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Bosses take lessons in comedy

THE ART of stand-up comedy is the new weapon in the battle for corporate success. Jongleurs, the comedy club chain, is to offer lessons to executives who think that a sense of humour might give them a competitive edge.

Maria Kempinska, Jongleurs' co-founder, said modern bosses are discovering that there is more to comedy than knowing a few jokes. "We're moving into an era where ideas are paramount. Stand-up just gives you a chance to think in different terms - how to turn words and ideas around in your head."

A workshop series will be launched next month after a pilot session by one of Jongleurs' regular comics proved a hit. Jim Andrews, managing director of Thinc! Digital, an interactive media business, was one of the guinea-pigs and now plans to send some of his staff.

"I really enjoyed it - it was great fun," he said. "I was a bit tentative initially. I couldn't imagine myself standing up on a stage with a two- minute comedy sequence. But I found it really liberating."

The pilot workshop with a mixed group of professionals began with exercises designed to encourage trust and make the participants "open up", such as mimicking walking down the road and bumping into people.

They moved on to writing material, taking ordinary situations and exaggerating them to draw out the ridiculous, then performing a routine to the rest of the group. Practicalities included learning how to use a microphone properly.

"I do a lot of presentations to clients and you do it in a linear way. But this made you think laterally," Mr Andrews said. "There was this mix of people who had never done anything like it before. But by lunchtime we were all really into it.

"Some companies send people on challenges and adventure things - that's one form of exhilaration. This is another way of getting people together and focused and excited," he said.

The session leader, Dominic Holland, a professional stand-up comedian for eight years, said he felt quite sorry for the group initially. "Obviously it was terrifying. Public-speaking is difficult anyway, but making a speech with the intention of making folk laugh is even worse.

"But in the end, I did feel that they had enjoyed themselves and done something they hadn't done before. It gave them a different look, a different perspective. And they gained in confidence."

He did not think any of the participants should give up their day jobs, yet. "They weren't funny, but I wouldn't expect them to be," he said. "Even Eddie Izzard is cited as being terribly unfunny for the first year of his career."