Personalize material for corporate gigs

Hi Dave – Can you give us a few examples of how to work event themes into your material for a corporate gig? What is the process like? – MD

Hey MD – Comedians and speakers that work corporate gigs on a regular basis will have their own ideas and techniques about this process. As always, I’ll throw the offer out for any of you that would like to contribute. Send suggestions to or leave a comment below and I’ll share the best ones in an upcoming FAQs And Answers.

But in the meantime, since you asked…

When it comes to performing at corporate events, I’ve always felt it’s important to personalize your comedy act or presentation to the event and audience. Even the big stars will do this. A few years ago Jay Leno was the surprise performer for an corporate event my cousin attended in Florida. It was a big deal just to have Leno there, but when he mentioned the name of the company and a few of the CEO’s during his act it made the audience feel they were part of an even more special event. It’s fun when a comic of Leno’s stature cracks jokes at your city or a news event you’re following, but when he’s talking specifically about your business or someone sitting only a few tables away it becomes a memorable event.

AudienceEvent planners, CEO’s and employee-audiences love that stuff. It can make the company look good and the event a success. And a great way to make this happen is when comedians and speakers show they know their audience.

Comedians and speakers (and performers in general) call this personalizing or customizing their material. And even though they might be telling the same jokes or giving the same presentation as they did a thousand miles away the night before, they’ll insert references to the area, the event theme and/or the audience.

Think of it this way…

Paul McCartney (I’m a classic rocker) is on tour this summer. He’s doing pretty much the same set (song list) for every show. He needs to do this because of the stage lighting design, special effects, video displays and other techno stuff that is designed and rehearsed in advance. The crew needs to know what song he’ll be playing and where he’ll be on stage when they set off the explosions for Live And Let Die or any fireworks during the final encore. It’s the same with other large arena acts.

To continue this thought, it’s like a speaker with a specific power point display or a comedian with a killer closing bit. They HAVE to do it for their program to be successful and what corporate clients pay big bucks for. BUT it can be tweaked to make the audience feel this particular program is special for them.


If McCartney is playing The Staples Center in Los Angeles you can bet he’ll shout something close to, “Hello Los Angeles – we’re rockin’ tonight!

The next week he might be at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Would he welcome Los Angeles again that night? No – he would personalize it for his audience.

Hello New York City – we’re rockin’ tonight!

Get it? That’s a very simple example, but demonstrates how personalizing your material works.


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Another example:

I’ve booked a lot of comedians from New York and Los Angeles to do shows near Cleveland. Unless they’re from the area or have spent a lot of time there, they don’t know a heck of a lot about Cleveland. But the experienced ones will usually look for ways to relate to their audience. A popular question the comedians ask…

What’s a suburb of Cleveland that the locals makes fun of?

No offense to any residents, but I tell them Parma (don’t ask if you don’t know). Then during their show, the comic will reference Parma and the crowd will feel he really KNOWS them!

But you know what? They know nothing else about Parma except the name. Next week when they’re in another location, they’ll ask someone else the same question and substitute that area suburb into the same joke.

It’s called personalizing your performance for that particular audience. And it works – BIG time!! Audiences, talent bookers and event planners LOVE it!

survey saysHere’s what I do for corporate bookings…

Enclosed with the contract sent to the client or event planner (snail mail or as email attachments) is a one or two-page questionnaire. The best way to learn about an event and audience is to ask. Based on the answers, I’ll ask the comic or speaker to work some of the shared info into their presentation.

Some of the questions I’ll ask…

  • Is there a theme for the event? If so – what is the theme?
  • Is there anything you’d like me to know about your city or event location?
  • Who are some key people in the company?
  • Will there be anyone in the audience you would like me to focus on as an audience participation volunteer or for special recognition?
  • What are products and/or services of the company?
  • If there a friendly-rival company I can mention – or not mention? Can I use (politically correct) humor at the expense of this rival company?
  • What are some favorite local hang-outs for employees?

Of course the list can go on and on, depending on how deep you want to get into personalizing your program.

Now, you might remember that in addition to personalizing, I also used the term customizing at the beginning of this article. This is an extra added attraction many speakers and comedians offer – usually for an additional fee.

In other words, they can ask for more money when they do more work.

Customizing involves finding out EXACTLY what the client wants you to talk about AND creating a comedy act or speaker presentation based on that specific information. Again, the final program is usually based on the type of performance that got the comic or speaker hired in the first place.


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If you talk about communications, no client is going to hire you to customize a program on accounting. Same with comedy. If you’re Carrot Top, they’re not going to tell you to leave your props home.

When it comes to Paul McCartney, stadium audiences will pay big bucks to see him. But he’d better play more than a couple Beatles and Wings songs or a majority will leave disappointed (and feel ripped-off).

But customizing does involve more work in learning more about the client, company and audience, and then actually creating material and using it during your performance. In my experience, customizing has involved interviewing (phone and/or email) the event planner, the client and other key people from the company. On the lesser hand, to only personalize an existing program I’ve never done more than ask for them to return the completed questionnaire with the contract.

Other thoughts? We’d love to hear what you do…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!


Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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