In Funny Business (BBC2), the first of a series, Eddie Mair narrated an investigation into the ways in which standup comedians can make big money, none of which is by telling jokes in comedy clubs.
Appearing in adverts is one way, but many comics find selling stuff on TV to be inconsistent with either their morals or their sense of humour. Not that many, actually. Less objectionable is the corporate gig. You’re just doing your act, albeit in front of a room full of company managers for an obscene amount of money. Ricky Gervais gets £25,000 for a 20-minute corporate set. Michael McIntyre gets £40,000. It’s not surprising that up-and-coming comedians on corporate booker Jeremy Lee’s roster fall over themselves to appear in his annual Real Variety Show, essentially a huge audition for an audience of events company managers. Again, it’s just a gig, you end your set with the punchline: “I’m available for bookings, and I also host!”
A lot of comedians won’t touch corporate gigs either, but not necessarily for the reason you might think. “I doubt there’s one comedian in the world,” said Arthur Smith, “who hasn’t died on his or her arse at a corporate gig.”
Jo Brand finds them bracing – “If you do corporates, you get the message that not everyone loves you,” she says – but Rhod Gilbert still gets heart palpitations just driving by the venues of old corporate failures. It may be filthy lucre, but it doesn’t sound like easy money.