Monday, March 23, 2015
I've been emceeing comedy shows for about 5 years now, so let me start this blog post with this disclaimer...NO, I DO NOT KNOW, OR THINK I KNOW, EVERYTHING ABOUT HOSTING; however, over the years I've had a lot of comedians come up to me and ask me advice on how to host. So I assume, I must be doing something right. Which made me start to think about passing on some tips that I've found useful over the years of being an emcee to other comics. So here's a couple quick tips that I've discovered might help out someone who is thinking about hosting or wants to host for the first time. Again, disclaimer, I DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT HOSTING, but these are a few things that I picked up along the way either from watching other hosts, veteran comics, or learned on my own that I always try to remember while hosting. So, I'd like to pass them along to you in hopes that it points you in the right direction or even helps you discovering your own emcee formula.
Hell, I love talking about comedy. I love talking about hosting. Hosting is a completely different muscle to flex in the stand-up comedy world. It's a mix of actual stand-up, improv, and basic conversation skills. A solid host can double their chances of getting more work than a regular stand-up, especially outside of New York City. What producer or club WOULDN'T want a solid, engaging, respectful, funny host to take the helm of the ship!?
The first thing that I always found myself saying to comics who asked host advice was, "just be present." Be IN the room with the audience. Be AWARE of what is going on around you and the audience. Remember, the whole show isn't about you. You're the host. You're going to be the first person that they see incorporated with the show. You're welcoming the audience into the venue, whether it be a comedy club, a VFW, or a bar. Make them feel comfortable and safe with you. Mention that it's going to be a great show/a solid lineup/a fun night... you know, anything you tell someone on a first date. It's like you invited all these people into your house and you brought along a couple friends (the other comedians) to make sure they have a good time tonight. You're basically going to be the cheerleader for the beginning of the show. You have to bring the energy up and make the audience truly feel that they're in for a fun night! When I host I try to think of myself as 1 part WWE wrestler and 1 part Green Day (you guys ever see them in concert? They're pretty exciting...plus they make huge venues feel intimate) Anyways, with all that being said, get to know the room and audience TOGETHER. You AND the audience are going on this journey TOGETHER, so you want them to trust you and feel welcomed. Get to know certain audience members, ask where they're from, what they do for a living, if they're married, dating, have kids, etc. I've even gone as random to ask an audience member "If Sally Jesse Raphael and Ricki Lake got in a fight, and the winner gets their talk show back on the air, who would win?" (Don't actually get this playful and random until you feel comfortable hosting) Spread the questions around the room, don't just focus on 1 or 2 audience members up front. A lot of people DREAD AND FEEEEAR THE FRONT ROW CAUSE I DON'T WANNA BE PICKED ON. Get everyone involved! Make sure you always repeat someone's answer into the microphone so EVERYONE knows their answer. Remember, you're all in this together now, so everyone wants and needs to know what is going on IN the room WITH you. Give certain people nicknames. You can even have certain stock nicknames in your arsenal. For example, any time I see a table of women with 1 man sitting with them, I refer to them as "The Mormon Sister Wives." The trick is making it seem as if it's happening right off the top of your head in that moment. Be interested, smile and conversational with them. If you're genuine, they're going to go on the journey with you.
Once you start getting answers from the audience, look for ways to camouflage your material around/into/about their answers. Depending on how much time you have up front, fire off the quicker jokes that you might have in your repertoire based of the answers they're giving you. Don't go into a long 4-5min bit, because odds are, if you're on a showcase for a club on the road, you might have to fill some more time between the feature and the headliner. If you don't have to fill time and the comic before the next comic did well, just keep riding that wave of momentum into the next comic... remember, this isn't about you. So if you're talking to an audience member about who they're dating, toss in your quick one liner about your dating life. If you don't have any material about certain topics or professions that the audience is mentioning to you, just say the first thing that comes to your mind. Don't second guess yourself. Whatever your instinct is, go with it. Again, that shows that you're being in the moment and you're being real with the audience. You can be a lot more vulnerable and playful with an audience as a host than you can in a normal stand-up set.
Last but not least, just have fun up there. Have as much fun as this guy right here...
If it's evident that you're having fun and you're excited to be there then the audience is going to match that AND give even more back to you and the rest of the show. Get comfortable. Smile. Own the stage. As Judge Judy says, "this is my playpen." It's YOUR playpen! You're up there for a reason. You want to entertain people, make them laugh, and help them forget about their problems for the 90mins that they're sitting in that room. This is their night out! They made plans, paid money, maybe got a babysitter for their kids, traveled to the show somehow, probably got a 2 drink minimum, killed a hooker along the way. You don't know! Point is, they're looking for a fun and memorable night. So give it to them.
So. Be present. Be energetic. And have fun.
Now, go bring up the next comic.