Corporate gigs: Which comedians take the funny money?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Many comics pay their way with corporate gigs, says Veronica Lee. But they’re not for everyone...

The Edinburgh Fringe is nearly over for another year and the familiar cry of comics – that it’s only venues and promoters who make money there – will ring out once more. But stand-up comedians do have a nice little earner in the growing industry of corporate gigs.

Work nights-out used to be an evening down the pub but in the past 20 years there has been a huge growth in corporate entertainment, with companies rewarding staff and schmoozing contacts with glitzy awards ceremonies and black-tie dinners. The main clients are the financial and pharmaceutical sectors but now everybody – from hairdressers and bricklayers to lawyers and dentists – has an annual prize-giving with entertainment provided by a funny man or woman off the television.

Neil Martin, of NMP Live, one of the UK’s largest corporate talent agencies, says: “We have been in business for 18 years and we’ve seen continual growth [in comics being booked for corporate events]. It’s not just big names who are in demand; there are comics – some whom you may never have heard of because they don’t appear on TV – who make a very good living at it.

“The good ones, famous or not, who get asked for repeatedly, are the ones who do their research. They will make sure that they’re pronouncing people’s names correctly, for instance, and put in jokes about individuals working within that company.”

The financial attraction of corporates is simple; the going rate for a 20-minute spot in comedy clubs is £100 to £150 (considerably more if you are a marquee name). For a corporate gig – anything from 20 minutes of stand-up to hosting an evening of entertainment and prize-giving – even a jobbing comic will earn £1,000 to £1,500. Factor in TV fame and that rate can reach tens of thousands of pounds for an evening’s work.

Some comics are open to negotiation on their fee, which suggests some corporate gigs are more appealing than others, but surprisingly price doesn’t always reflect his or her level of fame. “People like Jimmy Carr and Dara Ó Briain really like doing corporates,” Martin says, “and price themselves so that more companies can afford them [£15,000 to £25,000 and £20,000-plus respectively]. Whereas somebody like Lee Mack, for example, isn’t keen and in effect prices himself out of the market [he’s listed on the NMP website as £50,000-plus].”

Television exposure can make a comic’s price rocket; just a few years ago, when he was on the club circuit, John Bishop used to earn about £2,000 for a corporate gig. He can now pocket 50 grand.

Even so, big bucks don’t always lure big names. “Comedy is such a huge industry now [with lucrative TV work and DVD sales] that some comics get to the point where they feel they don’t have to do corporates,” says Martin. “Just the other day I offered someone – a big name – £25,000 for an hour’s work and he turned it down because it meant travelling to Birmingham on a Monday evening.”

Despite the large sums involved, it’s not always money for old rope. Every comic who does corporate gigs has a story to tell about malfunctioning sound systems or boozed-up executives hogging the microphone in the mistaken belief they’re funnier than the turn.

And then there are gigs that are ill-fated from the start. A recent headline-grabbing one was when Reginald D Hunter, a black American comic who frequently uses the N-word in his act, performed at the annual awards dinner of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), an organisation making huge progress on combating racism. Several guests protested at Hunter’s material and the PFA reportedly asked for its money back – although one wonders if the PFA bothered even to Google the comic before booking him.

Corporate events aren’t just thankless money-spinners, though. Jo Brand, for example, who has described them as “high-end prostitution without the sex”, thinks they keep her on her toes.

Audiences often don’t know who has been booked and, says Brand: “Sometimes you sense there is a sigh of despair when I come on. Then it becomes a challenge and it really feels like a victory when you get them laughing despite themselves.”

Another comic who has grown to appreciate corporate gigs is Irish stand-up Ed Byrne of Mock the Week. “It used to  be that if ever I had a bad gig it would be a corporate,” he says. “People are not there to see you and if they don’t know who you are they talk over you. But now most people know me off the telly, or some will have come to my gigs.”

How does he respond to the suggestion that doing corporate gigs is selling out? “I can see how that argument could be applied to doing ads – being paid to say you like a product – but making people laugh for a fee? No. And I can’t see why entertaining a room full of people who happen to work in the same industry is any different from tellings gags in a theatre.

“But I understand why some comics don’t do them. If your material is political, anti-establishment or really saucy then it’s the wrong gig for you. But I don’t do stuff about the world’s ills, and me talking about getting married or being a dad in front of a group of insurance salesman isn’t going to upset anybody.”

Some performers, notably socialists such as Mark Thomas, Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy, have a moral or political objection to taking a financial or pharmaceutical company’s shilling. Though for Stewart Lee, a left-wing comic who has famously never done a corporate gig, the reasons for avoiding them run even deeper.

“There are lots of ethical reasons for not doing corporate gigs, most of them valid,” he says. “But the main reason I don’t do them is because I can’t.

“The dynamic is all wrong. The attitude of a corporate audience is that the performer is their servant that they have paid for. My onstage persona is that I think I am better than the crowd and they have to earn my respect – and this would not play with business people, who just want a court jester to entertain them after dinner. It is not the right place for what I do.

“And also,” he adds drily, “I don’t have any jokes.”

Ed Byrne’s ‘Roaring Forties’ UK tour starts at Perth Concert Hall on 26 Sept; Stewart Lee’s ‘Much A-Stew About Nothing’ begins a UK tour at the Rose Theatre, Kingston on 10 Sept

 

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence