Last night, I got a lot of compliments from the audience and my fellow comics. It was gratifying to hear, more than once: “You’re an excellent host.”
Yes. Yes, I am. Because I’ve worked at it.
When I started standup, the first opportunity a young comic might get to be on a regular show was as the host/emcee. In retrospect, this is not a job for newbie comics, but how else do you get better except by doing?
Back in the day, I used to ask to emcee the bringer shows. (That’s like asking someone to set you on fire and let you burn.) There’d easily be 15 plus (it felt like 50) comics doing five-minute sets. Some, of course, would go over — convinced that I had given them the light too early. Some would bail after only two minutes on-stage, convinced that they had been up there for 10. So, early emcee lesson: never leave the room.
In addition to doing spots, I sat and watched emcees. A few were great. Most weren’t. Because they misunderstood or didn’t respect the responsibility of the position, the audience, the venue, or the other comics on the show.
I don’t know if this is still the case, but when I performed in England, the job of hosting went to the most experienced comic on the show. It was common to see headliners, hosting. That makes sense. You need someone who can be greeter, ringmaster, audience unifier, and colleague protector. A good host covers transitions, fixes problems, and bonus points if you can do it with what the Italians call, Sprezzatura: “A certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” I aspire.
And so, I’ve shared these tips before but I’m happy to share them again.
Emceeing is a skill that entails:
Opening the Show:
You’re the first comic the audience sees.
Reading the Room:
Figuring out who’s in the audience (demographic and geographic), how they feel, what they want and need. (Some audiences need to be talked to. Some just want you to get to the jokes. It’s your job to know which one or both.)
Setting the Tone:
Command the stage, the room, and be funny AF. This lets the audience know that they don’t have to worry. They are in capable hands and they’re going to have the good time they came for.
Bringing the audience together as… well… an audience. Remember, chances are they all didn’t arrive in the same car.
Then, introducing each comic with respect and enthusiasm. (Yes, even if you hate their guts. What? It happens.) Pro Tip: Pronounce their name correctly and give their actual and preferred credits.
Being in the room:
Watch the show. See what’s going. Make connections, comebacks, and callbacks. Get buy in from the audience. Did that just happen? Did we just hear that? Be The Captain. Unify and fly.
You can see me do my thing next Friday, 1/24, 9PM at West Side Comedy Club.