First published on 7 May 2012. Updated on 24 Feb 2014.
Hosting is a lot of pressure. You can make or break an evening. You can give your speakers and acts an environment to thrive in and spellbind the audience, fostering a fantastic night for all, or you can drive it into the ground, leaving everyone confused, angry and wishing you at the least, alienation and at the most, death.
DOs and DON'Ts
Do interact with the audience. Do it early and well. As soon as you have established who you are and how things are going to work for the comedy gig / awards ceremony / product launch / opening of a secret underground villain’s lair. Pick someone who looks good-natured and connected to everyone and give them a gentle ribbing. Or ask them a funny question.
Do mention anything unusual about your environment and make an amusing call about it. Something as simple as: “I said I’d only do this gig if they placed a giant, turkey-shaped mirrorball over my head” (actual example from my life).
Do word economy. Words. Be economical with them.
Do deal with the unexpected. When David Niven hosted the Oscars in 1974, a naked man ran across the stage. You could not have streaked a more monumental event, except maybe the first ever Olympic games, but apparently everyone was nude then anyway. Niven simply glanced up and said, “Probably the only laugh that man will ever get in life is stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”
Don't punch guests in the head. No really, I’ve seen this happen. You shouldn’t. It changes things.
Don't make it all about you! Consider the show as a whole. You need to give each segment an environment to flourish in. so draining the crowd of energy is going to work against the evening.
Don't undermine the speakers. I was once introduced by an amateur host at a corporate event, who used: “…Anyway, we have a comedian on now so he better be funny”. This was probably a good idea in his head. His head was wrong.
Don't do a two-minute silence for a dead person before binging a comedian on. Another example from my life.
Don't tolerate talkers, but be charming about it. If you are too heavy handed you will change the atmosphere in the room from celebratory to the feeling of having double maths on a Monday afternoon. A good thing is to say: “Hey guys, there’s a special place for talking, it’s just through those doors and it’s called the rest of the entire fucking world.”
These courses will teach you funny business:
Ever admired the footloose skills of the comedians on shows like Thank God You’re Here and Whose Line is it Anyway? The team behind Theatresports offer courses based around improv.
If you’re looking to flesh out your comic creations, Tim Ferguson can help you improve on your stand-up routines or narratives in this four-day Comedy Writing course.
Comedian Fiona McGary uses neuro-linguistic programming techniques to hone your stand-up skills in this six-week course.
Want to improve your comic timing? Jimmy James Eaton from the Big HOO HAA guides you through auditions, rehearsals and performances.