By Bob Grossweiner & Jane Cohen
Gail Stocker is founder and president of Los Angeles-based corporate comedy consulting company, Gail A. Stocker Presents. Gail provides a broad spectrum of personalized creative services for corporate America. Some of her Fortune 500 clients include Aztrazeneca, IBM, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Parke-Davis, Lucent Technologies, Neutrogena, Hewlett Packard, McDonalds and the DNC.
Gail has worked with comedians as a booker, manager and producer, but is now concentrating on providing services for live events. She searches, books, and buys for her clients. Her outreach is extensive and includes stars, familiar faces, veterans and the up-and-comers. “Give me your demographic and budget and I will provide the best choices,” she says.
In the political arena, Gail has worked with comedians — left, right and center — ranging from stars of late night TV such as Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Al Franken, Dennis Miller and Jay Leno, to affordable comedians with a wide variety of opinions.
“I have created a niche for myself in comedy using my strengths and passions,” says Gail. “It’s a unique spin and a useful one. I help provide both better mental health and win-win solutions through laughter, which is my favorite form of conflict resolutions. I am not the only person who has my skills and background in comedy but I am the only one I know of that has combined them the way I do. I don’t have to believe in someone’s philosophy or their politics to work for them and to provide them with professional and appropriate talent. Who better than me to get your business? ”
Gail got her first job at age six. She taught another student a dance step and was paid a dime. “I have been working ever since,” she notes. Gail worked her way through college with the Los Angeles County Probation Department and when she graduated with a degree in Sociology she became a probation officer, working with children in the inner city. “I have always said that it was a lateral move to work with comics,” she quips.
How competitive is the corporate market?
It has always been competitive but it has mushroomed since the Internet. One day I looked up corporate comedy and found 960,000 entries. Individual comics, comedy clubs and I don’t know who else started advertising because they saw corporate as lucrative.
How has comedic entertainment changed in the last 10 years?
Comedy reflects popular culture so they evolve together. Comedy has become more influential in a number of arenas. There are more comedians in movies and TV. More comedians are writing books and influencing news events. Comedians are becoming pundits and king makers. It is not an accident that Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on “The Tonight Show” and that every candidate appears with Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. A number of comics participated in the election attempting to sway opinions of live audiences. Comedy is serious business.
What agencies do you buy talents from?
I work with the biggest sellers, ICM, William Morris, APA, CAA, and all the rest when I am shopping for my clients. I can provide a list of, for example, all comics in the 45k to 50k price ranges and then do the deal and deliver the talent. For people who don’t have big agency relationships or don’t know who are corporate appropriate this can be helpful. When you deal with an agency, you get their client list. When you deal with me, you get everyone available. I also work with smaller agencies, college bookers and comedy clubs when I am looking for newer, younger corporate talent. Of course, I deal directly with both managers and comics. My outreach is extensive and my relationships make it easy. With buyers, I work with corporate buyers, production companies, ad agencies that want to do a product launch, political parties, colleges, and fortune 500 companies and individuals that want to do a private event.
First industry job
A job with Irene Pinn, who managed Lily Tomlin, and had the Emmys to prove it. I worked with Irene for nine months without earning a dime – an indication of how much I wanted to learn the business. Then Irene moved to New York and suddenly I had a client and a business. That was over 20 years ago. One of the things I’m most proud of is that I have paid the rent with comedy since. I started booking comics on the comedy circuit in the early 80’s. I booked comics all over the United States in the comedy clubs. Some of my clients were Dennis Miller, Robert Wuhl, Kevin Pollack, Paula Poundstone, and many more. I also managed comics at this time. Some of my management clients included Bobby Slayton, Jeffrey Jena and Kevin Rooney.
First concert worked
The first major concert I produced introduced Tim Allen to Los Angeles. My partners were Bob Fisher of the legendary Ice House in Pasadena, and Geno Mitchellini, the DJ who started 5 O’clock Funnies. Geno Mitchellini was a rock and roll DJ. He played comedy tapes at 5:00 PM every day as relief for rush-hour traffic. I helped Geno with tapes from comics, and Geno credits me with the inspiration for the concert series. Bob Fisher also supplied tapes of comics that performed at the Ice House. Other club owners and comics also supplied tapes and Geno eventually had quite a library of comedian’s performances. Because of Geno, attendance at local clubs improved; he became quite a hero to the community. We took the comics that his audience liked best and put them in concerts. It was quite successful. When Geno first played Tim Allen, then an unknown, the response was tremendous. We did our first 2,500 seater with Tim and sold every ticket to every show.
I was asked by a member of a small grass roots group in Tampa to get them a political comedian. Al Franken said he would do the date if it was affiliated with the DNC, and so that happened. This group had no experience working with comedy but fortunately they worked at my direction. I oversaw all booking, itinerary, ticket sales, and publicity– from press release to radio, TV and newspapers as well as book sales. I also suggested show order and opening acts both for the event and the after party. It was a wonderful, profitable and successful event. Everyone involved worked as hard as possible. The event was pulled together in under a month. I went to Rome with Jeffrey Jena. It was for an insurance company large enough to rent the Vatican for their groups’ tour. Working with Jeff and a video crew of two, we created a souvenir video of the event, complete with the sights of Rome, all the attendees and the President’s message. Everyone got a copy and I am proud to say that Michelangelo’s Pieta is in the video. I was paid to go to Rome to create a new project. That seems like a good time to me. Another of my favorite gigs was at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood for a major drug company. I submitted 30 tapes of up-and-coming comics. From the four chosen, I created “team work”. They wrote specific material, created game shows, appeared in a video, and did stand-up as their introduction to the convention. We got rave reviews.
What type of comedian does corporate America favor most?
Corporate America has traditionally insisted on clean non-offensive comics ala Jerry Seinfeld. However, comedy is becoming more specialized. Given the demographics and budget of an event, I can send a customized tape of appropriate choices.
First concert attended
Harry Belafonte at the Greek Theater. When he asked the scholarship section to sing along, I did. I don’t remember the year but I was very young and it was a long time ago.
My clients Bobby Slayton and Paula Poundstone won the award for best male and female comic at the same time; Producing a concert for the DNC; Introduced on stage as the reason for the success of the 5’Oclock Funnies; Several comics have told me that I’m funny. I’ve been called “kind of an icon.” I’ve been told that an event is better because of my involvement. I’ve traveled nationally and internationally with my clients. I work with the funniest people in the world. I get to appreciate the art and the craft, the business and the show of comedy. I love it and live it.
Losing Bobby Slayton and Paula Poundstone as clients, as well as a number of other people in whom I had invested time, energy, talent and love. It made me turn from management to corporate comedy and then to being a comedy consultant. I was ready to depend on my own talents instead of others.
The constant need for reinvention.
Best business decision
The decision to start a business even though I was advised not to.
Best advice you received
Be curious, be patient and don’t consider the possibility of giving up.
Best advice to offer
Adding to the above: Do a thorough assessment of your skills and desires. You can’t expect to get anywhere if you don’t know what you want.
Most memorable industry experience
I went to Frankfurt with Robert Wuhl. We were standing in the wings before his performance for a black tie crowd. They asked the crowd to stand for the National Anthem and in one of the most surreal moments of my life; they played Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Ales.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you?
I doubt I could surprise my friends. I’m consistent, and my friendships are all of long duration.
Industry pet peeve
Unethical behavior. I won’t work with anyone I can’t trust.
Since I work at home, I’ve every possible comfort, including my two cats and a room with a view. If I weren’t doing this. I would be using all of my skills to become a philanthropist.
Pat McQueeny, the former president of the Conference of Personal Managers, was involved in legislation in Sacramento to help define the position of personal managers. She’s bright, knowledgeable and kind. Although she only has one client, she did a good job of positioning him and helping his career. Perhaps you have heard of Harrison Ford. Ken Kragen, a long time manager, gave a class at UCLA. He taught that you should always do more than expected and explained a Theory of Triangulation to promote career advancement. Charles Jaffe: A mentor to many. He manages Woody Allen and has worked with many of the best comedians. He puts the most wisdom into the fewest possible words. The sign on his front door says: “Beware of Occupant.” Jay Leno: I use Jay as an example to other comics. If you want to be successful, just work harder than anyone else, write the best jokes, be easy to get along with and always be prepared.