A man walks up to the bar

November 13, 2012

Did you hear the one about the comedy show that’s for lawyers, by lawyers?

Photo: Comedians at Law (Alex Barnett, centre)

We’ve all had colleagues who’ve made us laugh – sometimes even for the right reasons. But lawyers who can make a living out of being funny are definitely few and far between.

Those who can, it appears, like to stick together. Comedians at Law is a collective of five successful US comics who have come from, and base much of their acts on, their misadventures in the legal profession.

Alex Barnett, J-L Cauvin, Greg Collett, Kevin Israel and Matt Ritter have a mixture of backgrounds, including corporate, litigation and in-house roles. None have, by their own admission, been successful, and the group claims that in all it has ‘over 175 disappointed former employers’.

Comedians at Law is currently undergoing its second tour (‘Lawmageddon II’) that’s taking it to general comedy clubs and specialist legal audiences, including the prestigious (Harvard Law School) through to the esoteric (Houston Intellectual Property Bar Association).

Together or individually, the stand-ups have appeared on CBS, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Fox and CNN.

Fired four times

Besides being a stand-up, New York based Alex Barnett is also a successful writer. He penned a monthly column about career transition for Lawyerist.com and chronicled his own transition from law to comedy in a series of pieces for The New York Daily News.

Barnett claims to have been fired four times from law firms. Has it sharpened his edge when it comes to making gags about the law? ‘Not sure,’ he replies. ‘But it has convinced me that I’d better succeed as a comic.’

Given the team are all ‘failed’ lawyers – the strap-line emblazoned across their merchandise is ‘Bad at Law, Good At Comedy’ – it’s not surprising that a common thread across all five acts is inadequacy.

‘We know what it’s like to be fired, invited to leave, shown the door, given a pink slip, told we should consider other forms of work, and sacked,’ says Barnett. ‘But at the same time we know that law can fascinate people. So we like to comment on those aspects of the legal world that have permeated into popular culture.’

Specifically? ‘Given America’s fascination with religion and guns, anything involving those topics is always ripe for commentary.  Also, sex. Not amongst the Supreme Court Justices, because picturing that is enough to leave you without an appetite for a while. But cases involving sex.’

‘Cretin’ audience

Discussions of recent cases are also evident on the group’s podcasts, where the comics (primarily Barnett and J-L Cauvin) riff on legal news, discuss the highs and lows of their live performances and address their ‘cretin law audience’ on whatever other topics spring to mind.

‘We do market ourselves to legal audiences, but our material isn’t limited to law-related issues,’ Barnett continues. ‘But when we perform at private events  – for bar associations, law firms or law schools – those audiences obviously all have some common bond.’

Such as? ‘Being lawyers or law students, being affiliated with the particular entity, and of course being angry that they got into the legal profession in the first place.’

Do they get any kind of unique feedback from lawyers?  ‘In other words, does anyone scream out “objection” during the middle of our set? No, but after being fired four times, the fact that lawyers now pay to see me work is pretty funny.’

Unhappy lawyers

According to Barnett, the future of the team looks bright. ‘Given our legal careers, I don’t think anyone’s going to make us Attorney General or nominate us for the Supreme Court. But I do think you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot of us on TV, on the radio and in print media in the next year or two.’

Any plans to visit the UK? ‘I assume you mean United Kingdom, not the University of Kentucky? We’d love to come on over and perform for a bunch of solicitors and barristers who we imagine are just as unhappy and in need of entertainment as American lawyers.’

That’s a given. So if you’re a social secretary looking to cheer your firm up, this could be the place to make a stellar booking. AB

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