That’s the basis for (and the brilliance of) The Water Coolers, a musical comedy group whose performances at meetings and events are inspired by the triumphs, trials and tragedies most working people face every day.
The group began with an unusual collaboration between conference planner Sally Allen and her husband Tom, a comedy writer who helped create the hit Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. In creating a comedy for the workplace, Sally insisted that it be appropriate for her audience. As a meeting planner, she’d been burned before by comedic speakers who went too far.
“I hired a comic once who actually made fun of how heavy my association president was,” Allen recalls. “We want to be funny, but we also want it to work within the context of the meeting.”
In fact, The Water Coolers tailor each performance to their client, working with the planner who hires them to determine the songs and sketches most appropriate to each event. They’ve worked throughout the country with groups from Cellular One and Microsoft to Deutsche Bank and Sterling Jewelers. And with a staff that combines comedy writers and actors with working sales reps, CEOs and meeting professionals, the group is never short on material.
“I was working as a management consultant, and I overheard some people in my audience complain about how they have to go to so many meetings,” Allen says. “And then someone else said, ‘Yeah, everybody complains about meetings, until there’s one they’re not invited to.’ And that became the basis for ‘The Paranoia Chorus.’ ”
On stage, the five Water Coolers perform songs about the pain of flying economy class (“What Are They Doing Way Up In First Class?”), the frustration of slogging through voice mail trees (“And Hold Please”), and the agony of sales (“Who Will Buy This Crap For My Kid’s School”). For a premium, they’ll even craft songs for a particular group, such as “A Day in the Life of a Sterling Jewelers Worker” or “We’re from Paducah”—a “We Are the Champions” parody saluting a company based in Kentucky.
Allen says she appreciates the praise the group has drawn from theater reviewers and the applause they’ve received from satisfied clients. But as a meeting planner at heart, she’s happiest when they’re able to make an event run more smoothly—by breaking the ice, bringing up issues, and allowing everyone from admins to CEOs to laugh about them together.
“So many meetings take place over the phone,” Allen says. “But part of a meeting should be helping people connect with each other.”