Fewer and fewer comedians want to emcee anymore but emceeing skills train you to become very funny on your feet, handle hecklers and sound more conversational. All skills you’ll need before you can headline. With that in mind, here’s some MCing tips based on my personal experience and numerous conversations with other professional comedians.
- Come in with super high energy. You want to get the audience’s energy as high as possible.
- Start by saying “Hi everyone, we have a great show for you tonight.” Make sure you’re smiling and that you sound genuine.
- Get the audience to clap again with something like “Clap it up for yourselves” or “Who’s happy it’s a Friday night?”Unless you get an amazing response, say “You can do better, let’s try that again.” It (subconsciously) communicates to the audience that you’re in total control.
- Go into crowd work.Either ask the standard questions like “Where are you from?”, “What do you do for work”, etc or try to come up with more interesting questions (in advance). Try to make jokes about their answers, or joke about the fact that their answers are boring. Don’t panic if some of your improvised joke attempts miss.
- Don’t talk to more than 3 tables in a row, or people will get bored and/or hate you.
- Do a couple of your jokes.
- Repeat step 4 through 6 as needed, establish the pattern.Alternately, you can open with a quick joke or two (not longer than a minute) and then go into crowd work. This works better on shows where the audience is unsure it’ll be a good show. The best is if you have crowd work questions that will lead into your material. Example: “Anybody married in here? Oh yeah, how long? When’s the divorce? Just kidding. But I’ve actually been married for twenty years.”
- Get a final round of applause, then bring out the next comic.Example: “You guys are great. We have an awesome show. Are you ready for your next comedian?” Make sure the comedian’s name is the last part of their introduction. You want to say “This next comedian has been on Comedy Central please put your hands together for John Doe.” Do not say “Your next comedian is John Doe, he’s been on Comedy Central.” BONUS: This is a personal pet peeve of mine: Don’t ask “Who’s ready to get this show started?” or “Are you ready for your first comedian?” The show has already been in progress since you got up there.
- When you come on stage between each comic, make sure to maintain a super high level of energy to keep the audience in their seats and excited about the next comic.First say, “how about another round of applause for [comic's name].” Then either go into a joke or two, or just introduce the next comedian. If there are more than 3 comedians on the show, I don’t recommend doing time between the first and second comedian, so that the audience doesn’t think you’ll be slowing down the show after each performer. BONUS: If you can come up with a quick one or two line joke based on the last act’s closing bit, that’s a great way to keep the show feeling connected and as one. Example: If the last comic said something like “Then I passed out in an alley, and woke up without a wallet,” you can come up there and say “So I was in an alley last night, going through Joe’s wallet…”
- Most important, the emcee has to be a person.You can’t talk at people, you have to talk to them. (This applies to regular stand up spots as well, but especially if you’re the host.) If you don’t get many laughs as a host, but your energy is positive and you’re smiling the whole time, the audience is relaxed and engaged and the first comedian does well, you did your job (even if you don’t feel great about it).
Would you rather have someone else to host for you? Hire me. I’ve hosted hundreds of show including at The Lincoln Center.
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