Making light of corporate life

Oct 29, 2003
Mitchell Brown -

Just to be on the safe side, I ask to see his driver's licence before we begin the interview.
It's nothing personal, but when someone has the words "corporate impostor" embossed on their business cards, you can't take anything for granted.

For all I know, my editor could be playing a prank on me.

But no, stand-up comic Russell Roy appears to be on the up and up, with his own website and everything ( and he's quite upfront about the lying and deception involved in his career.

"I used to work for a large telecommunications company and you would see the hypocrisy and doubletalk all the time," he said, explaining how he got into his line of work.

"If anyone's worked in a big bureaucracy, it's just unavoidable. You know, someone is giving you one story, but you know the true story is something completely different."

It was during that time in the corporate jungle he met Mike Bullard, who would later turn his own knack for humour into a successful stand-up and late-night TV career.

With his encouragement and a few lessons from The Second City, Mr. Roy set out to make his own mark as an entertainer in 1995.

Again, his friend Mike was there was a bit of advice.

"He told me very early on the only real way of being a professional comedian is to work the corporate market and you need some kind of product that's suitable for that market," he said.

"Club comedy is generally very shocking, very dirty and foul-mouthed, so you can't really do that in a group of accountants or wherever. I needed some kind of hook and this just seemed to work."
His "hook" is appearing on stage as, say, the long-lost son of the company's president or a recently transferred overseas manager or the new guy brought in to take over the senior position that everyone assumed was going to someone else in the company.

At first, the audience thinks they're about to hear another stuffy presentation, but as his speech becomes more and more ludicrous -- he's been known to call the company accountants "penny-pinching, misguided egomaniacs" -- the listeners slowly realize he just might be kidding.
It's an approach that works because, let's face it, few people expect a hearty laugh at a corporate function.

"Clearly, business presentations are not standup comedy, but the pace of the whole thing can be just ... so ... slow," he said.

"I've been through bad business presentations and everyone just falls asleep. The presenters are not professional presenters, so they don't understand the nuances of how to keep the attention of the the audience."

Timing is important and even the driest material can be perked up with personal references or the occasional joke, he said.

But until that day when every CEO and senior manager is a regular comedian, Mr. Roy expects enough steady business to keep him out of a corporate cubicle for now.

"That was my only goal, to just support myself and earn what I was earning before, so I'm pretty happy with that," he said.

There's just one problem with his product he hasn't quite figured out yet.
"The nice thing about most businesses is that you can get repeat customers from your client base and keep them in the fold," he said.

"But me, I can do it once, maybe twice before they're on to me and then I need a new customer. It's a little daunting that way."

To that end, he has developed a few other acts, including "the world's most motivational speaker", with his "seven secrets to effective procrastination".

"There are just three, really, and for steps four through seven, I just repeat them until they become second nature," he said.

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