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Lesson 24: Compering a Night (And Being Funny While Doing It)

Updated: May 10



With Geoff Whiting, who has hosted literally thousands of shows, I run an MC course. Insights from the course with Geoff have fed into this blog. Next course dates to be announced.


The role of the compere (or emcee/MC) is a crucial one in a stand-up comedy night and the compere has many things to do as the night unfolds. Put simply, as the compere your role is to warm the audience up at the start, bring the acts on and then round off the night at the end. I break down this apparently simple role into a sequence of steps through the night below, and then I go on to consider the ways in which comperes get laughs.

First though, the key thing is that the audience must like you. You could be cheeky or rude, as long as they like that. They must trust you are in control and know what you are doing. Think in terms of creating a lively social atmosphere. And now here is that timeline of the night:..

PRE-START

Talk to the acts. How do the acts want to be introduced? Anything they want to be said/ not to be said? Put the list of names on card in back pocket so that you can refer to it if the worse happens and you forget the name of the next act. (Make a gag to cover this. eg: "And next a close showbiz friend" (CHECK CARD). To avoid this, drill the name of the next act into your brain before you go on...

As the show approaches, you could do a countdown for the audience - "The comedy will begin in 3 minutes…" - or in bigger clubs there may be someone who does this for you and some smaller clubs like Angel Comedy do have an off-stage announcer. In the absence of an announcer, you may well introduce yourself from off stage - or even come on, introduce yourself, go off again and re-enter to applause.

START

Things to do in your opening 10 - 15 mins: warm-up pre-show (all while being funny...).

Introduce yourself.

Explain how the night works.

Set out anything required of the audience (any rules? either your own or the venue's).

Find out about the audience. (eg who is the youngest and who is the oldest. Who has come the furthest/least distance. People like comparing themselves with others.)


You could do some material but something to avoid is basically doing a set as if you're an act. Your role is to chat to people, find out about members of the audience and get some names and info you (and the acts) can call back to. Geoff's own rule-of-thumb here is 70% banter and 30% material - select maybe three short bits and lead into the material through conversation. But on a good night when the crowd work is flowing you might end up not needing to do any material.


This can also be the section where you get the audience 'practicing' applauding and cheering, and you can play games like pitting sections of the audience competitively against each other to see who makes the most noise.


Get the admin out the way early, then work the room and build up to introducing the first act. You must have the name drilled into your head! In the worst-case-scenario as mentioned use your card.

BETWEEN ACTS

If all good keep it moving. You can also chuck in a bit of material (or a quip) if related to something they talked about. If someone falls flat you need to bring the energy up again but don't rush in, let it build. You might have some material up your sleeve to go to into in this instance. And as Geoff discusses if someone storms it you actually need to calm it down a bit for the next act.

INTERVAL

Before going into the interval, tell them how long the break is. (Naming a specific time to be back by can be better than simply saying the length of the break). Ensure music is playing in the break. A competition can work well here, straddling the break. Eg - punchline competition. Give them the set-up. Have index cards and pens for them to write the punch on. After the break you go through their entries. Audience pick a winner. The prize is either good (eg free drink) or stupid (buy something from Oxfam.) If stupid big it up like it's great. Alternatively you can play a stand-alone game competition at the start of the second half. (i.e. one not needing a set-up at the end of the first half.) If you are going to do a game or competition this is a better place to do it than at the start.

END OF THE NIGHT

Established etiquette is not to do any more material after final act. Ideally end on a roll call of the acts - get them applauding each one. You can also get applause for audience members who have contributed. Do any plugs for future nights that are required and any announcements the venue wants (eg the bar is still open).

POST GIG

Talk to the acts about how it went. Any lessons for next time? Any future gigs you could MC? Talk to the venue/promoter about future MC gigs. Feedback about any exceptional acts to the booker (if they are not present in the room). Then you're done.

In the early days of emceeing it can be good to think in terms of preparing for your compère gig as thoroughly as you prepare a set. Over time of course it becomes more second nature but it's always good to prep and think through what you'll do.

BEING FUNNY AS A COMPÈRE

Whilst doing all of the above of course, the MC is also expected to be funny! Mostly the compère's funniness comes out of interaction with the room. Here are some thoughts on the slippery topic of being funny…