How to be a good MC
I feel lucky that I’m in a position where I get to scout new talent for the Funny Business talent agency. Here are 11 tips and tricks of the trade.
When I started in comedy, if you lived in Michigan and you wanted to work for Funny Business there were two ways in. You could either hope for a recommendation from the go to person at that point in time or you could trek out to Grand Rapids and hope to dazzle Funny Business owner John Yoder in the three minutes of stage time you’d get on the open mic show at Dr. Grin’s.
Nowadays things are a little different. Eric and Jameson Yoder have largely taken over the Funny Business reigns, the company moved out of state and the then go to person burned their bridge with the agency. So that leaves me as the eyes and ears in Michigan.
Over the years I’ve become friends with the whole Yoder famiily. I don’t think that gives me preferential treatment. If there’s something big I want, I still have to work hard to get it. I understand and they understand that while we all may be friendly, at the end of the day there’s business to do. Because I value that relationship and take it very seriously I make sure that when I send someone Eric’s way to start emceeing for them, that person is ready.
Here are a few things I look for.
1. Have a clean fifteen minute set. Even though lots of times clubs don’t request you to be clean, a comedian might. You won’t work with Heywood Banks unless you can do kid shows.
2. Engage the audience, don’t just talk at them. I firmly believe that the MC is the ringmaster who runs the whole circus. Many times a club is going to want you to sell something for them whether it be drink specials, food, VIP passes or an upcoming show. You’ve gotta be able to do that so that the audience listens and pays attention.
3. Conduct yourself professionally offstage. How you conduct yourself offstage is many times just as important as how you conduct yourself on stage. If I go to an open mic show and someone is fucked up on a week night or is maybe running late. Honestly, they’re not a person who’s going to be high on my list of people I’ll want to help get work.
4. Have an original joke for various celebrations. This one is more for me, but I feel like a good host is a present host and nothing makes you sound more present than being able to riff with something that’s going on in the room. And I can guarantee that almost every weekend you’re going to have at least a couple celebrations. Write your bachelorette party joke or your birthday joke now so you can just happen to “riff” later.
5. Don’t get in the habit of doing crowd work. There’s one MC who I think super highly of, but all he does is crowd work. He’s fine at it, but it’s a crutch. If you set up the pace of the show to be a dialogue back and forth with an audience, then that sort of ruins it if the following comedians are more monologists.
6. Dress it up a little. I was always resistant on this one, but have recently come around. People are paying to see you perform. I believe once you move past emceeing and you’re delivering “your voice” you should dress appropriately to “your voice”. But when you’re emceeing, you’re essentially just a representative of the club. Dress professionally. Plus, it’ll go a long way towards getting the club to say nice things about you which will in turn help you move up faster.
7. Don’t pester Eric to middle. Cool, you just had a really great weekend at the club and now you want to middle there. I understand that. Funny Business has a lot of one nighters around. Once you’ve established yourself as trust worthy, maybe hit Eric up for a chance to show your 30 minute set during a one nighter. Don’t do that until you’re absolutely ready though. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
8. Send your avails. I’m guilty of this myself and I will say that this is probably the only perk I do get from being Eric’s friend. You have to send him your avails at least once a month. Do that like clockwork. Send them and then wait a week and shoot him an e-mail to make sure he got them. Stay on top of that. Keep yourself on his mind. So many of us are bad business people. If you can learn how to be a good business person while you’re learning how to be a good comic, that’ll put you ahead of so many of your peers. Sometimes I can call Eric to talk video games or music and he’ll bitch at me about not sending my avails. Then we’ll book something on the spot. While that’s nice, think about how much other work that’s costing me. I’m not a good business person. If I were, I’d be much further along.
9. Do your homework. Being an MC is a great opportunity because you’re getting the chance to work with the greatest variety of comedians you’ll ever get. When you middle, that cuts in half. When you headline, that cuts in half again. Take the time to find out a little about the comedians you’re working with. I’m still friends with people I met while emceeing. Sometimes these people go on to some pretty big things. That’s where my strength is. Even though I’m a bad business person, I’m a huge fan of comedy and comedians and I’m not shy about letting people know that. And I’m genuine about that. I won’t tell everyone that they’re my favorite and they’re my hero. In the Midwest, like I said yesterday, the Stand-Up Chronicles podcast is a good source for learning more about the people you’re probably going to be working with. Rooftop Comedy is another source. Who doesn’t like their ego stroked. If you find out something cool about a person you’re working with, tell them. Most people are awesome. In eight years in comedy, I can count the assholes I’ve encountered on one hand.
10. Volunteer to host open mic shows. Those are grueling, but great experience. On a weekend, you’ll only have to bring up two people most of the time. At an open mic show, you’ve got about twelve. You’re going to make the lives of Bill at Joey’s, Roger in Ann Arbor and Kevin at the Castle a little easier if you offer up front to take the bullet and host the show. No one wants to host. Why would you? You have to be on deck the whole time. Well, that’s good practice. Here’s a little secret you might not know about. I assume this is still true, but at least last time I did it, you get paid to host the open mic show at the Castle.
11. Be patient. It took me two years of open mic shows and shitty gigs before I started emceeing for Funny Business. Then it took me about another two years to move up to the middle spot. Then it took me about another two years after that to move up to headliner. As you start working, your work will speak for itself. I believe the MC spot is the hardest to move out of because it’s so hard to find a really good MC. Try to see things from their side too. Believe me, I know as people and especially as comics we’re wired to believe that it’s all about us, but it’s not. While you’re calling Eric for something, there are hundreds of others calling him too. As far as the other clubs in this area go, Roger watches the shows at Ann Arbor. He’ll ask you to host when you’re ready. Mark and Kevin watch the shows at the Castle. They’ll tap you when you’re ready too. Feel free to ask all these people for tips though. I’m sure I missed something. They’ll point you in the right direction.
I won’t recommend someone after just seeing them destroy once. I look for consistency. If you want me to check out your set, shoot me a line and I’d be happy to. Don’t feel bad that if you destroy and I’ve never seen you before I don’t go running back to Eric to tell him how great you were. I’m grateful I’m in this position and I don’t want to fuck it up. I assume most people who’d read this know how to get in touch with me, but if you don’t, you can always e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.