Different performances for different audiences

Hey Dave – Last week you talked about personalizing material for corporate shows. So when comedians talk about “knowing your audience,” does that mean you should have entirely different acts for different audiences? – S.A.

Hey S.A. – That depends on a few things such as the material, how it’s delivered and the audience. A lot of comedians are experts at “crossing over” and playing to a wide range of audiences. Others have a niche – an audience demographic they focus on – and know better than to perform where they probably will not be welcome or appreciated.

For two extreme examples…

  • An x-rated comedian is not going to do church shows. On the other hand…
  • A Christian comedian probably won’t be included in an adults only x-rated comedy show.

A lesson to be learned

That’s pretty much a no-brainer in the biz. Comedians should know that. If they don’t, then they’re setting themselves up for a hard-learned career lesson. But it’s also important to realize…

Comics have to stay true to themselves and “who they are.”

Many have no interest changing who they are on stage – their comedy voice – just to play in front of an audience that won’t relate to them or laugh at their material. But on the the flip side, others know a few simple changes in their material and delivery can open the possibility for more bookings.

How you want to play it depends on you. I’m just telling you there are ways.

Experienced comedians and speakers often customize their shows. There are a couple benefits in doing this:

  • It could lead to more paid bookings and…
  • It could lead to charging a higher fee for your performance.

Let’s tackle that second one first. I know the term higher fee has the ability to raise the interest of some readers. Especially in the higher paying corporate market when an event planner might contact you to discuss a corporate show booking.

You could have a set fee just for your regular performance. BUT if they would like you to customize it for a specific audience – say a group of financial investors, gourmet chefs, flight attendants or whatever – you could customize the material toward that audience for a higher fee.


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I wrote about this in the last Comedy FAQ And Answer, but I’ll repeat the important stuff…

The selling feature is that it will take extra work on your part in researching who they are (your audience), writing new material, or making specific changes – customizing – what you already bring to a corporate show. But you explain to the event planner that it’s worth the extra money because your performance would be specifically for their group. For instance, you would actually use the name of the company in your performance, what they specialize in, their clients or competitors, where employees hang out after work, the city where they’re located, and even mention the names of a few key people in the company.

What you come up with and can offer in a customized performance is up to you.

For all the extra work and research you put into preparing the customized gig, you ask for a higher fee. A lot of comedians and speakers do this. If the client responds by saying your fee is now too high for their budget, you have room to negotiate. Explain they can still book you for the event at your regular (lower) fee and you will do your regular act, which is what they called you about in the first place.

Customizing your material means to personalize it toward the audience. But it also doesn’t mean you need a completely different act. It’s all about knowing your audience.

Here’s an example…

A very good friend of mine in the comedy biz – and I won’t mention his name here, but as a hint he’s interviewed in my book How To Be A Working Comic – is a master at this. He has decades worth of material and can do a different act every night if he wants to.

laughing audience

Earning the BIG bucks!

But he also has a definite comedy voice.

He probably doesn’t know anything about investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants, but put him in front of an audience of investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants at an event and he’ll make them laugh.

That’s what he gets paid big bucks for.

This comedian can do an adult midnight show in a comedy club and be as raunchy as any x-rated comedian in the biz. A lot of his material is about growing up with a large family in an inner city and all the characters in his life. His language can be filled with “F-bombs” and other choice words and I’ve seen him – many times – bring down the house with the bluest (adult) comedy you can imagine.

But the next day (and he’s done this for years) he could be wearing a suit and tie and doing a clean, G-rated corporate show for a group of say… investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants. Since this is not a typical comedy club audience, the x-rated “F-bombs” are definitely not welcomed – or tolerated.

But the comedian’s job requirement is the same. He is being paid to make them laugh.

So what does he talk about?

The SAME topics he talked about at the late night, x-rated comedy club show the night before. His large family, growing up in an inner city and the characters in his life.


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But he customizes it based on the audience. He simply takes out the raunchy stuff. His punch lines and descriptions don’t rely on “F-bombs” and other choice words. The material and stories are just as funny without the added adult language and delivery.

He doesn’t have two completely different acts. He has two completely different audiences.

He knows his audience and plays to his audience.

Would this work for you? It depends on who YOU are on stage as well as WHO your audience is. Could your current set with a few changes work in front of very different audiences? If it does, then you don’t need two completely different acts. If it doesn’t, either write a separate act for clubs, corporate events or colleges (I know comics that do this) or find your niche and stick with it.

The choice is completely up to you as a creative artist. Some comedians could care less about the money and different markets because they’re more interested in the art of creating, performing and personal expression. Others find a good corporate booking helps fund the raunchy madness at a late night adult comedy show. How you want to play it is all up to you.

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.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

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