Is The Boss Laughing? Why Corporate Shows Are Easy

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There’s hardly a gig I haven’t done: nude cruises, kids’ birthday parties, comedy clubs,  The Tonight Show, colleges, parades, corporate events – you name it, I’ve done it. Of all of them, corporate shows are unique in at least one respect: the audience is keenly attuned to the boss’s reaction.

It’s not like performing for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, of course, but corporate audiences do tend to be inordinately cautious about not laughing until they’re sure the CEO is.

Which makes performing for corporate audiences a nightmare, right?

Wrong. Why not? The reason is simple: the CEO isn’t worried about what her boss thinks – she is the boss. While employees, desirous of keeping their jobs, are taking cues from her, she’s simply enjoying the show.

This is one of the reasons corporate shows tend to be far easier than, say, college shows, where the boss (i.e. professors and faculty) are processing the show through their politically-correct (i.e. leftist) ideological lens rather than simply having a good time.

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Speakers: Be Quiet But Not Sneaky Quiet

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 2.00.58 PMWhat’s more distracting: a speaker who openly refers to the clipboard in her hand or one who stares long and hard at the top of the podium each time she takes a sip of water? One who furtively glances at his watch to see how he’s doing on time or one who makes no effort to conceal doing so?

Many years ago when I moved into a friend’s house he asked that when arriving home late at night that I be quiet but not “sneaky quiet”. Cautiously turning the key and gently opening the front door; tip-toeing around the house to prevent the floors from creaking: all these things, he explained, are not only more likely to wake him but more likely to terrify him in the middle of the night. The routine sounds of a respectful housemate coming home late, on the other hand, might wake him briefly but would also send him quickly back to sleep.

Much better for all involved to simply be open about it.

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Happy Performers Make Happy Audiences

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The Orange County Magic & Comedy Showcase in Orange, California is remarkable: instead of limiting the amount of time performers spend on stage, its producer and emcee Joe Derry limits the number of performers. By leaving it to performers to self-police their time on stage, they are freed to spend all their focus on what they’re doing.

Everyone – including the audience – benefits tremendously.

“No one is prowling the back of the room with a watch and a flashlight, waiting to give you your two-minute light” explains Derry. The result is like a much-needed breath of fresh air: performers are relaxed and enjoy an unmistakable sense of camaraderie that’s virtually impossible with the assign-a-slot mindset that prevails at so many showcases.

When I was building up my stand-up comedy act at open-mics, giving performers “the light” was deemed a necessity – and few things go further to ensure that performers are put on ice from the moment they arrive.

By limiting the number of sign-ups instead of the amount of time they spend on stage, Derry’s showcase avoids another problem that famously vexes the format: an audience that consists mostly of sign-ups anxiously waiting their turn. At the OCMC showcase, the audience is comprised overwhelmingly of Orange county locals patently grateful to have a different (and free) magic show right in their own backyard each month.

Learning magic under the auspices of the Long Beach Mystics, Joe Derry knows that happy entertainers mean happy audiences: a lesson more bookers and show producers would do well to learn.

(In addition the monthly showcase, Joe also stars in his own weekly show, Merlin’s Magic & Comedy Dinner Theatre. Both are hosted by the Rib Trader restaurant).

Questions or comments? Leave them in the section below.

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There’s One In Every Crowd – So Why Fret?

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When it comes to distractions while performing, entertainers tend to feel the pea beneath the mattress. I wish I had a nickel for each time I directed my attention the one person in the audience who doesn’t seem to “get” it. One of the most-challenging aspects of live performance is learning not to focus on the disinterested man, the disengaged woman and distracting 3-year old heckler.

Every speaker and entertainer need to decide who in the audience they want to win over. One has a choice: to direct your attention to the gal in the front row who’s clearly not “rolling with it” or to the vast majority of the audience who is.

When you “have the floor”, it’s natural to be hypersensitive to the least little distraction. One example from memory: I was performing in a cavernous theater before a large audience when a woman in the front row began crinkling the plastic wrapper of the lozenge she had just placed in her mouth. It was barely audible to me, let alone the rest of the audience. I decided, however, that it was important to make her (and therefore the rest of the audience) aware of it and that would she kindly refrain from it?

The audience’s reaction: What the hell is this guy referring to? The fact is, no one in the audience was paying any attention to it because they were paying attention to me. I had earned their attention by being interesting – and I threw it away when I drew their attention to the busy fingers of the woman in the front row.

There will always be distractions from time to time – a glass will shatter on the floor, for example – which would be awkward to let pass without any comment. But unless you’re absolutely certain that something which occurs “outside the lines” requires commentary from you, nine times out of ten you won’t regret ignoring it.

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Worst Introduction Ever

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Entertainers often exchange stories about the worst introductions they’ve ever received. The one I received tonight has to be up there.

The show was an awards banquet for a small group of first responders in Bismarck, North Dakota (paramedics, pilots, etc.) When the last award was handed out, the emcee transitioned to the introduction provided by the agent who booked me.

“Tonight’s entertainer has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Last Comic Standing. He’s also the only performer ever kicked off America’s Got Talent! by merely describing his act.” Laughter. Everything was as it should be.

Just then the banquet manager reminds the emcee from the back of the room that the much-anticipated dessert was now ready just outside the banquet hall.

“Oh, dessert…” the emcee said, obviously flummoxed. “Who wants dessert?” The audience cheered. “Well, if you want dessert, it’s ready.” He then picked up where he left off. “His unnatural act is a whirlwind display off erotic skills and … did I say erotic?” (titters from the audience as they exited). “… exotic skills and laugh-out-loud commentary. Please welcome David Deeble.”

Needless to say getting to the stage was like trying to get on a subway car that everybody else was trying to exit.

After that much was a blur. I vaguely remember pointing out to the few who remained seated that when it comes to cheesecake vs. a comedian, cheesecake always wins.

Do you have introduction horror stories? Share them in the comment section below.

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