I love hosting comedy shows. I love being able to set the tone of the show and get people excited for the great night their going to have. I’ve probably hosted over 75 shows so far of all sorts (comedy, music, fundraisers, etc…), and I’ve learned a lot, messed up a lot, and have had some great success. Here’s a collection of tips might help you learn some things, too.
A good comedy show host doesn’t just read off the names and keep the show moving along, you’re the Master of Ceremonies (that’s where the MC comes from). You’re managing the flow of the show. You’re the conductor that is listening to the flow of the audience and the comics and tweaking things where you can to make it a great night for everyone. You’re the face of the show. You’re the one the audience will keep seeing over and over again. A host can make it really easy, or really difficult for all of this to work. Hopefully these tips will help you make some good decisions.
BEFORE THE SHOW
Plan on arriving 30-60 minutes early. Most clubs will probably want you there a half hour early, but I prefer 60 just to have more time to relax and get in the zone.
Take some time to make sure the stage and microphone are ready to go. I’ve discovered issues with equipment that may not have been found out until show time. It takes a few minutes. While you’re at it, put the mic stand, and stool exactly where you want it. No sense in wasting time when you take the stage at show time with that.
You also might want to try taking the mic out of the stand and putting it back in. Sometimes the top grip works differently and there’s little tricks you need to discover. You don’t want to waste time figuring that out during the show.
Bring an extra microphone. It’s not your job to supply the equipment for the venue, but if a mic goes bad in the middle of a performance, you’ll be the most seamless person to replace it (by either handing it to the comic, or swapping it between sets). $30 will buy you a pretty good one, and you can use it for podcasting.
Figure out how the lighting will work. Ask the comics when they’d like to be lit. Some headliners may want 10 or 5 minutes notice so they know it’s time to close with a specifically timed bit. 1 minute doesn’t work for everyone.
Free drinks and food are great if you get them, but make sure you still tip generously, perhaps even more than you would if you paid for it. Also, don’t abuse the privilege by ordering the most expensive stuff you can. The club will remember that, and it’s just tacky.
Do some homework to find out the credits of the performer in advance, in case they show up late and you don’t have time to talk to them before or during the show. But when possible take the time to ask them what you’d like them to say. Be wary of taking a laundry list of 3 or more credits as the longer the list the more likely you’ll draw a blank or screw something up. Keep it powerful and simple.
Don’t be afraid to ask how to pronounce a performer’s name. If they have an unusual name, chances are a TON of hosts have screwed it up. They’ll appreciate that you took the time to get it right.
You are building up hype and maximum excitement for the performers. The finale of your introduction should be their name. The comic is waiting for their name as the cue to take the stage, and you not only weaken your introduction by saying the name first, but you make it hard for the comic to know when their moment is.
“Our next comic is Steve Martin. You’ve seen him on David Letterman and films like The Jerk. Let’s give him a big round of applause…”
FLIP IT AROUND:
“You’ve seen this next comic on David Letterman and films like The Jerk. Let’s give a big round of applause to STEVE MARTIN!”
Be aware of the politics of plugging shows at competing venues. “You can see him all next week at the competitor’s place” won’t go over very well with the management.
After you do your hosting set, don’t introduce the next comics as “the first comic”. You are the first comics.
Time your introductions so that the performer can soak up applause as they run to the stage and grab the mic. Sometimes it’s hard to control, but don’t end so quickly that they have to finish walking to the stage with silence. That’s the worst.
Often the comic will end their set and get applause, then you’ll take the stage and it’s gone. This is a good time to ask for one more round of applause for the last comic to keep the energy high.
DURING THE SHOW
Pay attention to the “time left” for each performer and let the on deck comic know how much time is left. This is particularly important between the feature and headliner comic, as the headliner may be just waiting in the green room. They’d much rather know they have 5 minutes left than 1, especially if they’re going to put on a jacket, or time 1 last piss break.
Make sure the mic is in the stand when the comic takes the stage. DO NOT hand them the microphone under any circumstance. Put the mic stand front and center, and let the performer move it where they are comfortable when they’re up there. Shake their hand, but if they have a drink and a phone, don’t make it awkward.
Remove any set list or notes from you or the previous performer. Some jackass comics like to grab set lists and riff on them after the performer left. Don’t give them the opportunity.
Be prepared to take the stage at any time. Of course it’s unreasonable to assume you can’t take a bathroom break or step away, just remember that every time you do, it’s a gamble. Comics with 10 minute sets or less can often decide to end their set early, turning it into a 5 minute set. If they leave the stage for any reason, and you’re not there, it’s your fault there’s dead time. You can’t expect the management or another comic to hop up there in your absence. Time your breaks so that they’re at the very beginning of someone’s set to minimize the risk.
Don’t do material in between sets. Your chance to do material was at the beginning of the show. If you bomb at the beginning, the rest of the show isn’t your chance to win them back with more jokes. Do your time, then do your introductions and keep the show moving. If there’s 4 comics and you do 1 minute or two between each, that’s 6 minutes you’ve added to the show.
Keep the audience engaged and excited. They want to have a good time. Reward their behavior. Have them give themselves a round of applause periodically for being a good audience.
CLOSING THE SHOW
Thank all of the performers by name, plug any upcoming shows the venue would like you to. And always thank the audience last. Tell them your name again as well. You deserve it.
If you’re doing another show the next night, check with the management when they’d like you to be there. Also remember that some Sunday shows start earlier so make sure you’re aware.
If you’re hosting an open mic comedy show, it’s obviously an entirely different dynamic. If you know someone enough to drop a credit for them, go for it, but it’s your job to keep the show moving quickly, so a name and a request for applause will do. If you find out it’s someone’s first time doing comedy, it’s sometimes cool to mention that after their set. If it’s obvious that the comic brought a lot of people to see them perform, acknowledge them and get some extra applause out of them before you bring their friend to the stage. Be prepared for a comic to give up 2 minutes into a 5 minute set, as well.
Also, with open mics, you’ll be dealing with a lot of beginners who don’t know a damn thing about the rules. Explain how the light works and how long the sets will be. Tell them where to enter the stage and put up a list with the order so they can check it. It also doesn’t hurt to remind the next 2-3 comics in queue when you’re going up.