As career changes go, Thomas Marschall’s is right up there with Blur bassist Alex James giving up music to make cheese, and N Sync member Lance Bass enrolling at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
And it is difficult to initially comprehend how Marschall’s background as the chief executive of two international technology companies would make him well-suited to his new role as founder of the Copenhagen International Comedy Club (CICC).
But then again, comedy is not a perfect science, and Marschall’s eyes are more on the corporate comedy scene than the traditional circuit.
Reinventing corporate comedy
Marschall contends that corporate entertainment in Denmark has not moved with the times to reflect increasing cultural integration in the workplace
“In Denmark we are still at the early stage of the multinational; most countries around us are further ahead,” he said.
“Most Danish organisations of a certain size will in the coming years have to become more and more internationally orientated, which will expose them to new challenges related to bridging the gap between how we work in Denmark and how the labour markets function in other areas of the world.”
Laughing a great tool
International stand-up comedy, contends Marschall, is an excellent tool that every organisation with employees from different countries and cultures could benefit from
“The main trick is to be able to laugh at yourself while with others,” he explained.
“When you laugh with colleagues about topics of race, religion, ethnicity, politics and sex, you learn that although we may look different, we are all more or less the same on the inside, have the same problems, hopes and dreams, which is a useful lesson when you want to reduce the friction in a workplace between people from different backgrounds.”
Great for business abroad
As a chief executive, Marschall was frequently travelling, sampling comedy all over the world. And he was impressed by what he witnessed, finding he could often learn far more about a new country or city from a show than he could from any market report or newspaper.
“As such, a local comedy show could offer unique and locally based topics to bring up in meetings with business partners the following days,” he recalled.
“There would be nothing better in a meeting than if I could throw a joke about a local topic that I had just heard the evening before in a comedy club. That gave my business partners a feeling that I was very much on the ball with what was on top of their minds locally.”
A new festival
Beyond the corporate circuit, the CICC is aiming to make a big splash in the international comedy scene in Copenhagen with eight shows in late September.
All are welcome at the Copenhagen Comedy Festival, from September 23-26 at Bremen Theater, although it is primarily aimed at multinational organisations.
“It is a great opportunity to have a fun evening while also learning more about the countries from which the comedians originate and not least listen to an international perspective on the Danish way of life, which often is a bit different than what we normally tell the world about ourselves,” explained Marschall.
“I wanted to bring this higher level of comedy to Copenhagen. This city deserves an international comedy festival.”
Blueprint for success
It’s unusual to find a high tech executive involved in a comedy project, but as far as Marschall is concerned, the principles of good business apply to organising comedy as equally as they did to being a “professional executive for the past 20 years”.
“I’m not a professional event person,” he conceded. “You just try to have a structured and professional approach and make something the audience will like. The ambition is to make this a recurrent yearly event and potentially also the type of event that could be tailored for corporations and organisations on an ad hoc basis.
Laughter as medicine
Part of the CICC’s proceeds will go to the Danish Hospital Clowns – a program that uses humour and clowning to reduce pain and suffering for children undergoing treatment at hospitals around Denmark.
“We want to help sick children by making them laugh – it has been scientifically proven to benefit both physical and mental health,” revealed CICC communications and marketing manager, Annemarie Jørvad.
And the same is true for business. And in Marschall’s hands, Danish multinationals will soon be laughing themselves into a better multicultural understanding.
Marschall’s travels started during his education, which included spells at Henley Management School, Singapore National University and Stanford University
Before becoming a CEO, he spent 12 years as a general manager at AP Moller-Maersk
In 2000, he was appointed chief executive of Synkron, a software company that he turned around to profitability in three years
Then in 2006, he took over as CEO of Precise Biometrics, a fingerprint technology company based in Lund, Sweden