The Best Advice I’ve Heard Recently As a Corporate Entertainer

Corporate.Party.Entertainment.Ideas.NYC.jpgNot long ago I was on the phone with Christian Finnegan, celebrity comedian and trivia host extraordinaire, whom I’ve had the honor of working with for almost 10 years now. Like the other “name” emcees I’m blessed to collaborate with, I truly value my relationship with Christian. He brings to the table a world of professional comedy and event entertainment experience completely unique to my own, and I readily absorb whatever bits of wisdom he drops upon me during our chats.

On this most recent call, Christian and I were talking about the different types of corporate trivia events we produce together: large, small, fancy, informal. We also talked about producing gigs for clients whom one might consider “lower caliber,” a step or two below the groups that would ordinarily hire a professional trivia company to lead their events. Perhaps they’re on a severe budget (or no budget, as in a charity event), or possibly doing something quirky which our proven team trivia format doesn’t neatly fit into. Regardless of the reason, there are invariably these types of inquires which come in.

What Happens When You Assume…

I am keenly aware of how valuable my emcee talent’s time is, and want to ensure that when working with TrivWorks they feel properly compensated, as well as genuinely enjoy the experience. As such, I was fully bracing for Christian – an extremely well-known, highly respected and sought-after corporate entertainer – to draw a firm line with me with respect to doing certain types of gigs. I expected him to gingerly ask me to not waste his time with what I perceived to be lower-quality opportunities, or to not host any events which I suspect may be beneath a performer of his stature.

But what Christian instead said left me humbled – it’s an elegant quote I’ve oft repeated to myself since that phone call, and am now putting into print here on my blog:

“David,” he said, “If I accept the gig, I forfeit the right to be above the gig.”

Learning From the Pros

So simple, yet so poignant. I love this quote so much, because it perfectly encapsulates everything I’ve come to appreciate about working with consummate professionals like Christian (Click here for another recent example of immensely impressive professionalism by another entertainer I work with, Ophira Eisenberg).

Remembering back to my earliest days of doing this, I was an eager beaver hosting company trivia parties in Manhattan for any and all who would hire me. I got some great gigs for sure to boost my confidence, and was hired by some truly amazing Fortune 500 clients.

But there were also…other gigs.

A Particularly Bad Example

I recall one in particular from my first months which wasn’t a corporate gig, but a private event. Still a bar trivia host in New York City back then, I was approached one night by a young woman who was interested in throwing a birthday trivia party. I honestly didn’t want to do it, since my target audience was companies, not private individuals – however, I of course said yes. There was no way I was turning down ANYTHING in those days, I was just trying to get this nascent business off the ground.

The client was in her very early 20s, and as you might imagine, she had an extremely tight budget for entertainment. Come to think of it, I actually made more hosting a night at the bar gig than she was able to pay me for her event…

Anyway. I reluctantly agreed to do the gig, for a paltry sum. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all, and grumbled my way through the prep. However, I dutifully customized the content, printed the answer sheets, and made my way down to the Greenwich Village bar to host what I imagined would be a night akin to my weekly bar trivia nights uptown.

When I arrived, however, I was immediately confronted with several unwelcome truths.

How Bad Was It, You Ask?

For one, there was no private room like I’d been told. The party was made up of about 100 post-college kids who had informally overtaken the front bar area of a massive restaurant. The space wasn’t roped off or private in any way – the public was jammed in as well. There was an absolute cacophony of ambient noise: music, laughing, yelling, TVs blaring from the walls. It was so crowded you could barely move.

I think you get the picture.

To make matters worse, when I went to go set up and test out the bar’s sound system, I realized right away that it was totally inadequate. Even if the place HADN’T been mobbed wall to wall with sweaty 20-somethings, the setup was completely useless – I cranked the mic up as high as it would go, and it didn’t even make a dent. I had to scream just to get everyone’s attention – a feat I couldn’t accomplish in the slightest, let alone command the audience.

On top of THAT, the entire group – all 100 rambunctious lunatics, including the birthday girl herself – were completely drunk. Loud, obnoxious, stumbling drunk. I’m talking screams, shots, the whole business – that’s how tanked they were. It wasn’t even dark outside yet.

I was miserable. I couldn’t even get through a single round of trivia. When I protested to the birthday girl and told her it was simply impossible for me to do what she’d hired me to do, she said angrily, “Well, I mean, I already PAID you!” The implication was clear, she expected SOMETHING. I was able to salvage part of the evening by handing over the microphone and my answer key to a particularly loud oaf, who shrieked/slurred my questions out to the crowd for a round before quitting. Soon after, everybody forgot I was even there.

A Teachable Moment

Believe you me, all I wanted from the moment I walked into that place was to pack up my stuff and go. I felt like this event, this audience, this function was completely beneath me. Here I am, trying to present myself as a professional, and I’m stuck babysitting a frat party? I couldn’t believe I’d gotten myself into this.

But you know what? I agreed to the terms going in. I knew when signing up for this, when I said “yes” to the event, with its pathetic performance fee and the expected crowd of post-college bros and everything else that I knew came with the territory, that it wasn’t going to be a high-end function. In no way would this be a TrivWorks “dream client.”

And yet, I still did it anyway. What was I expecting?


That particular gig from fifteen years ago still stands out for me. I actually added a clause to my service contract immediately afterwards (which I still use today), stating something to the effect that I’m not required to perform if conditions are so unreasonable and impossible I can’t hear myself think. But like I said above, I think of Christian’s words often these days. If we as entertainment professionals agree to take on a gig, we MUST give it our all. We mustn’t dial it in, or complain or pout or gripe.

If we’re gonna say “yes” to a gig and then whine about it, and not perform with passion and enthusiasm and love for getting to do what we do, then we shouldn’t do the gig, period. To do otherwise is just plain unfair to the client, to the attendees and, ultimately, to ourselves. We do a disservice by thinking we’re better than anyone – let alone those who want to hire us to perform.

So, thank you Christian – fifteen years of doing this, and clearly I still have so much to learn!

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