a woman going around making balloon animals for the audience – and, not, these were NOT kids! I actually stopped my set and waited as she squeaked out what became the last balloon animal she was making because I glared at her. Since then, I have turned this into a bit – that always works!
Sensational advice. And, sadly, all to often true.
At my last corporate performance I encountered all of the horrible things you described. This despite the fact that my contract rider expressly stated how the room was to be set up and things that were to be avoided. This post should be required reading for anyone booking anything for corporate audience.
I have encountered all of the above on various occasions just like so many others, but this past December I had one new experience to add to the mix. I am a fulll-time, professional corporate mentalist and magician and have been performing since the 1980s. I’m used to having to think on my feet and be adaptable. Not only did the client fail to see that the conditions of my show rider were met, they crammed me in a room with barely any performing space where the only place I could set up was directly in front of a wall that was…get this…a MIRROR! That’s right; from ceiling to floor the entire wall behind me was a mirror where anyone could look into it and see into my performing case, any secret moves I was doing, etc. When I arrived the man in charge said “Will the mirror be a problem?”
I’ve started sending ‘suggestions’ now to clients on how to not ruin your event. Let’s see how that works… (Not very well is my guess)
Your comments are all valid, David. One aspect to plan well is the timing for an entertainer. You already mentioned an example in your blog. Another is not to feature an entertainer (or speaker) right after arduous physical activities. Presenters that go on right after a nice long golf outing will not get much of an enthusiastic crowd — nor will they get great attendance just BEFORE a golf outing. Set the entertainer/speaker up for SUCCESS.
This is a very impressive blog article. Especially for entertainers who are expected to be funny. Comedy requires focus to follow one story line and then be surprised by an unexpected story line. If they can’t follow the 1st story, they’ll never get the punch because it’s dependent on the unexpected 2nd story. You’ve pointed out several things in any event that can destroy the focus and cause a tough show. Thanks for the insights.
Hire a world class Dueling Piano team and then announce to them as they are setting up, that they will be playing music themes for the audience to act out for the first hour of their show…because you’ve decided the crowd will need a warm up…and you’ve also decided these entertainers you’ve hired probably have no idea how to warm up a crowd. Then whenever you get a chance, “emcee” for the party, because goodness knows we can’t have dueling piano players making announcements. They probably can’t read, and people will probably love to hear your voice take too long to make a point, while the sound guy struggles to crank your mic up so you can actually be heard.
Time to write a comprehensive contract and Rider, No Distractions and spell out those items like a Sound and Light check required, equipment and set items needed – and put in a trigger or two like the infamous Van Halen “Bowl of M&Ms, but No Brown M&Ms” to show immediately that they either didn’t read it or take it seriously.
Then you have time to read them the Riot Act and fix it before showtime. And if they remain clueless, you have time to excercise the Escape Clause (yours) before the Bad Show all becomes your fault.
The audience doesn’t see it, it never happened – as the House Electrician for a retailer I made the show techs pull the plug on a balky multimedia show before they opened the store to guests – different laptop without the right drivers, not pre tested…
If the guests and owners walked in and saw a projection on the wall (the laptop home screen) they would expect something to happen, so they were none the wiser. 😉
Wow, great ideas, Bruce! Good sense.