MC, Host, Compere. However you want to look at it the Compere is one of the two most important people on the lineup. With a good compere and an excellent headliner you can have a fantastic night even if the audience don’t get on board with all of your other acts.
I’ve hosted everything from Burlesque nights to high end corporate functions to backroom comedy shows. I used to run a weekly night and have been resident compere at several different comedy gigs, currently I’m one of the resident comperes for Castle Comedy, and there are a few things I’ve learned that the host can do which make the night run a lot better. This article should really be read after this one as you’re a comedian and both will really apply.
1. Meet the acts – You’re going to be introducing these guys/girls throughout the night so you need to know them well enough to make sure you’ve got the crowd to their level. Make sure you know all of their names and how they’re pronounced, make sure you know if they want to introduced a specific way and make sure you’re friendly with them.
2. Meet the audience – The host should go out and meet the people as they come through the door. Get to know the crowd, chat to them and show them to their seats. Make some jokes with them, flirt with the ladies and congratulate the men on their dress sense. By getting the audience on your side BEFORE the show starts you’re going to have a much easier time when the curtain rises. You may even get material from them that you can use so you’re not saying “anyone had a birthday this week?” and getting confused silence back.
(No but my brother died yesterday! He would have wanted me to be here – True story)
3. Talk to the venue staff – You’re going to be running the show when the lights come up so knowing who to talk to if something goes wrong can make the night run smoothly. Microphone stops working? You can shout for Steve. Lights too bright? That’ll be Dave. Mouth Dry? Tania. Also it gets the staff invested in the evening. When you ask them if they can stop serving at the bar while the acts are on they’ll be onside already.
4. Communicate with the promoter – A lot of the time the promoter won’t be there and you’ll be left to run the night on your lonesome so make sure you know what order they want the acts in and any other special requests before the show starts. Usually a promoter will want websites mentioned or next month’s show advertised and again these things keep the club running.
5. Don’t be a c*nt – the show starts and you get a heckler straight off the bat. They’ve either had too much to drink or they’re showing off because really no one in a sane mindset would shout randomly at a stranger, at a comedy show it’s acceptable but if you did it on a bus you’d be arrested. You’re justifiably angry at the interruption but keep your cool, politely talk to them about calming down and make some casual jokes about it. DON’T tear into them aggressively on the first interruption. The audience don’t know you and you don’t know them yet. Getting aggressive on the first interruption will create tension in the room which will make it harder for everyone to enjoy the night. My favourite way of dealing with hecklers is asking them who they are showing off for as it immediately forces dialogue passively. Obviously some people are too drunk or too crazy to deal with and that’s when you have them ejected from the show.
(Isn’t there a bus you should be shouting at somewhere?!)
6. Dress smartly – I’ve said it in other articles but I think when you compere it’s a must. You’ve got to dress for the part. If you’re playing a character then dress in their garb but otherwise wear smart clothes. The audience will assume you’re a professional if you’re dressed like one and it also distinguishes you from them. While it might sound like a great idea on paper for the audience to relate to you in casual dress, it looks like you just walked out of a local pub after buying a stolen flatscreen. In practise it stops them from seeing the barrier between you and them, you’re more likely to be heckled and less likely to get answers. Psychologically the audience will feel like you’re in control more if you don’t look like the person who sells them cigarettes. You wouldn’t trust a surgeon or solicitor in a hoody and you definitely wouldn’t trust a one handed mechanic in a tutu, they may be the best at what they do but they look like they have no idea.
(Yeah I can see your problem, you’ve got a cracked waste pipe leading from the main drainage. Hang on this gusset is killing me)
7. Write some bespoke material – You’ll have a couple of hours at some point before the show so take a look into the background of the town you’re in or club you’re at. Audiences love it when you talk about them and things they know. In bigger cities this is more about writing topical stuff, bringing up news articles or recent events will get a much bigger response and shouldn’t tread on any of the other acts’ toes. Also this is a great opportunity to exercise your writing abilities which you wouldn’t normally get to do as a standard performer.
8. Remember the names/details of your audience – If you’ve got a guy in the audience who makes up the flavours of ice cream for Ben and Jerry’s then you’ve got a cracker of a character to go back to. Mostly you’re not going to be that lucky but if you meet Dawn in the front row she’s a teacher and there’s a strike about to happen with the union, there’s a host of stuff you can say about that and it’s an easy way to get people on side. If you’re constantly remembering and referencing people from the audience throughout the show they’re going to have a much more special experience. These are the things that get people going to live comedy again and again. The relationship between audience and compere is a romantic one, you’re flirting with them and making them feel special and they’re giving you their undivided attention. Think of it like that and you can’t go wrong.
(This is too far though, keep a bit more distance. You want to be a tease not a slut)
9. Don’t get drunk – I mean this should be obvious right? Don’t get drunk while doing your job, should be a given but really it’s easy to do exactly the opposite. Most of the time the venue serves alcohol and a lot of the time we get free drinks because the venue want to show their appreciation. This is all lovely and how it should be but you are the host. You’re in control of the night and if you lose control the night is going to fail. Think of it like you’re the babysitter and these are your children, keep them safe from the ravages of boredom and don’t throw up on them after you’ve said “FUCKING BALLSACKS!” at the top of your voice.
10. Thank everyone – When wrapping up at the end of the night make sure you’re giving whatever notices the promoter has asked you to, website, next show, twitter etc, and thank everyone by name. Thank the venue staff, thank the promoters and then individually thank each of the audience members you’ve interacted with during the course of the evening. Make sure that during the night you’ve made little notes about them so you can refer back later. You won’t believe how much better you look just by doing this. Not only do you look like a consummate professional but they go home feeling like part of the show.
(Awww he’s got the warm fuzzies)
Annnnnddd that’s it ladies and gentlemen, my top ten tips for new comedians on how to be a great MC. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it and I love it when you guys give me feedback so let me know what you thought.