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Stand-Up and Host: Master of Ceremonies Part 2

April 19, 2011

Hey there, welcome back to part 2 of this week’s post on MCs (part 1 found here).

Right pants, wrong MC

Yesterday we chatted a bit about why it’s worth your time to develop chops as an MC, and also went over some of the important functions this role requires over a straight stand-up performer.  Today I want to dig into some of the lessons I’ve learned, as well as some mistakes I’ve made and observed, in the following 10 DOs and DON’Ts of MCing a stand-up comedy show.

1) DON’T Perform Too Much Material

Yes, an MC will end up performing about 15 minutes of their own material in a full-length show.  No, it shouldn’t all be at once, and it should never harm the flow.  Too many times I have seen an MC with an ego decide that instead of hosting properly, they will turn the show into their own writing session, cramming in bits here and there until they’ve added over half an hour to the show length.

Experienced MCs only do material off the top, or after a comic who drastically changes the tone of the room (i.e. offends or bores them).  Otherwise, they just keep the show going.

2) DO Control Hecklers

The easiest way to lose control of a show is to let a heckler get out of control.  Sometimes an MC is either too intimidated or doesn’t care to shut down the heckler.

I remember a show where the MC actually engaged in a dialogue with the heckler between acts.  Sure, the MC was making fun of the drunk, which he probably thought was a good thing.  Not so.  Just like the spoiled brat, a heckler wants attention, good or bad.  When they are rewarded, it is license to continue.  As a comic on the show, I was furious that the MC was not only ignoring the situation, but making it worse.  We all had to go up and sacrifice precious minutes from our own sets to deal with the MC’s problem.

3) DON’T Criticize Performers

Seriously though, “King of Limbs” is pretty wick.

An MC should be bigging up everyone on the bill.  If someone bombs, the MC doesn’t need to pile on and rip on the comic.  The audience looks to the MC for indicators as to how to behave.  If the MC is being mean and vindictive, so will they.  Yay, a shitty show.

4) DO Have a Timing System

Nothing is worse than a comedy show that’s gone on past its welcome.  It’s a terrible feeling to think “Yes, this comic is really funny, but I’m all laughed out and I could go home.”  How can we avoid this?  Well, as MC if you are planning a show, you don’t want more than 8 comics.  6 is an even better number.  Have some kind of lighting system (a cell phone’s light up display works pretty good) and stick to it.  For example, wave when there’s a minute of time left.

5) DON’T Pet a Wet Dog Backwards

They hate it.

6) DO Keep the Crowd Warm

Riffing is a skill that is essential to an MC’s bag of tricks.  Get the crowd involved by acknowledging them and interacting.  This can range from asking about birthdays, to referencing events that are happening in the room, or other comic’s sets.  The job of the MC is to anchor the night, be the tour guide as it were.  A good guide is constantly checking in, seeing if there are problems, and keeping the mood light.

7) DON’T Make Announcements All Through the Show

There are usually drink specials on comedy nights, and the people who own the bar certainly appreciate you reminding patrons to spend money.  It’s not a bad idea to introduce the bar staff if it’s a small room, and get any of these announcements out of the way pretty early.  Bartenders make most of their money on tips, so they will appreciate it if you put a human face on them.  Still, put all this housekeeping at the beginning of the show so it’s out of the way.

8 DO Plan for the Unexpected

There are many surprises that can come your way as the host, including a last minute big-name comic dropping in for an unannounced spot, mechanical problems with the mike or sound system, and a million other little things.

I don’t have specific advice here, other than to make sure you learn from mistakes.  Write them down if you have to, and think about what you would have done differently for next time.

6) DON’T Be A Debbie Downer

Wahhhh wahhhh

Again, stand-up comedy can be very raw, emotional, and honest.  But an MC  does not have those freedoms.  Their job is HYPE.  If you think the show is going badly, redouble your efforts.  As the MC, it’s partly your fault.  If the host can’t stay light and fun, who else will bother?

7) DO Control the Environment

Do what you can to minimize distractions, and make life easier for the performers and audience.

I remember a recent show where midway through a comic’s set we heard a dull, repetitive thudding coming from upstairs (we were in a basement).  It sounded like someone was telling us to pipe down by stomping on the floor.  I went upstairs to see what about the hubbub, and it turned out to be an old lady chopping carrots.  I asked her to slice ’em instead, and she went, “Coooooooooooool bud, you got it!”  Best story ever.

8) DON’T Be Inconsistent

Figure out the way you want to do things, and do it that way.  Nothing is worse than someone steering the boat who is wishy washy.  Comics and the audience will stop trusting your leadership, and that’s a bad place for the MC to be.

9) DO Love What You’re Doing

Being an MC is not glamorous, but it is a vital, difficult, and rewarding job.  Try to remember that and it will show onstage and make for a fun show.

10) DON’T Fall In Love at The Shore.

Look what happened to Ronnie and Sam

Well, that’s about all I have to say on the subject.  Okay, I’ve been teasing it, and you came this far.  Fine.  Here is a video of MC Hammer for us all to enjoy. No, it ain’t “U Can’t Touch This.” I’m too legit for that.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2011 4:53 pm

    I think I have read all of your post. I originally found fear of stand up part 2 and tried to read all of your stuff. You have helped in my stand up and also entertained me. I hope you continue your blog.

    I would be glad to help you set up your own if you wanted,

    Justin Zimmerman

    • May 5, 2011 11:56 am

      Thanks very much Justin. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a great motivator to hear back that people are actually finding this stuff useful. Thanks for the comment!

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