I’ve done a few spots since my last update, three at Sam Rhodes (including a weird night where I got “called out” by another act who was offended by one of my bits) and one at Comedy Virgins, where I was pleased to see Steph Aritone has taken on regular Monday MC duties.
But the main thing I want to talk about is my first go at MCing a night myself. I won’t bore you with the long-winded back-story, but Alfie from We Are Funny Project recently offered me the opportunity to MC one of the rebooted Monday night shows at the new venue, The Jago, in Dalston.
I wasn’t keen on the idea to begin with, because I always felt like I just wanted to focus on doing my own set and wouldn’t be interested in (or good at) all the other stuff an MC has to do to run a night well. But Alfie persuaded me that I should give it a go, and gave me plenty of advice on how to do a decent job of it.
He’s handed the night over to a new team to run, including Spen Cockerell, Brandon Palmer, and Rob Mayhem – a nice bunch who I’ve got to know a bit better recently, and they were all there on Monday the 11th when I was at the helm for the night. I knew a lot of the acts on the line-up, so I was confident it would be a strong show regardless of how badly I floundered as an MC, especially with Mad Ron headlining.
I wasn’t exactly feeling nervous about it, but I knew that my first attempt was always going to be patchy, and I was keen not to fuck things up too badly because it’s somebody else’s night.
Things got off to a slightly weird start with some random nutter showing up unannounced and demanding to be given stage-time. The team tried to politely explain that it’s not that kind of night, and he’d need to book in advance for a spot, but he decided to be a dick about it and things got a bit tense, but in the end he agreed to just sit down and watch the show. I could tell he had the potential to derail the night, so I made a mental note to be ready for him.
Hecklers are very rare at this level of stand-up – you get the occasional mental-case like this guy, or the odd loud drunk, but it’s really not the problem that most new comics imagine. Ultimately, you’re the one with the mic, and the audience is on your side, as long as you’ve got a couple of good lines in your back pocket you’re always going to come out on top.
To kick things off I had to introduce the night, explain the house-keeping rules to the audience, and then warm them up with some polished material for 5-10 minutes. I tried a bit of crowd-work, but it’s not really my strong point and it fell a bit flat, although I specifically made a point of speaking to the nutter, just to let him know he was on my radar. He shut up after that and slinked out of the show early on.
My introduction was pretty choppy, as I was trying to remember all the logistical stuff I needed to talk about, as well as the name of the first act, but after that I started to feel more comfortable with it. After each act I’d either quickly introduce the next one, if the energy was high, or do a quick bit of material riffing on something the previous act had talked about, which gave me plenty of opportunity to try out different material instead of my usual set, including some new stuff and one or two completely off-the-cuff bits.
By the time we’d finished the first half of the show I felt like I was really getting into my stride. The only real fuck-up was forgetting one of the act’s names, and then fumbling the handshake as he walked on stage, but I made the handshake thing into a running gag for the rest of the night.
When the second half began I realised that I was supposed to do 5-10 minutes of material to kick things off, but by that point I’d already used most of my stronger bits. I have some dark and sleazy material, but that’s not really ideal for MCing, where you want to keep the mood light so the acts can do their own thing. In the end I cobbled together some new bits I’ve been working on, which worked well enough, and by the time I’d got through all the “welcome back” fluff and spoken to the audience a bit I’d easily filled 10 minutes.
I felt a lot more relaxed in the second half, and enjoyed it a lot more since the pressure was off – all I really had to do was introduce the acts and ad-lib a little between their sets. Other than that, my final responsibility was to do the Bucket Speech at the end of the night, and then we were done.
After the show I got some nice feedback from Alfie and a few of the acts, including the headliner, and the whole experience made me realise I’ve been wrong to discount the idea of MCing.In the space of a single gig I got a ton of stage time, tried out loads of old and new material, practiced some crowd work, and did a bit of improv. Doing that once or twice a week would help me develop a lot quicker than grinding out five minute sets.
That said, there’s still the question of opportunity – it’s not like there are a ton of MC slots available every week, so the only way to do it regularly would be to set up my own gig, with all the associated admin and hassle. Might be a price worth paying.
If you’re interested in giving MCing a go, We Are Funny Project runs regular workshops to introduce you to the important skills of compering a comedy show.