Ask Ash: What Makes a Good Host

photo by Joh Derkson

I often get asked

“What makes a good host?” or “What can I do to be a better host?” or “Do you expect me to read this?”

 

To answer the first two questions I drafted some simple pointers to help assist those just starting to host, host better.

Duties
A) Warm-up an audience: The host goes onstage first, to a cold audience.   It is their job to take the motley band of strangers and mold them into a cohesive comedy eating machine.

B) Keep the flow: Hosts have to keep the audience up beat and primed for each act. If an act leaves on a good laugh (or better) the host should take advantage of it and bring up the next act. If an act ends on a down note, the host must take the time to bring the audience around and laugh again. BUT a host should not take too long (see next duty).

C) Keep show on time: It’s the host’s job to ask each act how they’d like to be introduced, let each act know how much time they have, and let the act know where they (the host) will be if they go over time.

D) Make announcements: Mention the club, mention the show, mention the staff. Mention up coming shows. Mention etiquette (phones and talking). Make it all seem natural.

How to
Warm-up the audience:
1) pandering: Nothing gets people clapping like asking them to clap. Try to give them a reason to. “By applause, who’s all been to a live stand-up comedy show before?” The more legitimate the reason, the better it works at crowd building.
2) talk to the audience: find someone celebrating something or someone from away, then reward them with some snappy banter (kindly). Getting the crowd to sing a stranger happy birthday, or applaud at someone’s anniversary takes a group of individuals and makes them an audience.
3) repeat: You have a mic, the crowd member does not. Repeat what they say for the rest of the crowd. It gives you a moment more to think of what to say AND it let’s people on the other side of the room know what said crowd member said.

Keep the flow:
1) have several short funny jokes: Easier for a quick turn around, and it gives the audience a little time to adjust to a new act. This is the perfect spot for one-liners.
2) have a killer in your back pocket: Someone, somewhere will bomb and stink up the place. When this happens, you have to refocus the audience so the next act has a clean slate.
3) shoot yourself in the foot: The hardest part of hosting, if you get a good laugh, get off stage. That is the perfect time to bring up the next act.
4) listen: maybe something in the previous person’s set will trigger a tag for you, or give you a jump off point for one of your jokes. Less set up needed, less time between acts.
5) be correct: Get the names right.

Keep the show on time:
1) order: At the start of the show make sure each act knows who they follow
2) intro: Wait until the act prior is onstage, then ask the comic what they prefer for an introduction (if anything special). Waiting until then ensures you won’t confuse it with another act’s intro. Never introduce a comic as funny (see General Notes).
3) time: Make sure each act knows how much time they have. This sometimes needs to be adjusted if a show is running long or if it’s running short.
4) last words: It’s a good idea to know what the last joke of the comic is. It allows you to be prepared to calmly come to the stage, not dash.
5) warning: Let the comic know where you’ll be with (or without) the light if they start going over time. Some comics will request the light when they have one minute to go.
6) turnover: See keep the flow.

Make announcements:
1) the place: Remind people where they are. It hypes the place.
2) the show: Be excited about the show, it’s contagious.
3) cell phones: An annoying interruption to a show. Stop it before it happens.
4) talkers / hecklers: Be polite, the first time. Be more firm the second time. If you have to talk to the same person three times, feel free to mention their mother. If you’re overly mean to someone without obvious provocation (that the audience can see / hear) you’ll lose likeability.
5) hock beer: we’ll only have a space / be invited back as long as the bar makes money. Mention the product.
6) hock shows: Make the audience aware of anything special coming up. Especially important at the end of a show.
7) staff: Keeping the staff happy means you get a good (or better) report to the bar manager. Make the audience aware of their names, their presence and ask the audience to tip well.

General Notes
1) be likeable: it’s an easier sell, after a bad set they’re glad to see you and after a good set they don’t mind your interruption.
2) respect: give all the comics coming up respect, a handshake a good intro and remember their names.
3) truth: Never introduce someone as funny or if they aren’t (and even Seinfeld can have a rough night) the audience will not trust you.
4) variety: avoid the same intro for each comic. They all can’t be a “good friend”, or “a delight.”
5) respect part two: Never ever do time after the final act. Never. Make your announcements, thank the crowd and everyone else not thanked, then get off.

Hopefully these tips will allow you to improve your hosting skills, and allow you to put some of your personality into the show.

Yours,
Ash

Innovative host Paul Ash kicks up Montreal comedy

Original article link @ examiner.com

For the past five years, comedian and actor Paul Ash has devoted himself to Montreal’s comedy community. Ash offers comedians ample stage time, constructive feedback and the occasional shoulder to cry on; it’s no wonder he’s viewed as a respected friend, mentor and “father” to so many.

Affectionately known as the Muppet King of Comedy, Ash began his stand-up career in his home town of Halifax, Nova Scotia, at age 19. After stints in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, he returned to his native city and opened the city’s sole comedy club, thus establishing a nucleus for Nova Scotia’s emergent stand-up community. Andrew Bush, of famed sketch troupe Picnicface, declares, “Without Paul Ash and the Comedy Dawgs, there would be no comedy scene in Halifax.”

In 2007, personal and professional opportunities brought Ash back to Montreal, where he soon teamed with Vancouver native Dan “The Devil” Derkson, in the formation of Good and Evil Productions. Ash’s Montreal roots were then deeply established.

When asked what distinguishes Montreal comedy, Ash explains that due to audience expectations and a “mirroring effect” among performers, each city has its own brand of humor. Torontonians specialize in dry repartee, Haligonians are laid-back story-tellers and Vancouverites excel at zaniness. Montrealers, says Ash, are the most animated; comics here infuse their performances with “color and movement.” Ash believes Montreal comedians tend to “act out” their material, in order to bridge linguistic disparities.

Since 2009, Ash has hosted “Paul Ash’s Kick Ash Comedy Show,” a Tuesday night showcase at Andrew’s Pub, in the downtown core, featuring the city’s hottest comics and beginners alike. The Little Dive Bar, as affectionately dubbed by Ash, has become a meeting spot for performers and a welcoming beacon for solitary urbanites. With customary humility, Ash relates the story of a depressed youth, whose thoughts of suicide were vanquished after wandering in to catch a Kick Ash show. Ash has kept in contact with the young man, who is now much improved – thanks to the healing power of humor.

Ever the innovator, Ash strives for new ways to showcase young talent. Recently, he announced changes to the Kick Ash show, renaming it “King of the Mountain.” The audience now votes for the evening’s top two performers, who’ll host and headline the following week’s show.

Ash is also the creator of “Battle-com,” a raucous monthly comedic debate. This September, “Battle-com” will be featured as an exhibition event at “2012 Montreal Comiccom” on September 14.

Whatever the format, Paul Ash’s shows have the following qualities, which stem from the man himself: an unpretentious atmosphere, enthusiastic performers and appreciative audiences. Halifax’s loss has undoubtedly been Montreal’s fortunate gain.

King of the Mountain

Tuesdays, 9 p.m.

Admission: Free

Andrew’s Pub

1239, rue Guy (corner Ste. Catherine)

514-932-4584

A big thanks to  Stephanie Ein for letting us re-post the article on our website!

Comedy Against Cancer – tonight in Pointe Claire Quebec

This is incredibly short notice, I know.  TONIGHT, September 22, 2012 at 9pm at Le Pioneer in Pointe Claire (286 Lakeshore, Pointe Claire)

The show is in association with Team Greggybear

“Greg Hebert was the Senior News Editor at News Talk Radio 580 CFRA in Ottawa from 2003 to 2010. He was diagnosed with Synovial-cell Sarcoma in his jaw in 2009 and after two surgeries, radiation, a bone graft and chemotherapy his cancer was labeled as inoperative and terminal in 2011. No longer able to work in radio because of the damage the surgeries did to his jaw and mouth, Greg began fundraising for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation where he sits on the board of directors in the hopes that he could turn his negative situation into something positive by raising money for treatment and research as well as raising awareness about his rare condition. Cancer directly or indirectly affects 1 in 3 of us at some point in our lives. If you can help or if you would like to talk, this page is a good place to start.”

I’m a last minute substitution for the original headliner, and am very happy to be back to the Pioneer, as I had so much fun there the last time performing with Pumpin Ethyl.

Let’s kick cancer in the banana.

 

Yours,
Ash

Ask Ash: Stealing Jokes

I was recently asked this question:

“I have a quick question for you. Are there any copyright laws around telling someone else’s jokes? If you hear someone telling your joke at a paid gig do you have any rights or is that just the nature of the business?”

I thought I’d share my answer:

Quick answer: Yes.

Long Answer:
The same copyright laws that protect written work and performances protect comedians. The trouble is proving who published first. This can be done by uploading video to youtube, which automatically time stamps it. You can also mail a copy to yourself (physical mail, not email) and then never opening the envelope, because the postmark is dated. In the court challenge the offender will have to prove they published first by a similar method (some courts do take reputable sworn witnesses to having witnessed a performance, but that sometimes isn’t admissible). Verbatim joke theft is easier to prove, stealing concepts are harder to prove. As a plaintiff you’d have to prove that the defendant had a chance to witness your joke or else it could be dismissed as parallel thought.

Unfortunately it seems systemic in our business. Robin Williams’ agent supposedly used to haul out his cheque book anytime someone accused Robin of stealing a bit.  Denis Leary’s act is considered to be a rip off of Bill Hicks. Carlos Mencia allegedly has stolen from many people, and not even well. Dane Cooke has been under fire for stealing ever since his second album.

It seems many comics who have success after 10 years of trying, find it difficult to follow it up within a new year and thus resort, consciously or unconsciously, to theft.

To launch a lawsuit you have to prove that the defendant made money with your joke and that is what you’re entitled to, in the states you can also sue for the equivalent of pain and suffering. Some people say the first person to take the joke to TV wins, but I think new media has eclipsed that old axiom. In the year 2000 Glen Foster sued Andrew Grose (both established Canadian comics) for one million dollars. Glen accused Andrew of plagiarism for riffing one of Glen’s jokes during a TV taping. The joke was said while Andrew’s make-up was being touched up onstage and was not meant for the final product BUT fans of Glen Foster were in the audience and word got back to him. Andrew Grose fired back a defamation case.  Both cases were eventually dropped.

I’ve had jokes stolen in the past, and generally I’ll do nothing unless I consider it to be an exceptionally personal or good joke. First thing I do is casually confront the person who did my bit and inform them that it’s similar to a joke I do and ask them when they wrote it. Some people fess up and stop.

For the most part, if someone steals one of my jokes I like to look at it this way: they admit I’m a better writer. They may have that one joke, but I have the ability to write another.

Yours,
Ash

BattleCom at ComicCon

Ode to the Comedy Dawgs

The Coast, Halifax’s indie weekly recently wrote an article on Comedy in that city. You can find it here

I wanted to write a letter to the editors to thank them.

 

 

 HALIFAX COMEDY ON THE LAUGH TRACK

The Coast, Dec. 31, 2009

I was very happy to read your article on the Halifax comedy scene online. It was a pleasure and did my heart well to see that this community is still growing and so positive. There was a lot that went into building a Halifax comedy community, especially one so supportive.

When I moved back to Halifax in 2003 there was no real place to do stand-up comedy and I’d have to thank the Improv Knights (including Bill Wood of Picnicface) for helping keep my sanity and giving me a place to perform. Catherine Robertson is correct, it is a drug.

Halifax is a music town and rightly so, with so many talented musicians bar owners didn’t have far to look for live entertainment and something that seemed as untried as stand-up comedy, with the restrictions that art form has (audience sitting, rarely mingling and of a set duration) why risk it when a band could play all night for just a little more than beer?

But then, a chance meeting on Christmas Eve, 2003 led to the birth of the Comedy Dawgs. I know my name comes up a lot in the start of the Halifax comedy scene, but the unsung hero is Joe Mauricio. Joe was from the US, and had recently been the personal attendant of a high monk of the Shambala organization. Released from service (and I don’t know how else to say this) in Halifax, he was getting back to what he did before seeking enlightenment – comedy. Joe was born in New Jersey, and it was still in his voice, he started comedy in Boston, eventually moving to New York and running a room in the Paper Moon Cafe (later to become the Boston Comedy Club). Together, Joe and I, approached Ginger’s Tavern to do a monthly comedy show – and because they were normally closed on Sunday night, they were willing to risk having something different. Joe’s comedy skills, promotional ability and his connection with the Buddhist community, got us started with a monthly comedy show. Joe is very stream of consciousness (and is now based out of New York once again), I was a traditional club comic – it was neat mix. But performing a new two hour show each month was very hard, so we opened up to look for new comics and we found two great guys (the other founding members of the Comedy Dawgs) just in time to move it weekly – Paul Edwards, still in Halifax and Mike MacQueen (now in Toronto and part of the comedy duo “Bring Back Swayzes” with other Dawg veteran Bryant Thompson).

Brian Keefe of Gingers took a chance on us, Joe moved back to the states and comedy motored on. I found Halifax to be a unique situation, being very isolated (from the comedy world at large), there wasn’t that internal rivalry that seemed part of every other comedy scene I had been part of (including the early 1990’s Halifax Rubber Chicken / Maritime Comedy Connection scene). Some experts say this rivalry drives comedians to be better, but I made a conscious decision to try to foster a sense of community where comedians support each other. Week after week new comedians came to the stage, some made me cringe but others made my jaw drop (Bryant, Mike, Peter White, ‘Stabby’ Steve Mackie, Mark Little, Nathan, Cheryl, Ian Black). There was so much untapped talent in Halifax, talent that wouldn’t have had a venue – it made me realize the Comedy Dawgs were bigger than any one component or act – it gave people hope and the ability to dream of something better. It gave laughter. It gave validation.

New people came and went, some working hard behind the scenes, Dave Kemp and a grandmother from Dartmouth Bev Moore (with her husband always in tow), the Comedy Lounge’s Gerry Farmer, all with more heart and moxie than most comedians. Nathan MacIntosh (who joined the Dawgs with Picnicface’s Cheryl Hann) moved to Toronto with Bryant and Mike to attend Humber College’s comedy program. As stated with Mike and Bryant’s success it should be noted that Nathan won the “Cream of Comedy Award” and is featured this coming week at Absolute Comedy Club in Toronto. People began to notice that comedians from Halifax were different, not just different, but good. Former Maritimers in the industry wanted to experience the a hometown crowd and asked for the chance to perform whenever they visited – even comics not from the Maritimes wanted the excuse to see Halifax crowds. Mark Walker, Andrew Evans, Tracey MacDonald… And still locals shone. Introducing Mark Little to Bill Wood was a no brainer, shows expanded to Dartmouth and even Ahmerst. Comedians moved to Halifax (note Andrew Albert), tours were arranged with Yuk Yuks.

There are way too many comedians to mention who slid through, some came to get famous, some came to get drunk, some just came to say they tried their hand at it others to feel just a little bit better about the rest of their lives. But all of them were proud to call themselves ‘Dawgs’.

With love and peace
Paul Ash