Hosts With The Most - Part II
Back in June, I wrote a piece that was mostly a love letter to Marina Franklin as an awesome emcee (a job she HATES to do) and got many excellent suggestions on other amazing hosts I had “left out”… and I know I’ll get more after this one, buuuut here are some more thoughts about hosting from some of my favorite emcees on both coasts.
James L. Mattern is the name on every New Yorker’s lips (right after “Ardie”) when you talk about great hosts. The Artist Formerly Known as Maddog now goes by “James” and has been doing a lot more “real” sets lately, so let’s not pigeonhole him, but he’s really fucking good at it.
(Note: I have kept all punctuation and spacing exactly as Mattern sent it to me because he types like he talks, so read it in his voice)
"I like hosting I’m the dude throwing the party. Making people familiar with each other. It’s fun I also get to see how people change in the audience from start to finish And see how they feel a sense of community with each other because of comedy. And in the city it pays more. So Ching fucking Ching!!!!"
On the other coast, where hosting is more an obligation to be fulfilled by the youngest guy on the lineup than a respected skillset to be admired, Willie Hunter has always stood out as someone who not only did it well, but took pride in the job well done. He’s regularly hosted The Comedy Store’s Potluck, a 3+ hour extravaganza that can easily fall off and become an arduous trudge in lesser hands. He’s so “hostly” we tease him that he’s the “white David Letterman”
"It’s both [enjoyable and a chore] for me. I enjoy the onstage part. The riffing, usage of wit, being pleasant, and interesting for the audience. The best compliment you can get as a host is "The SHOW was great because you (host) were the captain of the ship. The chore part is everything else. Other comics: with their demands from insignificant credits (one guy told me to say he’s one of Funny or Die’s top twitter accounts). Some will even ask me to set them up for their first joke (the worst). Others (for the most part) look down on the host and therefore, it can feel like a thankless job. The venue: making announcements about parking, 2 drink minimum, and sometimes the venue will tell you how to run the show (crazy because they hired you!) I don’t like it when the venue gives you more chores that could have been done by the doormen or waitresses (and not to mention you have to be funny!) And in some cases the host gets paid the least of all, but there are exceptions which is great! A good host is someone who can keep the show moving. Even in dire situations. One time a pretty well-known/famous comic was onstage. He wasn’t doing so well (no big deal it happens), but this particular comic took offense that audience wasn’t feeling him. So he attacked them, mainly these to two young ladies in the front row (who happened to be on their phone, but who could blame them? The guy wasn’t good that night and they spent money!). Long story short, the established comic killed the energy, told the audience he didn’t need them because he’s already famous thusly making it awkward. He ran the light with his tirade, got off stage and brought me back up, as to say "well this isn’t my problem anymore goodbye, here’s Willie." Luckily I was prepared to deliver the perfect line to win the audience back. "(beat) Well, as you guys can tell. I’m NOT doing so well in my career so I need all of you. Even you two (two ladies in the front)." Then I kissed the two girls on the hand and moved on with the show. I brought up my good friend Andrew Santino, he crushed, and the show was saved. No one remembered Dane Cook’s set. [Note: if you can’t tell, Willie’s making a joke there. Dane hasn’t performed at The Store in years] That’s what you have do as a host. We the going gets tough, roll over and play dead."
Aaron Berg isn’t typically thought of as a host. He’s had an established career in Canada and the US as a regular comic. But he does host, and he does it well. Mostly at The Stand, including as regular emcee of the sort-of Cringe Humor Show reboot Creeps of Comedy.
"I enjoy hosting very much because it’s so in the moment and I can put material on the back burner. One of my first mentors (Canadian comic who passed away - JT Huntley) explained to me that a host is basically welcoming everybody to the party. The show is a party. I believe that. A good host has to actually care about finding out about the audience and be worldly and knowledgable enough to share with them. Also a good host needs enough material to bail out a comic that bombed or lay a track of ease for an up and comer following a marquee name. The qualities that make me a good host are 1) being present and not locked into an act 2) caring more about a great show than proving how funny I am 3) having fun. Real down and dirty honest fun."
Stuart Thompson is another young gun from LA who almost immediately showed skill and enthusiasm for the hosting spots he was given starting out. Whether at The Comedy Store, the Improv or a bar show, Stuart has a knack for giving off the “I’m in control, everything’s going to be fine, I got this” vibe that so often comes in handy.
"I do enjoy hosting, most of the time. I enjoy being at the helm of a show and being the liaison between the crowd and the other comics. When I host, I feel like I’m the audience’s portal to a great show. That being said, I still enjoy doing a set just as much as I enjoy hosting, if not more so. I need both. I can’t just be a stand-up and I can’t just host. I learned the basics of hosting by watching guys that were just a step or two ahead of me (guys like Willie, Tony Hinchcliffe, Rick Ingraham, David Taylor) hosting at the Store. Watching those guys work was helpful for figuring out what I should do when I host, but when it came to figuring out what I should avoid doing, I’m still learning that. I have to learn by making mistakes in front of others. The one rule I have when I make a mistake is that I call it out. I’ve found it puts the audience at ease. I’m not perfect, and they shouldn’t think otherwise."