Recently, a comic friend of mine asked the comedy community here in Sweden why so few comics are willing to host shows. More recently, he hosted a “MC workshop” at his club, to share ideas and encourage others to host more often. I really wanted to go – no one loves my opinions and sound of my voice more than me – but I wanted to see The Batman more, so I had to miss it. Damn that movie was good. I have no regrets.

Since I have this blog (which I’m embarrassed is updated so rarely) I figured I might as well share some thoughts on the matter here. While there are many reasons comics may not want to host, I can sum them up in one word: responsibility. The overwhelming majority of comics I’ve met love being able to show up (or not show up) for a booked gig whenever they want, to not pay attention to the show, to put on their coat as they walk off the stage and out the door. Hosting means arriving to the club before the show starts and staying beyond the end and watching every minute of the show. Being a host means sacrificing a great deal of freedom.

If I’m booked to do a set at an open mic-level club, I’m free to do whatever I want, however I want. If I’m supposed to do a seven-minute set I might do seven minutes of new material and maybe bomb horribly, maybe not. Doesn’t matter since there are twenty other comics on the lineup and, more importantly, a host who can fill in the crater I left on stage before bringing the next person on. Which leads to next area of responsibility as host: cheerleading.

No comic likes being first on the lineup, but no comic is ever first on the lineup. The host is first, the one who goes up in front of an ice-cold room and has to get the show started. Obviously the first comic after the host won’t meet a crowd as warm as the fourth comic, but if the room isn’t even a little warm after the host starts the show, that’s the mark of a bad host. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered them many times over the years.

If the crowd comes in with their spirits at Level 1 and the highest they can reach is Level 10, then every host should feel they’re responsible for getting them to Level 4 and never letting them drop below that. If the room is warm but then a comic eats shit, the host should bring the room back up before introducing the next comic. If a comic leaves the stage and the room is at Level 8, then the host should BRING THE NEXT COMIC UP IMMEDIATELY. There have been times as host when, while a comic onstage was absolutely slaughtering, I asked the next comic if they wanted me to do a slow intro for them, to let the crowd settle from Level 10 down to 8 before they went on.

I’ve seen hosts fail at the above many, many times. Not prepping the room for the show. Not doing any material after a comic bombs. Doing material after a comic kills. Testing new material and bombing. You need to keep this in mind when hosting: you’re the least important person on stage as far as the crowd is concerned and the most important person on stage as far as the comics are concerned (even if those ungrateful bastards don’t know it). It’s not your show. It’s not even your job to be funny, except when you need to be.

A few comic friends of mine once said on a podcast that it’s worse to have an ok gig than to bomb, and the best hosting gig can only be ok. I don’t agree with that completely but I would say that it’s true more often than it’s not. Doing a set means freedom, being a host means willingly putting on shackles.

I’ll leave on what may be a controversial note- when hosting, CROWDWORK IS NOT NECESSARY. To qualify this point, I enjoy crowdwork when it’s done well. The crowd gets the feeling that it’s a show and not television, that they and the comics are living in the moment and they’re getting a show that’s unique. The key part of the above is “done well.” I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that crowdwork is bad nine times out of ten, especially when it comes from the hosts.

Many hosts think crowdwork is, in fact, necessary, and that’s exactly how it comes across, as something that just has to be done. I’ve seen a lot of hosts follow a formula of, “Welcome to the show! … joke… joke… joke… ok, now’s the part where I talk to the audience.” That’s nearly a quote; other variations include, “Ok, let’s get to know the crowd better,” and the like.

Crowdwork should feel like an organic happening, not just a part of some process. Feel free to disagree and consider it a must! My suggestion is, if you’ve got a formula for when and how to talk to the audience, then just talk to them without telling them that now is the part when you talk to them.

One of my (all too many) pet peeves is when a comic asks someone what they do and whatever answer they get, the comic’s response is, “Oh, I don’t have a joke for that haha!” THEN WHY DID YOU ASK? Good Lord, if you ask someone in Stockholm the answer is most likely going to be IT, student, or unemployed. Write three jokes. Or don’t, because no one expects you to have a ready joke for all possible responses. You are expected to say something funny eventually, however, because you’re on stage and have a microphone. If their answer isn’t something you can work with, then ask them simple follow-up questions (how long have you done that? is that what you wanted to be when you grew up?) until you get to the funny. But please get to the funny at some point or don’t bother.

I’ve been hosting shows for a decade and do little to no crowdwork. Sometimes I think I should, because the comics waiting for their turn might hear something interesting to address during their set. As I stated above, however, the last thing comics pay is attention. I’ve been to too many shows when the same person in the room gets asked, “What’s your name, what do you do?” five times.

Some might say that, as host, it’s my job to care about the audience, innocent or otherwise. To be honest I’ve never really cared much for them, innocent or otherwise. They have a job to do – they’re just as responsible for their own enjoyment as the comics. That’s the final bit of responsibility for the host: reminding the crowd to not be assholes.