Afraid to book a comic? You're not alone. Many planners are hesitant because they believe that their group won't respond to comedy, or that it's simply too subjective or risky. Fear not, because there are quite a few safe, universally funny performers you can feel comfortable about booking, even in this age of political correctness. And here's the best part: They're easy to produce and can save you money.

The First Step Your first decision is to determine whether comedy could serve the goals of your meeting or event. In particular, you'll need to decide whether its best use is in the business sessions or as evening entertainment. For incentive trips, chances are comedy would work well in either venue; for high-level executive conferences, perhaps not - unless there's a need to break things up.

Having worked with and observed hundreds of comedians, I would point to one item that is particularly relevant: Just as musical acts vary widely even within a given category, good comics have unique styles and perspectives. This is the key to making the crucial decision of whom you should hire.

Make the Connection The trick is to match the comic's style, content, and tone to your group, whether the performer is being used as a host during the business meetings or purely for banquet entertainment. In a general session application, you'll want a comedian who can propel your messages forward and complement your executives. Most audiences are between 35 and 55, with a few younger and a few older (sound familiar?). However, the pyschographic profile of your audience will vary in degree of sophistication and indulgence, as well as differences in values, mentality, ethnicity, geographic makeup, and so on.

Again, make the connection between the specific brand of comedy and the mind-set of the audience for the event. Or be sure that the act can make the adjustment; indeed, many performers can easily do so if you take the time to describe the specific makeup of your group.

The Novelty Shop If you have seen or worked with Durwood Fincher, Michael Davis, Mark Russell, Bill Herz, or Jay Johnson, you know that comedy doesn't necessarily mean "stand-up." These entertainers have very different specialties (double-talking comedian pretending to be a business speaker, juggler, political satirist, magician, and ventriloquist, respectively), yet each is funny and succeeds in almost any environment. Novelty acts use different approaches or vehicles to get people to laugh, loosen up, and in some cases, be more productive.

Other performers such as Brian Regan, Wendy Liebman, and Wayne Cotter do fall into the stand-up category. Each is a seasoned professional who consistently delivers great comic performances more suitable to a banquet setting. In fact, some comedians can move, enlighten, and entertain your crowd just as well as a musical or other type of act. Many of them get us to look at ourselves, our businesses, and our society in a fresh, thought-provoking manner - while we're bent double in laughter.

Another type of comedy act you might consider is an improv group; the better ones can work well for banquets as well as for business sessions. They're an unexpected choice, but one that is very memorable owing to their highly customized and "in the moment" sensibility.

Fees and Expenses Except for a few expensive names (e.g., Jay Leno, Bill Cosby, Dana Carvey) comedy offers a tremendous value: Travel expenses are minimal, production is likely already in place, and fees start at $5,000 or less. The value is even greater when you're producing shows overseas, as these benefits become more pronounced. In comedy, as in meeting planning, timing is everything. Decide when to go for the laugh and they'll thank you with a smile.