Hosting is typically the first paid job a comedian gets when starting out. Wether one hosts comedy, burlesque, or music there are some typical guidelines that every host should keep in mind when running a show. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to host some open-mics, showcases, and even a festival and although there are still plenty of shows out there that I need to experience I feel like these tips should give anyone who wants to try hosting an idea of what the job is like and how to do it well. After all if you’re getting paid to host then you should do a good job so you actually earn that money’s worth.
It’s Not About You
The first time I hosted was at my weekly open-mic Comedy at the Mezz and after the first week I realized that I was only a small part, an important part mind you, but a small part. I was presenting other comedians not myself. It seems like such a basic concept to understand, because after all it’d be weird if the host of any show does more time than the actual acts or headliners. So keep in mind that people are there to see the acts and it’s your duty to present them in a timely and orderly fashion so that people can enjoy them easily. This means don’t do time in-between comedians, unless something bad happens and you need to bring everybody back in, or if there is a problem in the show that requires you to do more time. The transition between comedians should take about 30-60 seconds. If it takes longer than that then the audience and the comedians are going to sit there and wonder, “When will this guy be done?” If a comedian is pumped and ready to go on stage but has to wait and guess when you’ll actually be done then that can throw him off his groove. Do time at the beginning, give yourself up to ten minutes to warm up the crowd, and then for the rest of the show be brief but effective.
Time Is God
As a host you’ll find that one thing you’ll be thinking about constantly is time. How much time does each act get? At what time do I show the light? What time is it? For comedy, the show should ideally run between 90min and 2 hours because after the 2 hour mark people tend to lose their concentration and start getting tired. As I mentioned before, a host should take as little time as possible on the show, partly because you don’t know how many comedians will go over their time which makes the show longer. If a comedian is going more than two minutes over you should start being more aggressive to take the comedian off stage in order to keep the show fair for all the other acts. Other shows like music and burlesque have different kinds of time restrictions but it’s important to know them so that way you can make the show easier for the audience to enjoy. Going too long can also make the venue mad too, the host is like the coach of the show, he’s in charge of everything and needs to follow the rules for the venue and for the audience. If the show goes over it’s time and needs to be cut short of a couple of acts then that’s the hosts fault that those acts didn’t go on, because it’s the host’s job to make sure the show follows the rules.
The Audience Is Jesus
The audience is helping you and the other acts get paid. The audience is the reason why you can perform tonight. So why wouldn’t you put the audience first? As host you’re the bridge between comedians and audience because the audience will see you more times than any of the acts. You’re their friend who has to experience the whole show with them, making sure they’re comfortable and in a good mood for the next act is your responsibility to ensure that the next act has the best chance possible to have a good set. This can involve acknowledging bad sets or weird interruptions, even though I mentioned that it’s important to transition quickly, taking time to make sure the audience is in a good place is time well invested as opposed to just doing time and hogging the show from the other acts.
Your Next Comedian Is…?
One of the things that ticks me off the most about bad hosts is when they don’t do the work to know the comedian they’re bringing up. I try to know who the comedian is and ask if there is anything special he/she wants me to mention in their intro. However the bear minimum a host should know is how to pronounce the person’s name. I saw one host get on stage about to bring up a comedian and asked where he was from and how long did he do comedy, those are both things he could’ve done off stage but instead he made things awkward and ruined the flow of the show. If you don’t care enough to know the act’s name or get their intro right then why should the act or the audience care about you or the show? A host has no show without having happy comedians and a happy audience.
It’s your job as host to be diplomatic between the audience and the performers. Respect both and both will usually be good to you back. People appreciate a host who’s trying to put on a good show and have a good time. I’m not the best host ever but one thing that makes me a good one is from people telling me that I actually care about the show, which encourages others to be part of a good show. You’re what makes or breaks the show early on. You’re the one who needs to be in control and therefore if something screws up it’s typically your fault, but keeping a level and positive head can get you through almost any problem, or do whatever it is you do to make the audience like you and the show you’re hosting.
As you go forth to host, practice is the best way to get better, hosting is a skill like any other and as you figure out your hosting style just remember that the show is about you being selfless, respecting the time, respecting the audience, respect your performers, and be the bridge that brings them together with a good attitude and hard work. Another good idea is to think back at other hosts you’ve seen and figure out what you liked about them and what you didn’t like then apply that to yourself. Make your show good and fun, even if at the beginning it doesn’t look like it will be, it’s up to you to turn that around. No matter how the room looks when you walk in try to get up first with the idea: Let’s have some fun.