People who get together at an event and hire an after dinner speaker for a wad load of cash deserve a good night. I am not writing here to berate the after dinner speakers circuit - I won after Dinner Speaker of The Year and beat 9 men to the title. I like after dinner speaking: to me it's a way of doing comedy in a nice dress to people who normally wouldn't come out to a comedy club and hopefully giving them a taste for it.
What I have encountered is basically horrendous!
I am usually on with two other men, in suits, who get up with a clutch of cards in their hands and launch into 30 minutes of old material which is peppered with gross sexist, racist and unbelievably dull comedy that they either got off the internet or swapped with another speaker or stole from comics on the telly.
The audience are usually full of nice business people who ask me things like, "As a woman comic, do you swear?" but they don't hesitate to laugh out loud at the joke about "My mother only had two kids because she was told every third child born is Chinese" that the bloke read out of his hands.
It seems to me that the after dinner speakers circuit is alive with misogyny, despite me winning the top award (that was down to the audience in the hall that night – they voted for me – not the men in suits).
What amazes me is that I have encountered VERY few after dinner speaker man who had written their own material. I believe that if you 'own' a joke or story and made it up yourself you wouldn't naturally peddle racist, sexist stuff. But, because they get this crap material off other old comics or the internet, they don't seem to think it's offensive as they know it's been told before over and over again - so to them it MUST be OK if people keep saying it and people keep laughing at it!
The other thing that stuns me is after dinner speakers are usually professional men in a self-employed capacity. They usually own a small company. Surely they know what is offensive, sexist, homophobic and racist in their line of work? They must know that the material that comes out of their mouths is basically a sacking offensive and would have them in court with the equal opportunities people if it was repeated by them in the workplace! But what they don’t get is....this is MY WORK PLACE....how dare you assume you can do that where I WORK!
The majority of after dinner speakers are men who used to be involved in sport and they are usually the worst offenders of the sexist, racist, ancient material.
My gripe is this. People come to an event and are sometimes faced with an after dinner speaker who spouts rot to them whilst dressed in a nice suit; he eats their food, takes their cash and heads off; some people will never want to listen to comedy ever again after that experience!
When I do after dinner speaking, I just do a comedy set and tailor it to the event. Most times I don't swear especially if they ask me not to.
I just do stand-up comedy, original, funny and relaxed without bullet points on cards to lead me through the night. I make eye contact and tell funny stories that don't involve hiring prostitutes, nor do material about how women hate men and won't give them sex, nor jokes about black people who can't golf/ski or horse ride (really! - yes I have heard that joke 6 times now). I understand some corporate events are hard, and it can be difficult keeping the attention of one group of people, who all work together and know each other, and you are the stranger with jokes, but it does work most times. You don’t need to break the code of conduct that many bookers provide you with (don’t say the C word and keep it clean) you try and work within the parameters you have been given. I get that it can be tough, but professional comics do it and they do it well.
So come on, after dinner speakers, step up to the plate, stop peddling other people's jokes, stop being old school racists, throw down your bullet point cards, loosen your ties, be innovative and create a comedy set worth the two grand you demand from an event company! Be FUNNY!
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