Monday, 11 October 2010

How To Be an MC

"MC" stands for "Master Comedian", he's the guy who holds together the evening, starts the show, ends the show and introduces the acts. Other duties may include:
  • Deciding how much money an act gets paid at the end of the night, based on door takings/the personal relationship between them
  • The running order of the evening, based on the acts style, content, length and the personal relationship between them
  • Flashing the acts on stage to let them know they are going over their time/bombing on stage/making stage time for a comic friend of his who is not on the bill, yet will get more time than you

"Flashing" is a technique used by MCs to get acts off the stage by flashing a light from the back of the room or side of the stage. Unfortunately, much like the crime act of the same name, it's rarely executed with the intended subtlety, and also like the crime, its recipients usually experience anger, disgust and confusion upon its occurrence.
"Time's up"

TRIVIA - Famous MCs include Hammer, Donald and Fly.

Good MC

If you have worked your way up to MC status in a club, or started your own one and taken the role despite lack of stage presence or material, then there are a few things you need to know.

1. You are the show

Even with a comedy night with three acts on the bill, you are going to be up on stage at least four times (not including intervals). Use these spaces in-between acts to go through some of your material. If you have half an hour worth of material, break it down into chunks to slot around the acts. The resulting bite-size comedy will suit perfectly and not seem crowbarred in, it may even seem refreshing because in number 2...

2. Introductions

You are in direct competition with all the other acts on that night. Why give the other comics a leg up and run the risk of being forgotten as "that guy between the good comedians" at the end of the night? Pre-empt the acts by giving them a bad introduction. Some angles are:
  • Getting their name wrong - This will initially throw the comic and force them to make a tough decision: Do they quickly attempt to correct you as soon as they get up on stage, potentially blowing their first gag in the process and generally ruining their flow? Or do they battle on anyway, under an incorrect name? 9 times out of 10 the comedian's ego cannot handle having the audience not know what their correct name is. If they question you afterwards, blow them off with a "poor handwriting/can't read well/got confused in the spotlight" excuse.
"Next up we have Frank Mahmmfppft!"
  • Saying their catchphrase/punchline - This is especially devastating when this is used against a comic who has a tight routine with a great pay-off. If you blow the gag in their intro, then the end of their routine will go down like a lead balloon.
"And now please welcome to the stage Kevin "I've Got Three Nipples" Jones!"
  • Their history - Mentioning a past endeavour or event of theirs that they had hoped the audience had long forgotten about is a great way to inspire instant hatred from the punters. A TV appearance, sexual inadequacy or a past unconvicted manslaughter charge is a great way to get the audience murmuring at the start of their set. The comic will then have to make the same decision made in point 2 as whether or not to explain or just continue on.
"Fresh from prison, please welcome Sean Miller!"

3. Outros

This is a good way to kick someone when they're down - if a comic did average to particularly awful, it can be quite effective to snigger/smile broadly/wink at the audience whenever you come back and take the microphone from them. Repeating a failed punchline of theirs will garner a good response from the audience. Remember to do something similar at the end of the night when you ask the audience to give a round of applause for the acts they've seen.

With these tips you will soon become the Master MC (Master Master Comedian)! Get online and start designing your t-shirts, coffee mugs and tote bags now! (order in bulk for reduced prices.)

Monday, 23 August 2010

Your First Performance - Part 2

Now that a crowd's in attendance, you need to get up there and make them laugh. Simply going through your prepared five isn't enough to ensure future Christmas DVD sales! Here are a few tips to enhance your first performance and have them rolling in the aisles (from laughing).

1) Microphone - Like most things, you can have it either in or out. Keeping it in the stand leaves your hands free to distract the audience, hold your set list or simply keep in your pockets. With the microphone in the stand, you can move the stand around itself while still talking into the mic. This ensures you look really laid back, almost as if you don't care about the audience - and just right too!

Removing the microphone from the stand allows you to move around the stage more while still talking (also good for distraction). The preferred technique for holding a mic is to keep it resting against your stomach, while talking at a normal volume. Some critics say this technique prevents the audience from hearing what the performer is saying. However, science has proved that the sound of your voice comes from your stomach - and you can't argue with science!

2) In-jokes - Given that you have a home crowd there with you (most likely on the front row too), they will be able to hear your performance fine. However, some Sell Outs at the back of the club may not. It is important at this point to begin telling in-jokes about people in the crowd you have brought. This ensures huge laughter and applause from your crowd, and even more confusion from the other comedians, which no doubt will help you out in the long run. So long as people are laughing, then there's no problem!

3) Timekeeping - If your crowd is performing as they should, then there's no reason not to go over your allotted time. After all, if you're making everyone (most people) laugh, then it'd look very unprofessional for the MC to stop you in your hilarious tracks. Even if you only have five minutes of material, it might be a good opportunity to ad-lib.

Ad-libbing is a technique that is used when a performer decides that their prepared material isn't going as well as they had previously thought or they've used all their material already. Simply pointing out audience members/inanimate objects/recalling irrelevant memories is the best way to work here. Holding back due to race, gender, sexuality, etc is not required, as the audience know that this is you flying by the seat of your pants and your words are untapped comic gold spilling forth. When you get into ad-libbing, it's hard to go wrong; it's a month of birthdays, you are the second coming, you found all the Chaos Emeralds.

Pictured: Comic Genius

If you end up going to twenty minutes when you were only originally given five, then the promoters are more than likely going to be very keen on giving you a longer, paid slot!

Keeping these nuggets in mind when you first get up to perform will be invaluably valuable to your comedy career! You'll be ordering vanity licence plates in no time!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Your First Performance - Part 1

You've got your first five minute spot on stage, you've got the killer material and now you're ready to hit the stage and become a comedy sensation. But wait, there's still some preparation to do!

Getting YOUR audience

Sure, the gig promoter may have done some advertising and generated a buzz for the evening through posters, the internet and ineffectual flyering twenty minutes before the gig, but who knows if that crowd will appreciate your comedy.

Encourage a group of friends and family to come to your gig. Not only does this guarantee a good amount of the crowd will be laughing at everything you say, regardless of quality, it also means you can utilise them in other ways for your own benefit.

1) Alcohol - Ensure your crowd has had a few beforehand, this helps them lose their inhibitions and increases rowdiness, which will come in helpful for the following tips. Suggest that the gig is a "pre-drink" event before you all go out to a greasy nightclub to celebrate your crippling success on stage earlier.

2) Silence/Talking - Depending on what sort of appropriately obnoxious friends you've dragged along, it's best to get them to ignore the other comedians. If they sit there in complete attentive silence, it may unnerve the performer and he'll leave the stage early. If the performer can hear a slight droning in the background due to your friends talking throughout his act, he may become irritated and shout at the audience. Both benefit you.

3) Heckling - If you can make the other acts look bad, then you'll come out on top. Advise your friends that comedians appreciate heckles and it helps them along with their act. Drunken, lonely women who don't go out very often tend to work best here. Sporadic, one-word insults shouted at the comedian in the middle of a joke are quite effective also.

4) Leaving - The best way a crowd can work is if you can engineer it so that they arrive in large numbers shortly before you go on and then immediately leave after you're finished. Not only does this guarantee to kill the atmosphere, it shreds the next comedian's performance while loud, drunken people chat, finish their drinks and scrape chairs around the floor while exiting.

Pull the above off and you'll have promoters and comedians clamouring around you, giving you stage time and buying you drinks! Congratulations! You've made it!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Writing Material - Your First Five

Now that you have a spot at a local comedy club, it's time to write five minutes of material for your debut.

The first thing to remember is that the audience are simple creatures; they can be loyal, they can be your best friends, and you want them to be eating out of your hand. Like most simple creatures, they aren't very intelligent. The main thing to remember when writing material is that the audience like familiarity and warmth.

"A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will."

The above is an old spanish proverb, which of course rings true - most of the world's best comedians are spanish after all.

While wanting to change the way people think and the world overall through your comedy may seem an attractive prospect down the line, it's best to simply give the audience what they want. If they know when the punchline is coming, then they'll know when to laugh. Audiences don't like being surprised by what may appear to be clever joke construction - it frightens and confuses them.

Social scientists such as Bill Hicks and George Carlin were known to occasionally tell jokes during their respective careers, but not even jokes could heal the planet or stop politicians being corrupt.

Or stop pancreatic cancer
Never try and tell them about something they haven't already heard. They aren't at a comedy club to learn or feel smart. They are there to laugh and escape their potentially depressing lives outside the walls of the club, much like you are there to take a cut of their money and escape your almost certainly depressing life outside the walls of the club.

Focus on commonly-held beliefs and stereotypes and exaggerate for effect. Writing actual material here is not a big issue. By merely talking in a silly voice while impersonating your chosen demographic will do the trick. If you are doing material about everyday occurrences, emphasise words at random in your set and remember to end most sentences with, "Am I right?!" or similar.


Hey have you ever noticed that when people are in a bad mood they say they "got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning"? My problem isn't about getting out of the wrong side, it's more to do with stubbing my toe on the leg of the bed. What's that about?! They should make beds with no legs, am I right?!"

-howls of laughter and applause-

No-one's sure why audiences favour dull, day to day anecdotes, but science may suggest a lack of imagination is the cause.

Here's a handy checklist for some basics for your first five minutes. The more you have, the funnier you will be!
  • Local references/sayings
  • Mildly racist/homophobic/misogynistic gags offset by silly voice/mannerisms
  • Swearing because you can
  • Toilet humour (esp. stories about self-defecation)
  • At least three references or mentions to your penis (even if you're a woman)
And remember, the definition of "routine" is:

"an unvarying or habitual method or procedure"

People who say it's because a comedian does the same set over and over again only know the half of it; it counts for a lot more, including content, gags and the amount of times you will be cashing cheques because of this advice! Am I right?!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Starting Stand Up Comedy - Finding Your Stage

Starting your career in comedy is an easy task. In order to become a "comedian", you must get some stage time; it doesn't matter where it is, or how little people there are in the audience. So long as you talk into a microphone in front of people for more than a minute and don't get booed off, then congratulations! You are a professional comedian! Feel free to introduce yourself as a "Joke Merchant" or sign cheques (and you will be signing a lot of cheques) as "Gagmeister General", and so on. Let's get started.

First you will have to find out if there are any comedy clubs in your city or area. Searching popular bars is a bad idea, as most people would prefer to talk over a mediocre musician or band than a comedian. This is good manners.

Seek out small back rooms in pubs and bars, ill-suited art spaces and conference rooms in the hotels of industrial districts. These are the real places where raw comedy talent is. Often due to the hardcore topics and controversial material, which is much less-suited to the popular clubs, there will most likely be a lack of audience members. Do not let this put you off. It's a widely believed fact that the more popular clubs (read: financially successful) are only popular because the comedians who get to play there in front of several hundred people and get paid for it due to their hard work are considered to be Sell Outs.

Within the stand-up comedy business, a "Sell Out" is someone considered to have betrayed the intrinsic ethos of comedy by
a) constructing jokes/material
b) researching their material for factual accuracy and to avoid potential plagiarism
c) affecting an appropriate stage presence to help boost the impact of said material

Other offences include such acts as rehearsing/practising material, occasional ad-libbing on stage, seeking out new audiences, rewriting bad material, affecting a positive attitude on stage and toward other comedians, keeping within the set time and making the audience laugh.

You don't want to go to one of those clubs when you are just starting your comedy career, lest you become a Sell Out. In the meantime do the smaller clubs to build up your experience, then change the system from the inside once you reach the bigger clubs. The smaller clubs are a goldmine for showbiz tips and tricks, as quite often the club runner has been in the business for many, many years. His success goes without saying as the club is still in business despite low audience turnout.

A good way to get some stage time with these smaller clubs is to send the runner an email. The less personal and friendly the better. Here is a basic template you can use for getting your first gig:



Five minutes at next gig?



Being personable is not a trait club managers look for in new talent. This is especially obvious in the managers themselves. Being friendly to other comedians will only make you look suspicious and a potential Hack.

A Hack is someone who steals other comedians' jokes and material. For someone to be considered a Hack, they must talk about a subject that another comedian has knowingly spoke of in the past. 100%, word-for-word accuracy is not necessary to accuse someone of stealing material. Subjects that are definitely out include: air travel, the difference between men and women, mothers in law, etc.

You should receive a response and confirmation of your spot within a day to 12+ weeks.