I had a friend once who was a corporate magician. That's not some sort of business wizard. He was a tradeshow entertainer. That meant that when corporate vendors held a tradeshow convention, he would be rented out by a booth to perform magic tricks as a means of drawing people toward the booths. He was often hired by people at county fairs for a similar function. Occasionally he said, he would cover for a colleague who did basically the same setup at places like Costco.
This guy was also a professional magician. But often, a professional gig, like a regular show at a Vegas showroom or some casino away from the strip, was few and far between. To make ends meet, he did birthdays and school shows and the like, but he said the money was in corporate rent-outs.
He had to tailor shows often to the needs of the client. At an electronics expo, he did a Torn and Restored Mouse Cord, as opposed to the more traditional rope. He had to alter his banter to correlate with how a booth's product improved vendor/client relations. It was excruciating sometimes, but it paid the bills.
I knew a guy more recently who did the same thing with stand-up comedy.
College campuses would book him, as did smaller venues as an MC (though he more often was scrounging for gigs like these) and would do corporate shows as well.
He'd usually do more client-based stuff, meaning he'd be hired as entertainment for someone trying to wine-and-dine potential investment. People were smashed and rowdy, and he said he would be handed things to say or announce, or even "jokes" as part of his set. He wasn't and was allowed to do certain things (usually no swearing... And then he'd get verbally accosted in a Rated-R tone). He said it was sometimes tough, but it helped make ends meet and keep busy when the real performing was dry.
Every once in a while NCT gets rented out to do a special show in a similar way, for a specific group of people. It can be long or short (usually 60 to 90 minutes) and since San Diego days, I have been "out on the road" for corporate teambuilding, birthdays, Christmas parties, school field trips, and yes, I have literally opened for a wedding.
Much the same can apply. We occasionally have to do certain things, or mention things, or include certain people. After one remote at a math convention (yes, a math convention), the lecturer who had hired us to perform in the middle of her lecture as we were leaving, asked us to explain how each of the games related back to mathematics. I remember at one point, being completely at a loss, one of us blurting out that the game Blind Line had to do "with variables!"
Our audiences can be insanely drunk, or otherwise inattentive as well. Several times I've played in places with no discernible stage, no lighting on us, in a shared space with something else happening (usually a restaurant) and there are always those among them who think themselves much more entertaining than those of us onstage. The class clown. The office prankster. The fun aunt. They will always try and "help us out."
But there's always something incredibly interesting about them. These odd corporate curiousities. How did we come about getting hired, how informed are the people that they're getting us as a show, how in the world are we going to do only scenes based on pet insurance policies?
Are they difficult? Sure. We're always nervous and unsure of what's gonna happen when we travel to our destination.
Sometimes, they are cool. You get to do one for a sorority and we're guys, they're all girls, they laugh their asses off, and you maybe even get a number afterward. Or it's in Santa Barbara for parents visiting week and we do a huge show in a huge auditorium and it's fantastic. (Four guys and 90 minutes in front of 500 people feels pretty great for a "day at the office.") Sometimes, you get to open for a wedding!
Most of them though, are batshit insane. I couldn't even begin to explain how insane. Sometimes, you're in a giant tent in a parking lot and everyone's eating and it's too wide, so you're playing to very far ends of seating that can't even see you straight on. Sometimes, it's an all-Jewish male audience and the assistant Rabbi gets slightly offended by you taking a mildly racist suggestion (keeping in mind that someone next to him suggested it in the first place). Sometimes, you're in the middle of a restaurant and your sound system blows out so you're screaming at everyone and half the room wasn't there for the show anyhow. And sometimes, you know, you open for a wedding.
While in New York, most of these shows have been pretty straightforward, more difficult in terms of crowd work and winning people over than anything else.
But as part of the theme of the week, here's 5 of the Most Batshit Insane Remotes I've Done since I've been in New York.
First, I recall vividly a morning remote that one of the other three players forgot was actually in the morning.
Normally, the remote-style show is designed for four of us, so we were now about to do a four-person show, which was nastardized from what it supposed to be a seven-person show with only 3 of us.
It was at a middle school at about 10 in the morning. FYI, morning's a terrible time for improv. Also, FYI, kids can be, shall we say, pretty hectic. So the 3 of us weren't sure how this would go at all.
That said, the remote itself was actually pretty good, just kids tend to shout all the time, and volunteer blindly. The three of us doing everything was both stressful and fun.
At number 4, sometime last summer, we took a van out for a full cast show. It was a Church retreat, the audience ranged from 10 to 18 year olds, and so I reffed and Steph, Josh, Scott, Karen, Ron, and Tracy were in it. The show went fantastic, and it was just the ending that makes this truly unforgettable.
I explained 185, and the bell and the duck call, did the example joke (cows) and took the first suggestion. It was secretaries. Josh stepped forward and said, "No, YOU take a note!"
It took us all a moment to realize he was playing World's Worst instead of 185.
I couldn't adequately explain what just happened to the audience, so we kind of just moved on.
But the catchphrase lived on, long past the remote and past the car ride home. On some nights when enough of the cast from that show was gathered in the green room before shows, you might here one of the players scream loudly:
"NO, YOU take a note!"
At 3, and in the opposite season, in the middle of winter, we were sent on a remote for an Orthodox Jewish group.
This meant a few requests:
No female performers.
No contact between men (us) and the women if they volunteered.
This one had the additional requests of no men playing women, and no scenes about relationships between men and women.
The contact person kept requesting things like specific games to play and not play because he'd come to the theater to see the show. They were all games we just couldn't do (like Schoolyard, because there's only 4 of us) or something inappropriate like Moving Bodies (which required someone to move us, and we were just avoiding physical contact games altogether, just to be safe).
And the room wasn't set up for us when we arrived. Yeah, they built the stage just before the crowd arrived, during dinner, which we could see them eating, because it was a glass wall separating our room and that room.
Again, the show went well and they loved it.
When we were leaving though, was the weirdest. Normally, payment is handled prior to the show. Performers just shouldn't have to be responsible for that. But our contact was now going to pay me. But not with a check, which I've taken before. It was in cash. An insane amount of cash. And he took a picture with me and him and the money to prove he'd paid.
My number 2 spot goes to one that took place in the theater, a rent-out sort of situation. I did a couple of these here, it's pretty uncommon in San Diego.
This one was a school group, and I don't know from where. They were probably high school or like 8th grade. Just a terrible, annoying age. Definitely a difficult crowd to handle. They were rowdy and talkative the whole time.
During Spelling Bee, our audience volunteer would only say the word, "AIDS."
During Dinner at Joe's, our interview was being difficult and making things up about himself and the people he was talking about.
Finally, during 5 Things, the audience collectively decided that we must've been cheating at the game and stopped paying attention to us playing. No more clapping, no more laughing, just phones out and talking to each other. So the show ended horribly, and we shuffled into the office to hide.
Finally, this one also took place in the theater, another rent-out.
It was for one woman's 50th birthday. Almost the entire party (80 or so people) arrived all at once and were mostly French, like she, and mostly drunk (again, French).
The show actually went really well, which is a nice change. Because in San Diego, usually when a remote is bizarre, it's also horrible: difficult, tough venue, tough crowd, everything against us. But here, at least they were thoroughly entertained. Despite an occasional language gap, this group loved us.
And so did all of the groups that saw us in our time on the road.
Except that one group of kids.