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LAUGH FACTORY

The case for inviting a standup comedian to your next Zoom meeting

man leaning back his head and laughing
Reuters
We could all use a laugh.
  • Sarah Todd
By Sarah Todd

Senior reporter, Quartz and Quartz at Work

Published

The office is not an inherently hilarious place (unless you happen to be referring to the beloved British and American TV series, in which case, it is indeed bursting with comedic delights). And the typical workday is perhaps even less lighthearted in the remote-work era; barring the occasional cat masquerading as a lawyer, opportunities to develop inside jokes and make wry asides tend to dwindle when you’re not spending time with your teammates face-to-face.

That’s a pity, since humor is great for morale, making people feel closer to one another, and creating a more comfortable, creative environment. Research also suggests that laughing at work can help lower stress and increase productivity. For companies looking for a unique way to keep employees’ spirits up (or at least above flatlining level), one option may be to hire a standup comedian to spice up their next Zoom call.

Laugh.Events, founded by Kevin Hubschmann in 2019, offers personalized, interactive online comedy shows to companies in need of a little levity. Colleagues might find themselves the subjects of a Work Day Update—a play on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. Comedians riff on the latest news about coworkers’ bread-baking habits and Animal Crossing addictions based on survey answers employees have filled out beforehand.

Or they might play a trivia game tailored to individuals’ quirks, matching colleagues with the AOL screen names they had when they were 13 or guessing which person played the bagpipes in high school. “A friend of mine who’s an amazing musician has been writing songs for companies,” Hubschmann says.

Laugh.Events was born when Hubschmann, a standup comedian himself, decided to host a comedy show at the New York City office of his then-employer, event marketing software company Splash. He left Splash in January 2020 to focus on his company full-time, unaware that the pandemic would soon make it necessary to pivot to virtual shows.

After the initial months of the pandemic had passed, Hubschmann discovered that plenty of companies were eager for a novel way to engage their newly scattered workforce and maintain some semblance of company cohesion. “Whether it was people in HR or a manager or a head of a department, that was what we heard: We’ve tried everything. We’ve done the bingo and we’ve done magicians and cooking classes and these things that were really good for a one-time thing,” he says. “They’re like, We need to find more ways to stimulate our virtual culture.”

Meanwhile, with comedy clubs shuttered, the more than 40 comedians who work with Laugh.Events were eager for chances to perform—and for paying gigs. Hubschmann started scoping out virtual events to see what techniques worked best in a remote context. “A lot of it was handling the audience,” he says, “monitoring noise, making sure people were on mute” (if there were distractions in the background) “and off mute” (so the performers could feed off of the audience’s reactions).

While Hubschmann declined to say how many virtual shows Laugh.Events has done so far, he notes that the company put on more than 1,000 minutes of comedy in just the month of December. To keep companies coming back, the company offers both one-off events and a six-show package that allows customers to sample its variety of comedians and activities.

Central to Laugh.Events’ offering is the personalized surveys and questionnaires that ensure the comedy routines feel like a bonding experience. “It’s kind of like learning about the coworkers what you would learn at a happy hour,” says Hubschmann.

The surveys also help the company pick the comedian who will best suit the audience and desired tone of the event. “We want to make sure the topics the comedians cover in their sets are relevant to the people that are in the room,” he notes. If everyone in a company’s marketing department has children, for example, they might send a comedian whose routine focuses on the struggles of working from home with kids. A Midwestern bank with a conservative culture will likely prefer a routine that’s more PG-rated.

If you’re mildly terrified by the idea of sitting in on a comedy show that’s all about you and your colleagues, Hubschmann says the experience of crowd work is different in an online company setting. People are often “scared of sitting in the front row at a comedy show because they don’t know everybody,” he says. “But it feels okay to get teased when you’re with your people.”

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