Like many good ideas, it began on a napkin at a bar. It was the early 2000’s and Dan Erling told a friend he thought he could prove to the world that accountants, despite their square reputations, are actually very funny people.
How would he do it? A comedy show, featuring a showcase of ten of the funniest financial professionals in Atlanta. He’d rent out a comedy club, fill the house with industry folks, and donate all the proceeds to a non-profit.
Dan’s friend thought he was a little crazy. Not funny, but a bit crazy. Yet, Dan was determined to pull it off.
He and his team rounded up a comedy coach (Tommy Housworth), a venue (The 200 seat Punch Line Comedy Club), and held auditions. Later that autumn, the cast of ten amateur comics performed in front of a sold-out crowd at The Punch Line, raising $5000 for a small non-profit, and more importantly, lifting accountants out of an outdated cliche.
Since 2005, Accountants One has hosted the event twelve times, with show #13 coming in late November 2018. Today they host the event at CenterStage Theatre, regularly selling out the 820 seat venue. while raising over $300,000 for Junior Achievement of Georgia. The reach of the show has expanded as well, now billed as “The Search for the South’s Funniest Accountant.”
As a board member for Junior Achievement of Georgia, the opportunity to support the organization is a driving force for this event. However, Erling keeps coming back to the catalyst for this regional event as his passionate mission. He really believes that accountants get a bum rap, and deserve to be recognized for the clever, charming people they are.
“We’ve had some very, very funny folks in our shows over the years. And these are all very different personalities. We’ve had people like Mike O’Neill (winner, 2006), who embraced the dry wit accountants are often associated with, and Amy Norton (1st runner up, 2017), who brings a southern charm and personal honesty to her routine. Gilbert Lawand (2009, 2012 winner) was very edgy, Cyrus Steele (2016 winner) did spot-on impressions, and last year’s winner, Andrew Stanley, brought a hip, millennial point-of-view to the stage.”
Why is it so important to Erling to “myth bust” a rather harmless cliche about accountants, and present them in such an unusual light?
“As an accounting recruiter, I work with financial professionals every day. These are some of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and it’s always seemed ridiculous to me that they were perceived as humorless number crunchers.”
The leap from merely shifting perceptions to a professionally produced comedy showcase seems like a bold move, nonetheless. “Nothing takes more courage than speaking in front of a live audience,” said Erling. “Add to that, trying to make that audience laugh…with jokes you wrote. That’s a huge risk, but year after year, dozens of accounting professionals show up to audition for our show. That tells me that inside every presumably introverted actuary and controller, there’s a Dave Chappelle or Ellen Degeneres eager to get out and show off a bit. I love that we can provide that outlet.”
The fledgling comedians are supported throughout the process. It begins with a friendly, low-pressure audition, during which those trying out are asked to perform just one minute of material, be it their own or borrowed from the likes of Carlin or Newhart.
Those selected to take part in the show are invited to attend a trio of free workshops, called Comedy Bootcamp, during which Comedy Coach Tommy Housworth guides each comedian through crafting their routine (usually 5-7 minutes of original material), honing it, and getting comfortable performing it top-to-bottom in front of their peers.
“We give the comedians a lot of support because, for most of them, this is their first time doing anything remotely like this,” says Housworth. “Maybe a few have been involved in Toastmasters, but for the most part, a comedy routine is way out of their comfort zone. We help expand their comfort zone so they can really enjoy the process and feel good about being onstage when the curtain rises and they have 750 or 800 people waiting to be entertained.”
The audience at the shows is also quite supportive. This isn’t your typical comedy club crowd, who revel just as much in watching a comedian tank as soar. Instead, each comedian receives the full attention of the audience, cheers as they take and leave the stage, and while each laugh has to be earned, this is an audience that is there rooting for each performer to rock the room.
“It’s such a positive experience, top to bottom. The comedians feel like rock stars, Junior Achievement of Georgia benefits from the money raised and exposure, and the audience has a blast,” says Erling.
And what about that pesky stereotype about accountants?
“Each year, we blow the lid off of that outdated cliche,” says Erling. “I invite anyone to come see our show in November. I promise you’ll leave saying, “Wow, Accountants are Funny Too!”
Even better, Accountants One invites any financial professional who would like to help debunk this myth for a great cause to audition for our 13th annual Search for the South’s Funniest Accountant. Auditions are September 11th, and you can find out more information by calling 770-395-6969 or emailing Lindsay Grimsley at firstname.lastname@example.org.