Bob Monkhouse: 6 Tips for speaking at a corporate event
Bob Monkhouse (1928-2003), was often referred to as the king of the corporate event. He was one of Britain’s top comedians for over five decades, continually on our TV screens, swapping channels from time to time, delivering his wisecrack humour, often when hosting a popular gameshow such as ‘The Golden Shot’ (ITV 1967-72 & 1974-75) ‘Family Fortunes’ ITV (1980-83) ‘Bob’s Full House’ (BBC 1984-90) ‘Celebrity Squares’ (ITV 1975-79 &1993-96) ‘Wipeout’ (BBC 1998 – 2002) showing a tremendous skill at presenting, often pigeon holing himself in the process.
There was a section of the public that couldn’t stand him – and Bob knew it. He never felt fully accepted. At times he came across as smarmy, to clever, to smooth. He got people’s respect but didn’t get their love, in the way Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howard and Eric Morecambe were loved. Something Monkhouse craved.
However, anyone seeing him work live or at a corporate event, were often lift astonished at his professionalism and technique at working such occasions. Monkhouse’s polished approach was particularly admired by his fellow professionals. He went in and out of fashion with the general public but not with comics. He was highly respected throughout the business as a true professional – A comedians, comedian.
Here are six tips of advice he was generous to offer to those that wanted to learn from a master.
Comedian Kevin McCarthy first met Monkhouse in 1987 as a heat Winner on ‘Bob says Opportunity Knocks’, the two remained friends for years. He told Kevin to always get to the event early and pick up the local paper. That way you understand the issues and stories in the area. Then tailor some of your material accordingly. Keep the audience in the story.
2. Research & Homework
For each event Monkhouse would insist on having some background on the company or organisation. He would ask for information on the managing director, his or her hobbies, interesting stories. He then would create a few assorted gags for that particular event. He personalised his material, so it was relevant for the occasion. Throughout his career Monkhouse had jotted down jokes, odd facts, one-liners, sketches and ideas in a series of leather-bound books, which he took with him to every television, radio, stage and nightclub performance. In July 1995, two were stolen and Monkhouse offered a £15,000 reward. They were returned after 18 months, but the thief, although arrested, was never charged. On Monkhouse’s death, the books were bequeathed to Colin Edmonds his long-term writer and friend.
3. Don’t be afraid to use an old Joke
Bob’s act was a mixture original topical/current material, his own routines and standard gags. He states ’There is no such thing as an old joke. Only one they’ve heard before. A sure-fire gag is a treasure and will stand regular repetition for decades. The only joke to avoid is the one used by a previous speaker’. In no way was Bob encouraging speakers to take material from other comedians, simply stating if an old joke works for you – use it.
4. Think on your feet
Garry Richardson (Broadcaster & After dinner speaker) recalled a large function at a West End Hotel where he was speaking, followed by former Cabinet Minister Norman Tebbit and Bob Monkhouse to finish. Norman in his speech referred to Bob’s lost joke books, which had not long been found. He said ’There’s my old friend Bob Monkhouse who I see has his famous joke books back. I am sure we’ll be hearing some of his old jokes later on’. Tebbit then proceeded to tell three of his own shaggy dog stories, which hit the floor, with little reaction. Later in Monkhouse’s speech he said politely ‘Nice to see my old friend Norman Tebbit here … Norman kindly mentioned my joke books which were stolen but I got back … It’s now obvious they didn’t fall into Normans hands.’ The room erupted in laughter.
5. Look good
Bob had well over a hundred different suits for use on corporate events. They were different sizes as Monkhouse’s weight went up and down, something he worked on constantly, until he was diagnosed with cancer. At an after-dinner event, Bob would scrap off the sauce on his main meal and only play with his dessert. He was not a sporty man or keep fit fanatic, his figure was purely down to watching the calories.
6. The Open air is death to comedy
Bob always said, ’If the event is outdoors, dump the comedy. Nothing is funny in a field. The crowd waiting for you to open a fete, judge a donkey derby or give out a prize are not an audience in the normal meaning of the word. The Speaker system could echo or stutter, so anything you say must be slow and clear and to the point. That style of delivery often kills jokes, and if it doesn’t you can’t always hear the laughter’.
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.