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Shtick Shift: Stand-Up's Edge No Longer Cuts

On a recent Latino Night at the Laugh Factory here, one stand-up after another did his routine -- meditations on sex and Mexican American ethnicity. Some of them also took time to make gentle fun of the few whites in the audience.

"Any white people here?" asks Fernando Flores. "What? You guys make a wrong turn? We got White Wednesdays. Come back then."

The "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" features, from left, Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy and Ron White. (Rod Tanaka)

"It's like we're all so thin-skinned we have to stick with our own little cadre," says Miller.

But this targeted comedy is also about business -- a marketing trick to get fannies in seats, say the comics. And it has provided access.

"The niche market is this really huge thing now," says Suzanne Westenhoefer, a lesbian stand-up. "Because otherwise, there'd be no other way to get work, unless you're a white boy comic." (Most headliners remain white, heterosexual males.)

Beyond race and ethnicity, there are NASCAR comics and southern comics -- most popularly, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour (a quartet of millionaire faux-rednecks like Jeff Foxworthy pretending to be trailer trash).

Gay and lesbian? You can go to "Gender Blender" night or "Ladies Night." We've come a long way, baby, since April 30, 1997, when Ellen DeGeneres caused a national sensation by coming out of the closet on her TV show.

Religion? No problem. Take your pick.

"I can offer a client a Baptist comic if that's what they're looking for," says Gail A. Stocker, a consultant who provides "corporate comedy" for business clients who want the appropriate comic fit for their sales conventions and annual meetings and company retreats.

Stocker says that corporations have gotten over their fear of employing comics for their gatherings.

"At first they were leery," says Stocker, who has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies. "They want to be sure no one is going to be offended."

And no one is.

On her Web site, Stocker offers the right fit. Female or feminist? Naughty or clean? You want an Asian comedian? "Conservative or liberal -- for every type of corporate event. Our Asian comedians are among the most sought after in the world of corporate comedy. Asian comics are in high demand due to their ability to connect with their audience through a specialized brand of humor."

Female or feminist? Naughty or clean? How about a Muslim comic?

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