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Network Through Laughter

New comedy groups are aimed not only at entertainment, but at networking opportunities.

Laughter puts people at ease and makes them feel comfortable -- and that's one of the reasons why comedy shows are now being used as a new type of networking event.

Many professional and social groups are attracting likeminded audiences through themed nights and events across the country, and the trend is growing.

Recently, the Hispanic Professional Network in Chicago sponsored a night of comedy networking on Cinco de Mayo.

This organization promotes both professional development and career development within the Hispanic community, and holds frequent networking and benefit events.

The Cinco de Mayo Comedy Fiesta ($20 for advance tickets) began with two hours of socializing, where conversation was encouraged by the free margaritas and

botanas

, or appetizers.

The comics included Jesse Pangelinan, Alfred Robles and Patrick Deguire, who performed for an hour and half. After the show, there was a fiesta to keep the party going into the night.

Similarly,

Out Professionals, in conjunction with New York City's

Homo Comicus comedy troupe, recently sponsored a woman's comedy networking night, Girls Gone Hilarious, at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan.

Out Professionals is a nonprofit organization started in 1983, and has chapters both in New York and in San Francisco. The organization has a following of 1,200 members and 6,500 email newsletter subscribers.

A free preshow party encouraged mingling among guests (inexpensive margaritas, of course, didn't hurt either). The guests -- mostly made up of women -- got a chance to catch up, make new contacts and anticipate the upcoming show.

The onstage talent included Erin Foley from

Logos'

"Wisecracks," Michele Balan from

NBC's

"Last Comic Standing," Julie Goldman from

Logo's

forthcoming "Big Gay Sketch Show" and Jackie Monahan of the

TheStreet Recommends

LOL Tour.

As Twilla Duncan, board member of Out Professionals, says, "People laugh when they can identify about things. It's a commonality of shared experiences that makes people bond,

and the ability to identify makes people comfortable."

"People want to laugh, they really want to bond," says Duncan. At these comedy events, attendees "feel at ease and are relaxed. They don't feel self-conscious," Duncan adds.

With a more relaxed, informal environment -- and everyone laughing over the same jokes -- networking opportunities are abundant and accessible.

Plus, comedy shows "give people something to talk about after," Monahan points out.

"This environment is warm and very welcoming ... It's a great way to meet people in an environment where it's nothing but warmth.

People feel they have nothing to prove," says Duncan. With the egos set aside, connecting with other audience members is effortless.

Another group that uses comedy for networking is

Network of South Asian Professionals of Boston, which has long had a close relationship with the arts. The Boston chapter was formed in 1995 to give South Asians a forum in which to speak about business, politics and social trends affecting their community. Its comedy event, Netsap Comedy Mela, was held at Faneuil hall earlier this month.

A variety of stand-up acts and sketch skits kept the audience entertained, as popular local comedian Corey Manning hosted the show.

A lot of hard work -- two months of preparation -- went into producing the night, which gave members of the organization an opportunity to explore their creative talents.

Come One, Come All

Do you want to find a comedy event in your area, or start your own? Then look to

Meetup, a social networking tool promoting local and community groups nationwide, across an infinite range of interests.

Meetup has several

groups dedicated to comedy: improv, sketch, stand-up, even "The Daily Show" fans.

And if you can't find a specific group that interests you, then just create your own. The existing listings, though, are vast. The

Austin Improv Comedy Social Hour is aimed at comics already in a troupe who want to socialize away from the stage. The

Stamford Sketch Comedy Group gives members an opportunity to workshop material and meet other compatible people in a supportive environment.

Unlike a run-of-the-mill press event or book launch, you'll never be bored at comedy networking nights. You may end up meeting a future business partner, or just enjoy the laughs. Better yet, you might end with both.

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