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.

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.




About Ash

Paul Ash is that special kind of person who sees the best in everyone, except himself. His self loathing comedy is peppered with rural charm and big city cynicism. This “muppet king of comedy” has been described as the “encyclopaedia of funny” and has an over ten year relationship with the Festival Just For Laughs, the world’s largest stand-up comedy fest.