In my previous column I gave you a method to write inside jokes for corporate clients. I focused on corporate after dinner shows. The steps I suggested were:
- Ask your client and the attendees lots of questions to try to find inside information. It doesn’t have to be secret information, just information they all share and that will surprise them that you know.
- Turn that inside information into inside jokes by finding ways to make references to it within routines you already have.
Well last night Katrine and I performed our act for a company awards dinner and it turns out I was wrong.
I left out one GREAT source for inside info about your corporate clients: their websites! Who knew there were sites other than bronyland on the Internet?
Katrine and I always browse our clients’ websites before we perform for them or even meet with them. You should too. Specifically: look at their FAQ; their product lists; their “about,” and if they’ve got a glossary definitely read through that.
You’re looking for product names you can refer to and buzz-words to build custom jokes around. You’re trying to find out what the company is proud of or defensive about. You’re looking for anything that most of the people in your audience know and care about, especially things they wouldn’t expect you to know.
Here are the steps we went through to customize our act for last night’s client. I’m leaving out all the blind alleys we wondered down that didn’t lead to finished jokes. There were lots of those.
Our client last night was a company that made plastic bags. We started preparing for the show yesterday morning. Over breakfast, we browsed their website. It had a FAQ, a glossary, and an extensive About section. We read all of that and more.
The inside info
Here’s some of what we picked up:
- They are a wholesale distributor of plastic bags.
- One of their manufacturing processes is called “co-extrusion.”
- They are sensitive about the fact that people think plastic bags are less green than paper bags.
- They argue that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly than paper because they take less energy to make, recycle, and transport. They point out it takes as many as 17 trees to make 1 ton of paper bags and 9 trucks to transport the same number of paper bags as you can transport in 1 truck filled with plastic ones. They claim that, overall, plastic bags have a smaller carbon footprint than paper.
- The bottom of a plastic bag is called “The Bottom Seal.”
- They call their long, thin, plastic bags: low density poly tubing.
- They sell both low density and high density bags.
- One of the ingredients they use to make their bags is called “Virgin Resin.”
It took us about 30 minutes to find all these little facts, plus a half dozen more that we tried to find jokes for but didn’t.
At the sound check we met with the client and learned:
- After our show, there was going to be an awards ceremony and their top sales people were going to win a trip to Hawaii.
- That day most people had a spa day or played golf.
- Their slogan for the week, and that was displayed on the wall behind us, was “On Target.”
This info, plus another 5 morsels that went nowhere, took us about 10 minutes to get.
We also wanted to talk to some attendees before the show to ask more questions, specifically some “do you care” questions, but we weren’t able to do that. Oh well.
The inside jokes
After gathering this info, we spent about 90 minutes writing custom jokes to add to that night’s show. These are the ones we thought would be worth trying:
1) Katrine and I already have a routine where we compete for the audience’s approval with her juggling clubs and me juggling knives. It normally starts with:
You have clubs? I have knives! I’m tougher than you. I’m better than you. And in just the right light … I’m sexier too!
We added this joke and two tags:
Oh yeah? Your handles are made of wood. Mine are made of clean, recyclable plastic.
Yours are heavy. It would take 9 trucks to move 100,000 of them. Mine? Only one truck!
That means I have a smaller carbon footprint than you … And I’m cuter.
2) We already have a routine where we have two audience members blow up balloons and try to make balloon dogs out of them. We added this to our existing gags:
We bought you guys up here to show the amazing flexibility and versatility of your newest low density poly tubing. (Scott presents balloons.) Now in your choice of colors.
They get to pick their balloon colors and we do our standard jokes about the colors they pick. Then we move on with more custom stuff:
Step one, we demonstrate the strength of this low density poly tubing.
We lead the volunteers in a ridiculous calisthenics routine with the balloons.
Step two, we demonstrate its flexibility.
We lead them in an even more ridiculous and slightly erotic stretching routine with a lot of butt wiggling with the balloons. First we do it:
The most important part of this step is the bottom seal.
Then they do it:
Wow. After that there won’t be any more virgin resin in all of California!
Next they try to inflate their balloons and fail while we succeed.
Come on. Blow harder. You want to win that trip to Hawaii don’t you?
It’s possible that we were inflating the low density poly tubing while they were trying to inflate the more expensive, high density poly tubing.
(This next gag is standard for us except that we changed our usual word “defective” to “too dense.”)
(Pointing at their un-inflated balloons.) That’s true. It’s possible … that just randomly … they picked the two that were too dense.
We then take their balloons from them and blow them up without any trouble.
It’s possible … that just randomly … (Scott pauses and looks at the two volunteers.) … we picked the two that were too dense.
We end the bit with them trying, and usually failing, to make balloon dogs.
(Showing off one of the badly made dogs) You could never make something this beautiful from PAPER!
3) We liked this one but thought it wasn’t worth the risk of trying it. Unlike most inside jokes, it seemed like the kind of gag that if it died, it would not die gently.
When we heard you were into poly we expected a very different crowd.
4) While passing around a volunteer and knocking a cigarette out of his mouth:
The most important two words in this trick? On target!
5) And then while watching us working on these new jokes, the agent who booked us suggested:
It’s nice to see all these beautiful, intelligent bag ladies here tonight.
1) The first joke, “Your handles are made of wood. Mine are made of clean, recyclable plastic.” killed. A bit of a silence when she first delivered it but then, when the audience realized the connection, they howled and cheered. The first tag, “Mine? Only one truck!” worked well enough and the second tag, “That means I have a smaller carbon footprint than you … And I’m cuter” got a small but friendly laugh.
Katrine thought it would have been better if we had skipped the tags because they weren’t as strong as the initial joke. I disagree, but that may be just because I love the structure of those tags.
2) The long sequence of custom lines with the balloons worked great. The first lines, where we equate the balloons to low density poly tubing, only got small laughs but I was fine with that. Those were really just cute setups to get us to the later, stronger gags.
We skipped or forgot to do “The most important part of this step is the bottom seal.”
“After that there won’t be any more virgin resin in all of California!” killed. Crowd slapping each other on the back type killing. Yay!
“You want to win that trip to Hawaii don’t you?” died but it died gently.
“We picked the two that were too dense” slayed. We heard someone repeating it to one the volunteers after the show.
And I messed up “You could never make something this beautiful from PAPER” by stealing the line from Katrine and doing it too early.
Overall, a very successful sequence. We were both very happy with it.
3) We purposefully didn’t try “When we heard you were into poly we expected a very different crowd.”
4) We forgot to do “On target” in the cigarette trick. I forced it in later in the show where it didn’t make much sense. It died. Katrine tried to save it by poking me in the head with a knife.
5) We forgot to do the agent’s “bag lady” line, probably because we didn’t write it ourselves. We had a perfect place for it but just we both just barreled through that spot doing our standard lines. Too bad. I think it would have killed. Plus, the agent was there watching the show so we really should have done it just to show respect. Oh well.
We ad-libbed a few other inside jokes on stage:
6) While being strapped tight into the straitjacket, as the vol was squeezing me in, I ad-libbed: “I feel like I’m being co-extruded.” Nice strong, solid laugh.
7) I tried to ad-lib a joke about “consultants” when one of our volunteers called herself a “sales consultant” but it went nowhere. It died rough but not enough to hurt the show. Katrine stepped in with a saver like: “Don’t mind him. He’s an idiot.”
8) We ad-libbed a gag about this being “a business meeting. Not a vacation. We can tell because of today’s agenda: golf and spa treatments.” Small laugh. Not worth doing.
So, counting each joke and tag in the long sequences above as separate jokes, we wrote 11 custom jokes. We performed 8 of them and ad-libbed 3 more. 4 killed, 2 were okay, 2 were feh, and the other 3 died … 2 of them gently, 1 in a bit more pain.
I’m very proud of those results.
(This really is the amount of customization work I usually do for one show. If you get bored reading through all this, imagine how much more exhausted you’d be if you had to work with me.)
Why are inside jokes so successful and easy to write?
One hypothesis debated among scientists who study the neuro-biological basis of comedy, actually just Frank, Greg, and me, is that a major evolutionary driver leading to humans laughing at jokes is group bonding.
Evidence for this includes how many jokes are used to define and delineate who is in the in-group and who is not, who is us and who is them.
The cruelest, most effective thing for a group of mean girls to do is not to insult you. It’s to laugh at you, in front of you, with a joke they all get and you don’t. A bully is even more terrifying if he publicly throws you in the garbage or locks you in your locker and everyone laughs at it than he is if he privately does it. The act of everyone laughing confers the group’s approval on the bully’s actions.
When we write inside jokes, we hijack this tribalism and use it for good.
If you have a corporate gig coming up, go to the company’s website right now and write some inside jokes for it.
If you don’t have one on your calendar, pretend you do. Go to the website of any random company and write some inside jokes for them. Then call them and see if they have a holiday party coming up where they need a hilarious juggler with a custom show written just for them!