An important decision an emcee must make…

During a standard comedy club show the emcee will perform 10-15 minutes, the feature will perform 25-30 minutes, and the headliner usually goes from 45 to an hour.  In between acts an emcee usually needs to do a few announcements for the club as well as other various promos.  (I wrote an entire giant chapter on everything that goes into emceeing a show in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

The big decision an emcee needs to make is how quickly to bring the headliner up after the feature.  Sometimes a lot of the announcements can all be done after the headliner, so there isn’t always a lot to say.  However, there are times when there should be a bit of a buffer.  If the feature bombs, it might help to do a minute or two of material to bring the crowd back into it; you could even check for birthdays, etc.  If you’re out of material, you can even try a newer joke and if it flops, make a joke of that.  You should have at least one trusty line saved up that you can get a laugh. 

If the feature has a great set, you can even ask the headliner (if he or she is nearby) whether they want you to bring them right up, or let the crowd settle back down.  I always prefer to keep riding the momentum of the comic before me in whatever format of show I’m in.  Some headliners have a more subtle beginning and may want the crowd to calm down so that it doesn’t feel like they’ve been buried. 

Another thing to watch for is when half the crowd gets up to smoke or use the restroom.  That’s when you should definitely stretch the show a little bit (provided it’s running on time and there’s not a second or third show scheduled that night) and take your time on the announcements.  No headliner likes to take the stage to a half-empty room.  The opening joke is so important so if a lot of people miss it, it can be detrimental to the set.

And a final message to headliners:  Please be somewhere in the vicinity of the emcee so they can ask you what to do.  No one likes taking the stage not knowing where in the hell the headliner is because he/she feels too cool to stand near you for two minutes. 

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About Rob Durham

With an English Degree, three years as a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone, over a decade of stand-up experience, and a recent certification in teaching high school English class, writing a book seemed like the next inevitable step for Rob Durham. The son of a coach, Rob has an excellent ability to teach and explain things in the easiest and most direct way possible. His (often labeled ridiculous) memory allows him to think of every possible situation that a new comic might face because at one point he was there too. Rob gives an inside look at comedy that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges every performer faces. Without ego and the myth that “anyone can do it” Rob gives the reader a true feel of what living the so-called dream feels like, from preparing for that first open mic night to touring the country. View all posts by Rob Durham

3 responses to “An important decision an emcee must make…

  • Martha O'Neill

    Hi Rob,
    I really do enjoy these blog posts! Wanted to pipe in re: MC’ing. I’m from Canada & we do things quite differently (and I would argue, better with regard to show structure).
    MC’s here are #2 on the bill. Often headliners MC. The thinking is, that an experienced MC sets the tone for the show and carries it, handing a nicely prepared and properly warmed up audience to the headliner.
    Generally – they do 10-15 off the top (this includes any “out of town, birthday” BS) – but they (should) always bring the first comic up to material (i.e. they’ve done a few jokes before the first comic – the idea being that the audience is warmed up to listening to jokes). Then, of course, they don’t screw up the intro 😉
    Between comics, MC’s generally do time – we call it “re-setting the table” – especially if the comic leaving the stage has done less-than-stellar, but also to let the audience shift gears re: energy and style.(plus, good smoke/pee break opportunity. Generally, MC’s do around 10 before the headliner!
    Also, announcements are ALWAYS done after the headliner!
    The club I work for waits to do the cheque drop ’til after the headliner gets off stage, too.
    Not the most glamourous of positions, but ultimately, you’ve had around 30 mins stage time and the show usually benefits all around.
    Just food for thought!
    ~Martha O’Neill

    • Rob Durham

      That would be nice but the clubs would never be able to afford to pay two headliners in one show…plus a lot of them are too lazy to go on stage more than once. That and the egos. Too bad we can’t do it like that here.

      • Martha O'Neill

        I meant that headliners are often used to MC. That week, they make MC rates (less than the headliner, more than the middle/feature).

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