“Hi people working in finance, or those trying to sleep with people in finance,” Meghna Shah, a director at an accounting and management consulting firm, said. The crowd at the Gotham Comedy Club thought the salutation was hilarious. Although, the chance that they wouldn’t laugh was probably small. It was exactly the kind of joke that group went there to hear.
In April, Shah and a dozen other finance professionals — traders, bankers, consultants and the like — took the stage for the “Funniest Person in Finance” stand-up show at the club in New York City to jest about their day jobs.
The audience was a mix of hip millennials chewing on buffalo wings, finance bros who more than met the two-drink minimum, and sheepish, silver-haired couples there to laugh about second homes, inflation and crypto.
“It’s clear that people need comedy now more than ever before,” said Andy Engel, owner of Manhattan Comedy School and the new talent director of the Gotham Comedy Club, which co-presented the event. “We get hundreds of professionals who are never going to quit their day jobs but understand that stand-up comedy is the ultimate must-have skill for anyone in business today.”
White-collar comedians often use their jobs for inspiration and keep their company names under wraps. Shah leads strategy and builds tech products for a roster of clients in banking, capital markets, insurance, and wealth management. She’s joked about feeling stressed during volatile markets and has one-liners about her Coinbase account.
Many of Shah’s colleagues know about her stand-up side hustle and support it. Comedy is a creative outlet and it has helped her as a consultant, she told RIA Intel.
“Humor doesn’t always have to be slapstick or crass, it can also be something that makes you think and see something differently,” Shah said. “Reddit and the meme community are hilarious and know how to take a joke and that proves we are self-aware enough to laugh at ourselves. We need more of that.”
Other finance professionals felt a similar way; comedy provides much-needed relief from the uptightness that comes with their jobs (and, some admitted, their coworkers).
“I do stand-up comedy because I need a juxtaposition with the finance world — where it’s so structured. My 8-to-6 job is quite buttoned up and serious,” said Sarah Schultz, who works at a hedge fund and moonlights as a stand-up comedian.
“Accountants don’t tell a lot of jokes, usually. So, in the evenings, I get to go out and use my voice, and play, and say things that I’m not allowed to say during my workday,” Schultz said.
Tad Flynn, a managing director in the financial and valuation advisory practice at Houlihan Lokey, also performed at the “Funniest Person in Finance” stand-up show. After he was rejected from law school, Flynn began working in finance, which he’s been doing for 40 years. He recently took a comedy writing class and started performing.
“Finance primarily draws from the logical half of the brain,” Flynn said. “Expression, whether it be stand-up, or the arts, more broadly, draws from the more creative half of the brain. Financial problem-solving abilities can be enhanced by tapping into that creative side so I’ve always striven to keep my creative side active.”
When Flynn was a young banker, he took night school classes at the School of Visual Arts. Later, he took a hiatus from Wall Street to run record labels.
“There is a lot of interpersonal interaction in finance. Humor, used positively, greatly enhances human interaction and creates positive energy,” Flynn said.
Finance-themed humor is hardly limited to comedy clubs. (There are popular finance Instagram accounts like @whitecollarhumor, @consultinghumor and @finmemeassociates.) Some performers at the “Funniest Person in Finance” show are succeeding at making people laugh in person and online.
Elyse DeLucci is currently the chief digital officer at a financial services firm and a TikTok star that has garnered over 25 million views for her jokes since she started her account in 2020. She does stand-up comedy partly for the same reasons others do.
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DeLucci started taking improv classes at the People’s Improv Theater as an escape from her day job. A teacher encouraged her to do stand-up and she never looked back. Gen Z is the most engaged generation on TikTok but many businesswomen, baby boomers and single moms are hungry for relatable content, DeLucci said. That’s why she’s been successful, she added.
“Office culture material is great,” says DeLucci. “Or sometimes, comedians do stand-up at corporate holiday parties. I’ll sometimes talk about how I’m a Crypto trader, so I have running bits about crypto and the metaverse. It’s clean material, smart and fun.”
DeLucci also said that comedy is an important leadership tool for finance professionals.
“When used appropriately, having a light sense of humor, being relatable, and even using comedic timing all help with large-scale presentations and communicating messages to employees,” she said. “You‘ll always remember the fun presentations and the execs that made everyone feel at ease. Humor helps bridge a lot of gaps at work & especially helps in creating strong office culture.”
After four decades of working, Flynn has plenty of inspiration for material, including some of his own professional gaffes.
“I like to focus on the nonsensical, absurd, or humiliating aspects of a situation,” said Flynn. “Andy Engel at Gotham Comedy was smart to try this segmentation. The audiences are generally warm, forgiving and encouraging.”
Comedy is a tough business and Flynn has experienced that firsthand. However, a run-in with the comedian Jim Gaffigan at Gotham Comedy Club lifted his spirits. (Gaffigan also made a surprise appearance at the “Funniest Person in Finance” show in April.)
“Once, when I was feeling very low about getting more stage time and contemplating giving up, I ran into him at an afterparty for a benefit,” Fynn said about Gaffigan. “I went up to him and said, ‘Hi, I’ve preceded you the last two times you were at the Gotham Comedy Club, and just wanted to say hi.’ Clearly catching him off guard, he looked at me and said ‘The Gift Tag joke? Good joke.”
It was the confidence boost Flynn needed. “That basically explains why I’m still going up onstage,” he said.
Nadja Sayej a journalist and author based in New York City. She's contributed to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and other publications, and interviewed more than 500 actors, directors, and designers including Susan Sarandon, Jean Paul Gaultier and Robert De Niro.