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.
Several months ago I wrote a guest blog about the long-term process/plan of going from a day job to doing comedy full-time. Read it here. There’s nothing wrong with working a job while pursuing a comedy career. Unless we’re delusional or living with our parents, we all have to go through it. While you’re still working a day (or night) job, there are a lot of obvious challenges. Scheduling, fatigue, and a few other common problems can plague anyone burning the candle at both ends.
The toughest part about being a comic with a job is the times you can’t be a comic.
Learn to put the filter on when you’re at work. The workplace is one of the best places to find material, but you have to be extremely careful when to hold the punchlines back. You have to leave the comic mentality at home and realize that most workplaces have a different set of conversational standards than the pre-open mic meeting. I once got fired from a subbing job for writing that “3 students were being smartasses and embarrassing themselves by using insulting slang, please give them detentions.” Yes, smartasses got me fired from some hillbilly school in Ohio (Hamilton Local in southeast Columbus). Luckily, bartending and the whole server industry usually loosens things up a bit, but some of the other better-paying jobs that comics need have no room for verbal error.
It’s a tough concept because we naturally make jokes in conversation, and especially during important times (like meetings). We’ve trained ourselves to say what comes to our mind. “Is this funny? Yes? Say it–say it now!” Another thing to remember is that your coworkers can often be those people in a crowd who just don’t “get it.” My freshmen students often don’t get my jokes and the other 75% I have to filter out. So yes, it’s important to train yourself to say funny things, but realistically, we all need money and often the joke you make isn’t worth losing your job over.
This is also good advice for “turning it off” around other comics who are much further along in the game with you. I mean the guys who have been headlining for years and years. I was recently talking to one and realized that I was boring the hell out of him and nothing I was saying was entertaining to him. Be self-aware is what I’m saying. If the other person isn’t contributing back to the conversation, you’re boring (again, someone should’ve told
23-year-old 33-year-old Rob this).
I’ll be away next week so in the meantime be sure to check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage (which is now available on Kindle for $6 less than retail!).
Thank you again for those who share my blog–the numbers continue to climb and I actually had to report my book sales for 2012 (hello, write-offs).