All for a laugh From the Coloradoan Newspaper, Colorado
Comedians, troupes liven up annual meetings, seminars
By BOB MOOK
Fort Collins Coloradoan
Is your company’s morale low?
Why not call in a professional comedian or an improvisational comedy troupe to lighten up the environment?
Professional funnymen and funnywomen are finding an increasingly lucrative niche in the corporate world.
As the comic strip “Dilbert” demonstrates on a daily basis, workplace humor is a rich mine to dig for comedy.
More corporations are hiring comics and improvisational groups for everything from annual meetings to corporate retreats to holiday office parties.
Brad Montgomery, a Denver-based humorist, said his specialty is to “help people laugh at change.” His clients can include companies that have experienced layoffs or dramatic reorganization.
“I speak to groups that want me to come in and cheer their people up,” he said.
Montgomery’s Northern Colorado clients include Hewlett-Packard Co., the U.S. Forest Service and Poudre School District.
What separates a corporate humorist from a standup comedian, Montgomery says, is that everyone calls to make sure his routine is “clean” inoffensive.
“I focus on being funny,” Montgomery said. “If I’m so darn funny, no one’s going to notice that the routine is clean.”
And while the cost of hiring a comedian to cheer up workers isn’t always cheap, Montgomery said it’s good for the bottom line in the long run.
“It’s important for an employer to recognize the importance of humor,” he said. “If humor can make the office more bearable, quality improves and turnover decreases.”
Comedy is especially useful in conferences where participants are bombarded with information.
Montgomery said a comedy routine at the tail end of a conference rewards them for their hard work and tells them they’re worth something.
An improvisational group is yet another way to bring up office morale.
The Denver-based Impulse Theater holds corporate workshops that can be customized to fit clients’ needs.
Vic Milbarth, marketing director for the theater, said a popular teambuilding option is to involve workers in comedy sketches — or workshops — that pertain to the workplace.
Milbarth said Northern Colorado clients can either make a field trip to Lower Downtown Denver, or the company will send the comics up north.
The group usually surveys the clients prior to the show to get an idea of the company’s culture and inside jokes.
“There’s usually three to four people that can take a ribbing,” Milbarth said.
Pairing comedy and improv with the world of three-piece suits might sound funny to those used to more conventional corporate training methods, but Milbarth said the approach works.
Impulse theater’s local clients include HP and Thunder Mountain Harley Davidson.
Cathy Puckett, human resources director of Thunder Mountain, said the troupe performed at the Harley dealer’s Christmas party and customized all of its routines for the shop.
“Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves,” Puckett said.
Even the country’s best-known improv theater is getting in on the corporate-comedy act.
The consulting arm of Second City, the Chicago-based comedy team that gave us John Belushi, Bill Murray and Mike Myers, says the company’s famous comedy formula has translated to successful corporate workshops.
“We get to the truth via the funny bone,” said Tom Yorton, Second City’s president. “We help people with the soft skills they never learned in business school.”
Second City’s version of business class typically takes place inside an otherwise empty comedy club in the troupe’s headquarters complex on Chicago’s North Side.
Mixing improv with more traditional corporate training methods, Second City works to polish business people’s skills — communicating better in the office and conference room, not headlining a comedy show.
The result is a small but rapidly growing stake for Second City in the multibillion-dollar corporate training market.
“More often than not, good business comes down to great connections between people who trust each other, who can react in real time to problems and opportunities and who can deal with adversity with humor and perspective,” he said. “We know something about that here.”
Today, Second City actors perform across the continent at corporate sales conferences, trade shows and company awards shows.
Performances sometimes include ex-Saturday Night Live stars such as Martin Short and Tim Kazurinsky from the long list of illustrious Second City alums.
Second City has been hired to jazz up a car manufacturer’s meeting with dealers, perform sketches to help a wireless phone service provider launch a new marketing campaign and use improv exercises to refocus attention at a mutual fund that had grown impersonal and tense.
One company head even hired it to liven up his keynote speech to an international conference, complete with customized video and funny PowerPoint presentation.
But under Yorton, who hired Second City when he was a marketing executive at 3Com Corp. and then joined it 2 years ago, the company has branched out beyond just corporate comedy routines and is trying harder to tap into the training market.
Second City Communications nearly doubled its revenues last year and is expecting another healthy increase this year to about $4 million, according to Yorton.
“We’re more than just pie-in-the-face guys,” he said. “We can actually help you with meaningful challenges in a company. When you bring the improv-based learning methods into play you can actually help people make considerable progress.”
Yorton says improv is a particularly effective training method because business itself is an act of improvisation.
“We adopt improvisational-based methods to help organizations excel, break down barriers, build strong teams and have some fun in the process,” he said.
Brad Montgomery is a Colorado-Based Humorist Motivational Speaker and Corporate Entertainer. He draws on his skills as a corporate comedian and magician to remind groups to “lighten up.” And he teaches his audiences – in a very funny way –techniques they can take with them to make their lives (including their jobs) more fun and funny.