I’ve been asked to emcee a show, but I’ve never done it before. Got any advice?
-Starter Host in Sterling Heights
Congratulations! Remember, you are there to warm the audience up for the other comics and to keep the show moving. If you happen to kill during your set, that’s great; but the clubs really just want a host that can stick to their time and be professional.
Get the announcements right, from the other comics’ names to anything the club wants you to read, like drink specials, upcoming acts, etc. Ask the comics and the clubs what they’d like you to say and then do that exactly. Don’t forget a name or an announcement! Better to read it than try to look smooth and forget it. Ask the club and the headliner if there are any language restrictions.
Also, ask the other comics how much crowdwork they do and if it’s okay for you to do some. It’s easy for an emcee to do crowdwork to get a reaction, like finding out who’s having a birthday, bachelorette party, whatever. Some comics would prefer that you not do this, however, as it might get the crowd too riled up and talkative. This can pose a problem if the feature and the headliner do material without any crowd interaction. If you’re doing multiple shows in a weekend, you probably have time to figure this out; but for a one-nighter, it’s worth asking so you don’t make a mistake.
You may also have to drop a bit if you know the feature or headliner has a bit on a similar topic. Your Tinder bit that you’ve been closing with might kill, but if the feature opens with his own Tinder bit, he’s not going to be very happy having to follow you. In a situation like this, the proper etiquette is for the emcee to drop their bit and let the headliner or feature keep it. It’s easy to think “He,’ they’ve been doing it longer and have more material , let them drop it!,” but that’s not how it works. When you’ve moved up to a higher spot on the show, you can dictate what the emcee does (if you want); but as the opening act, it is polite and professional to let the other guys do their acts and you rearrange yours.
Being an emcee isn’t a job that everyone wants, but it is the entry-level job in stand-up comedy, and being good at it isn’t easy. Set your ego aside and do the job as best as you can. If you’re really funny, you’ll get a shot to feature or headline eventually, but don’t have any shame in being the opener. It’s a paid, professional gig that’s always in demand; being asked to do it should be taken as a compliment, not an insult. Everybody always needs a good emcee.
Joel Fragomeni is a familiar face to anyone who’s ever been to the legendary Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak, where he ensures that all of the shows run smoothly. He also teaches the Advanced Comedy Class at the Comedy Castle. For more information, call (248) 542-9900.
Have a question for Joel? Email us.
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Mike Green says
Richard Jeni once pointed out to me a brilliant observation about emceeing. He told me “Johnny Carson, David Letterman & the host of the Oscars are all emcees”. ” You might as well get good at it since we are all trying to be Emcees”.
Mitch Gill says
Thanks Joel, this was good advice! I’ve been Emceeing for two years, and I can’t agree more, know what I need to say, and keep it moving. Nothing makes a show producer happier than a smooth, professionally run show.
Mark Reedy says
Some clubs book House M.Cs. This is a big compliment to a comic starting his or her stand-up comedy career. This gives a new comic a chance to network and learn from season features and headliners. When I was a new comic (3 years performing) I would offer out of town headliners rides during the day to run errands and lunch. I was able to build a professional relationship with different headliners. When ever those headliners came to my hometown club they would request me to open for them. It was a win-win situation.