BINGO! For New and Hacky Comics

I thought this up while sitting through a more painful than usual open mic. It’s meant as a joke, but can serve as a reminder for all of us to avoid the easy jokes.

In the past year I’ve definitely done 4 out of the 5 topics, and 2 out of the 5 bombing jokes (and probably other squares I’ve forgotten about), so I’m not claiming to be better than anyone…

Ten Steps to Become a Great Emcee (Host)

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.

  1. Come in with super high energy. You want to get the audience’s energy as high as possible.
  2. Start by saying “Hi everyone, we have a great show for you tonight.” Make sure you’re smiling and that you sound genuine.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t talk to more than 3 tables in a row, or people will get bored and/or hate you.
  6. Do a couple of your jokes.
  7. 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.”
  8. 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.
  9. 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…”
  10. 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.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? I teach a Comedy Class in NYC. I also do private one-on-one comedy coaching (in-person or via Zoom).

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

5 Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright

A lot of people are scared of speaking in front of large groups. And that’s when you’re not even trying to get them to laugh. At one of the open mics I go to, a newer comedian asked me how I overcame being nervous on stage. (My hands used to shake while holding the mic and I would never pause after punch lines.)

Tip #1: There’s no real shortcut, getting over stage fright just comes with reps. The more you’re on stage, the less nervous you get. If you can get comfortable with complete silence (when neither you nor the audience is talking) you’ll be well on your way.

Tip #2: Practice deep breathing for five minutes before getting on stage. Focusing on taking deep breaths helps calm the adrenaline and still the mind. Picturing your performancein your mind and hearing the laughs and pauses works well in conjunction with breathing, as long as you can remain positive.

Tip #3: Read “The Inner Game of Tennis” this will help you with most of everything you do in life, not just getting comfortable on stage. The basic summary of the book is to turn off your conscious, questioning everything mind and to trust your subconscious. This book is basically about how to get in, and stay in, “the zone”. I highly recommend reading it even if you have no intention of getting on stage (or playing tennis).

Tip #4: Use external mood alterers. A pro comic I know said he uses alcohol as his crutch and has been doing it for over 10 years. He mentioned that the first few times he did comedy he was sober and wasn’t funny, so he started drinking, felt more at ease and got funny. He said many pro comics he knows use alcohol, pot or cocaine to get into a good state of mind before getting on stage. I don’t recommend this strategy, as you never know when an entire state can run dry on coke. This tip may also be an issue if you’re overcoming stage fright to present at a work conference at 9am…

Tip #5: Channel the nervous energy in a positive way. Being nervous in and of itself isn’t bad, it’s what you do with the nervousness. There was a recent ESPN article about Tiger Woods who was quoted as saying, “The day I’m not nervous is the day I quit… Of course I’ll be nervous. That’s the greatest thing about it, just to feel that rush.” If the greatest golfer still gets nervous (and he doesn’t even have to speak!), it’s okay if you get feel it too. Just try to turn it into something you can use while speaking.

In conclusion, accept that you’re going to have some nerves. Acknowledge that it’s natural, know you’ve gotten through it before (unless it’s your first time on stage) and this should already make you less nervous. Then when the adrenaline occurs, either turn that nervousness into a positive, or do your best to ignore it.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? I teach a Comedy Class in New York City. I also do private one-on-one comedy coaching (in person or via Zoom).

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

My Writing Process

Reader and aspiring comedian Andrew asks:

How do you go about writing new material? Is it just things that seem funny to you in real life, or do you sit down and try to think up funny situations, or what? 

Hey Andrew,

I always have a small moleskin notebook with me (and an iPhone as a backup) so I write down anything I think, see or hear that’s funny. Sometimes this will lead to me writing a joke on the spot, sometimes it’ll just be a few key words that I later try to write into full jokes. I also try to write on trains or subways through free association. I look around until I find something interesting and start to write about it. (There’s plenty of inspiration in NYC just by looking at people or advertisements, not sure if this holds true everywhere.)

Later, I’ll rewrite my notebook jokes into a GoogleDocs file. (Your hard drive can crash, Google Docs is safer and you can access your jokes from anywhere, including an iPhone / Blackberry.) After that, I’ll either try it out on stage or IM it to a few friends and get their feedback. I’ve found that not looking at a joke for a day or two will help you be a better editor when you rewrite it. And all of my jokes need to be said out loud at least 10 times before they become funny-.

Also, after trying a joke on stage, if it gets laughs, I try to think about how to add more punchlines to the same topic. You can go setup -> punchline, set up -> punchline, setup -> punchline, or you can try to go setup -> punchline -> punchline -> punchline.

One goal in stand up is to maximize the laughs per minute. You can do this by talking really fast (which is generally a bad idea) or by having more punchlines and less setup. This is also why you’ll always hear comics say “get to the punchline quicker.” (The other goal in standup is to maximize the intensity of each laugh.)

I read that Jerry Seinfeld had a long sheet of paper with dates and “X”s on it. For every day he wrote, he’d put an X. His whole mantra is to “keep the chain going”. I’ve been trying this but with three columns: sit ups (I don’t wanna be a fat comic), writing material and performing stand up. I try to do all three daily but don’t always succeed. I keep this paper close by though, so I at least remember and have something to strive towards.

I forget who said this, but I read a quote something like “I only write when inspiration strikes. However, inspiration strikes me every day at 7am sharp.” I’m working towards getting this discipline.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? I teach a Comedy Class in New York City. I also do private one-on-one comedy coaching (in-person or via Zoom).

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

What Do You Do When Nobody Laughs?

Reader and aspriing comedian Andrew asks:

How do you react when people don’t laugh? Do you just go straight onto the next bit and pretend that there weren’t supposed to be laughs at that specific point?

Hey Andrew,

My answer to this still evolving.

At first, my natural tendency was to 1) die a little inside if the crowd didn’t laugh at something I thought was funny and then 2) speed up my delivery so people don’t notice that was a failed punch line.

My current method is to stop talking after what I think is a punch line, stare straight into the audience and wait 2 to 3 seconds. If you’re confident enough and the punch line is somewhat funny, you’ll usually get a laugh. If it doesn’t happen, you still die inside, but you need to move on without speeding up.

Keep in mind, not talking for one second when nobody is laughing will feel like ten minutes. During a show I’ll think I paused for 10 seconds, but on tape it’s really only 2 or 3 seconds.

Other times, I’ll also just admit that joke failed, and I get a laugh from that. “Wow, I’m never doing that one again,” “God, I hope the next comic is better than this” or “You’re right, that wasn’t funny.”

If a joke doesn’t work with a few different audiences, it’s time to cut or rework the joke. The larger an audience is, the more useful their response. It’s a lot harder to get 3 people to laugh (especially if they’re comics) than it is to get 30 or 300 people to laugh. Laughter is contagious.

I’ve also been playing a little bit with forcing out the laugh even if they don’t want to laugh by just waiting and waiting, after a 5 or 6 seconds, the tension usually gets awkward and they laugh (watch some of my recent videos for examples –I’ve been working on just staring at them until they laugh).

One last method I’ve been playing with is saving half a joke until people don’t laugh. I have a bit about “When someone doesn’t laugh at a joke, I just assume they’re deaf.” I’m now saving the second part of that, “Turn up your hearing aid” for if/when a joke fails.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? Consider taking my NYC Comedy Class or booking a private one-on-one comedy coaching session (in person or via Zoom)

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