Wall Street tries its hand at stand-up comedy

Ken Gross, a MetLife financial adviser, performs his act at the Gotham Comedy Club.

We have comedians on Marketplace from time to time to get their take on the business world. Humor can help ease the pain of bad financial news, of which there has been plenty in recent years. Those who work on Wall Street have their own brand of comedy to get them through the day. These worlds collided the other night when a New York comedy club held a contest for amateur comics who work in finance.

It was a chilly weeknight, but Gotham Comedy Club seated pretty close to a full house. The show was a bringer show, which means the Wall Street comics have to bring a gang of paying customers to get stage time. A room packed with hard-drinking finance types means that even if the jokes bomb, the club still cashes in.

Gotham is a comedy proving ground where legends got started and big stars still drop in to try out new material with an intimate crowd of hundreds before taking it on the road for thousands. So the Wall Street crew treads on hallowed comedy ground. Doing a finance night was a natural idea, as one of the club’s owners is Mike Reisman, a managing director at a global bank.

Andy Engel put the finance-focused night together. He’s Gotham’s director of new talent. New talent is the polite term for amateur, a dirty word to comics and comedy clubs alike.

“People on Wall Street are gambling huge amounts of money and that takes a lot of balls,” Engel says. “The confidence is something that you can definitely transfer over from Wall Street to doing stand-up.”

Engel is also owner of Manhattan Comedy School, where some of the finance pros have gone to polish up their act. One of them is Ken Gross, a MetLife financial adviser, who did an act that touched on how the old days of Wall Street are gone.

“Do you know now, our budget for entertaining a client is $25?” he asks the crowd. “That’s one lap dance. What do I do after that?”

That got laughs, as did some other material we can’t play on the radio. There were a number of financial journalists in the club, presumably sent by their bosses to uncover some blinding new insight about the financial world. But it was hardly news that many on Wall Street love money, drugs and sex, the finance jokes that got the most laughs.

A couple performers did grip the mic to go after Wall Street’s critics. Financial adviser Greg Cantone’s act included what comics call a room divider, a provocative bit that gets both big laughs and loud groans. He compared finance salaries to teachers and nurses, saying those professions were the ones being overpaid. Besides their suits, you could pick out the finance folks by who laughed.

All but one of the finance contestants were male and most were white. But not all. Sheilah Smiley, a black woman who says she works on a mostly white male trading floor, held the mic close and leaned in to offer a stock tip.

“Don’t trust white people with your money,” she whispered, cracking up the crowd.

All contestants had plenty of material that had nothing to do with finance. Caliph Scott—who works for a market data company—only made a glancing reference to his work. Judges chose him as the winner.

One of the judges was working comic Robin Montague. She liked many of the finance jokes, but said Wall Street material isn’t enough.

“They’re gonna have to think of other things,” she said with a laugh. “It’s money. If you have it, you don’t wanna talk about it. If you don’t, we wanna beat them up.”

She was in a hurry to leave the club, explaining that some of the Wall Street folks promised to fund a few rounds of drinks at the corner bar. Banking may not be comedy gold, but bankers can always provide liquidity.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter for Marketplace and substitute host for the Marketplace Morning Report, based in New York.

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