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CEOs Are Hilarious!

Friday, 6 Nov 2009 | 11:57 AM ET

When you think of CEOs, the first thing that jumps to mind isn’t funny.

David Moore
Photo: cnbc.com
David Moore

But David Moore, a private-equity investor/entrepreneur/stand-up comic, says that’s a common misperception.

“People think CEOs are boring and all they care about is money,” said Moore, the former CEO of Web-site management firm Register.com. In fact, he says, "The majority of leaders — be it political, corporate or whatever — are funny,” he said.

So, he rounded up a trio of his fellow fearless leaders and put on a night of CEO comedy called “Funny Business” at Caroline’s comedy club in New York last night.

There were real-estate jokes, Bernie Madoff jokes — let's face it, this year gave them a lot to work with!

“You know how bad the economy is?” Moore asked in his opening. “I saw a guy the other day with a sign that said, ‘Will diversify your portfolio for food.’”

In addition to making business jokes, he also pokes fun at his Jewish heritage.

“So, Bernie Madoff is in jail,” he said. “Prosecutors asked for 150 years [sentence] — and the judge slapped him with the full 150,” Moore said. “Not only is he a slimeball, but he’s the first Jew to pay full price!”

Source: cnbc.com

Stew Leonard, Jr., who runs the Connecticut grocery chain Stew Leonard’s, also tried his hand at stand-up. If you live in the New York area, you’ve probably heard one of his radio commercials about going to a turkey farm, whistling, and having the turkeys go crazy. This is his second show with Moore.

Leonard told stories about funny business meetings and customer experiences as well as what it’s like to run a family business.

“I have four daughters. So, I live with five women — Even my dog is female,” Leonard explained. “With all the hormones changing minute by minute, there’s always somebody crying,” he said. “And it’s always me!”

Leonard said he likes using humor in his business.

"I think what humor does — it makes you real. It demystifies you and makes you a real person,” he said.

He’s also tried to channel his inner Jon Stewart to reach the under-25 crowd.

Steve Siegel, chairman of global brokerage at real-estate firm CB Richard Ellis , joked about how tough it is to be in his business right now.

“With the real-estate market the way it is, I could fill the room with just the people I owe money to!” he quipped.

CEOs on Stage
CEOs try their hands at comedy, and find that running a company may be an easier task.

(To see highlights from "Funny Business," click on the video at left.)

Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels and co-owner of the New York Giants, told a story about a lunch in Washington with Treasury Secretary Geithner.

Tisch’s wife made it to Vanity Fair’s best-dressed list. Apparently, Geithner said, “John, we’ve got $100 billion of TARP money left. Do you need that to keep Lizzy on the list next year?!”

Then, a joke about the global economy:

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“China!”

Admittedly, not everyone in the audience got the joke.

Some professional comedians, including Colin Quinn, Mike Vecchioneand James Smith, stopped by to help keep the laughs going between CEOs. And, the CEOs all acknowledged how hard stand-up comedy is.

“I probably spent an unbalanced amount of time preparing for this,” said Leonard, who admits he consulted Eric Kornfeld, a writer for Rosie O'Donnell, for advice. “I’ll bet I spent more time on this than for a speech to 1,000 people!”

Tisch ended the night with a CEO’s version of Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year.”

“When I was 53 … it was a very good year,” Tisch began. “For hotel chains and the travel industry ... The money flowed free ... It was before AIG.”

“When I was 54 … it was a very good year ... for CEOs with caviar dreams … we all took stretch limousines ... stayed in five-star hotels ... and then it all went to hell.”

"When I was 55 ... it was a very bad year ... for investment banks ... Lehman Brothers fell first ... and then the whole bubble burst ... no more limos sat idle ... perks went out of style ..."

“Now, I’m almost 56. And it’s been another bad year. The new guy in charge wants to cut our pay … and cut our bonuses, too ... what’s a mogul to do?"

He ended, not with optimism or pessimism, but simply: “CEOs all take heart ... soon, next year's gonna start."

Thank you! You've been a great audience!

More From CNBC.com:


Questions? Comments? Write to ponyblog@cnbc.com.

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