Hey. I’m Matt Ruby (firstname.lastname@example.org). I live in Brooklyn and I'm a standup comedian and the creator of Vooza, a video comic strip about the tech world. This is Sandpaper Suit, a comedy blog about standup, filmmaking, and whatever else I feel like talking about. Established 2006. Phew, that's a while.
I don't understand why fashion people are always late. Isn't fashion about things that go in and out of style. So shouldn't being late have gone out of fashion at some point? "Why did I show up 8 hours early for your party? I was just in Paris and it's the next big thing. You'll understand when you see next month's Vogue."
Besides, fashion people love things that are difficult...high heels, corsets, etc. Well nothing's harder than being on time. C'mon fashionistas, just call it being "fashionably prompt" and let the suffering begin!
5/30 7pm - The Lil Seany Show @ Ochi’s Lounge (Comix) 5/30 9pm - Jokes Ahoy! @ the LILAC...docked just north of Pier 40 (off Houston Street) 6/04 8pm - Hug Life @ Hugs (Williamsburg) 6/09 9pm - Comedyland @ Bohemian Beer Garden (Astoria) 6/11 7pm - Summer Share at Lucky Cheng’s 6/12 10pm - 80 Minutes to the Weekend @ Joe Franklin’s Comedy Club 6/14 8pm - Sunday Night Standup @ Three of Cups Lounge 6/15 7pm - NY Comedy Contest @ Eastville Comedy Club 6/16 9pm - Comedy Party USA @ The Pinch 6/19 8pm - *** WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE @ THE CREEK *** (Long Island City) 6/25 8pm - Spotfest @ Legion Bar (Williamsburg)
Should you change your material if you're doing a show in front of a specific kind of crowd? An anonymous commenter here recently wrote:
Just be yourself...I say the same shit to my friends who are African-American or Middle Eastern, who constantly try to pander to the lowest common denominator when they feel intimidated by an audience that is of a different age or ethnicity. Be yourself. Don't use your culture and skin color as a filter, drop the filter and don't be afraid to bomb, sometimes bombing is cool, as long as, you're being genuine and not dumbing your shit down.
To each his own. I think it's silly to think you're going to do the same set no matter where you are. Maybe if you're doing shows in front of the same demographic all the time. But I get up in front of different crowds. Sometimes it's a hipster room, sometimes it's a room filled with foreigners, sometimes it's an urban show, sometimes it's a clean show for a church group, sometimes it's an older crowd, etc. The idea that I should go out and tell the same jokes no matter who is out there seems silly to me.
I think it's part of a comic's job to read a room and respond appropriately. (I'm talking about picking which jokes to use, not changing your existing material.) To me, it's a good challenge to figure out which of my jokes will work best in that room at that moment for that crowd. I don't feel like that's not being myself. Every joke I tell represents some side of myself. It's just a question of which side I want to show at that moment. And which side I think will do best.
And I don't think bombing is cool. I think bombing is failing. The idea that you just stick with the ship even if it's sinking doesn't feel right to me. I think the audience is always teaching you. If you just keep spitting jokes at them no matter what, you're ignoring the lesson they're giving you. If shit's not working, I'd rather abandon my set, riff, and live in the reality of that moment than just be tone-deaf and plow through with jokes that no one in the room cares about.
Ladies hate it when guys watch porn. They say it gives us false expectations about women. That's true. But the same thing is true with women and romantic comedies. A lot of false expectations. Girls want the fairy tale. Guys want a different kind of tail. Either way, we're all watching movies filled with stuff that will NEVER happen.
In romantic comedies, profession doesn't matter at all. A hooker can marry a tycoon. That never happens in reality. In porn, profession doesn't matter...but in a completely different way: The people who get laid the most are 1) pool cleaners and 2) pizza delivery boys. Good luck with that fellas.
In romantic comedies, luck means everything. A guy will chase through the entire city of New York looking for the one $5 bill with her phone number on it because it's serendipity (which we remember since it's a fun word to say). In porn, luck NEVER matters. Every woman will have sex with any man she meets because it's bukake (which we remember since it's a fun word to say). See, they even use the same tools.
In romantic comedies, girlfriends love to get together and sing Motown oldies into a hairbrush. In porn...well, I don't even know what the equivalent is in porn. Probably something completely different with girlfriends and a hairbrush. Anyway, it's something that never happens for real.
So enough with the fairy tales. What we need to do is come together. What we need is romantic porn. How that would go: Instead of the maid marrying the mayor, she's gonna hook up with the pizza delivery guy. Now that could happen. The cast: Renee Zellwegger and Ron Jeremy...because both are equally unappealing to the opposite gender. (I know, ladies...ewwww. But now you know how we feel every time Bridget Jones is on TNT.) And I've even got a name for this flick: "Serendip-it-into-me." Either that or "He's Just Not That Inside You." Or maybe "My Big Fat Greek Dick."
A worried Johnny Carson once admitted to me that he frequently couldn’t remember what was said on a show he had just finished taping. And, sometimes, who the guests were. It’s a strange thing, and one I haven’t quite figured out.
Johnny all but wiped his brow when I told him it happened to me too, and that a few days earlier I got home and it took me a good 10 minutes to be able to report with whom I had just done 90 minutes. (It was only Lucille Ball!) It’s an oddity peculiar to the live performer’s divided brain that needs exploring. It has to do with the fact that you — and the “you” that performs — are not identical.
Reminds me of a set I did a few weeks back. I got thrown up last minute at a very fun Taint Comedy Great show (a quarterly show run by Chesley Calloway). Crowd was hopping. I had a few drinks in me already. Just got up and ripped it with a completely filthy, over the top, fun set.
Not sure whether it was the drinks, the limited prep time, or what, but I remember getting off stage after killing and feeling like, "What just happened?" I couldn't even remember what jokes I had told (other than every blue joke I have). I riffed on the room a lot but couldn't remember what I actually said. It was all a blur. I'm looking forward to getting a tape of the set just so I can see exactly what happened.
Reminds me of what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls flow.
Flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
Look at the components of flow and they're all right there in a great standup set:
1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). 2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it). 3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness. 4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered. 5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed). 6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult). 7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity. 8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action. 9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
I think getting into that state is one of the best things about standup or any creative activity. It transports you. It's kind of a holy thing. Just touching a moment like that can sustain you through weeks or even months of shitty shows.
My most persistent memory of stand-up is of my mouth being in the present and my mind being in the future: the mouth speaking the line, the boy delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding when and what to say next.
With the brain that occupied, it must be tough for it to also remember what's going on.
For the sake of argument, let's say there are two types of comedians: 1) jokey/clever/one-liner/short-bits comics and 2) truth teller/storyteller/extended bits comics. The question: Do you have to pass through an extended phase where you're a #1 before you can become a #2? Most of the people who you'd categorize as #2 started off as #1 at some point. Even Carlin and Pryor were a lot "jokier" when they started out. Maybe you need to build up your "how do I make this funny" chops before you can tackle heavier topics?
Or maybe it's more a question of age/maturity? (i.e. Who wants to hear a young guy without a lot of life experience throw down as a "truth teller"?)
Lately, I've been shying away from clever, one-liner, a-ha/gotcha stuff in favor of trying to build longer bits. I'm going after things that have more depth and genuine meaning to me than, say, a misdirection joke about a subject that I don't really care about.
Maybe that's a backwards approach though. Maybe the way you get to the deeper #2 bits is by chipping away at the clever #1 jokes. Myq Kaplan and I were discussing via email...
question, do you still write short punchy things when they occur to you? if not, i would question that a bit i imagine you wouldn't censor your thoughts, as i don't when i write but then it certainly makes sense to pick and choose what you try to develop actively, on or off stage so i imagine i support what you're doing but you never know when a good punchy line might complement a longer shit-beating rant, as well most of my longer stuff started as shorter stuffs
yeah, i write shorter bits when they come to me, and often use them on twitter.
but i rarely work on 'em onstage. why? here's what i've been thinking...even if i get a laugh, it feels kinda hollow. it's not what i got into comedy for. like those comics who do all misdirection jokes. it just feels like card tricks to me. i want to get to a deeper, more truthful level. have a point, not just "that was clever." i don't begrudge others who do that, just the direction that feels right to me.
but lately i'm wondering if i got too dogmatic about that...agree there's a hybrid way of doing it. i like the idea of working in shorter one-liners into longer bits that have a point...maybe i should get on the short joke train and then let them stretch out over time (if it's meant to be.)
louis CK did ridiculous, absurd jokes for years and years, and he was a genius at That, long before he started doing what he's doing now birbiglia's first album was full of awesome one-liners for the most part, he was a master at the short joke, the short set, the late night show, and now after years of being great at that, he's doing what he's doing i don't remember exactly, but i think one of stanhope's DVDs had an appearance of him doing one of his earliest sets as a teenager maybe, and i'm sure it didn't have the resounding gravitas that he does now
it's not that you get more truthy with age, but all these guys became hilarious comedians first before they became great truth-tellers not to say that's the only route...
you don't have to choose between being a one-liner comic and a truth-telling comic and you know that (obviously there's the evidence of all the guys that can do both and the ones that don't fall into either category... what is attell? he certainly doesn't often have Great truths of substance but he's not just a misdirection comic, for sure he's brilliant like CK was as well before he started telling "the truth")
Aw man. This whole thing inspired by a conversation at a party last weekend. Came up in a totally organic way when a Who song came on. Next morning I wrote it all up and was quite pleased with myself. Then showed it to someone else and they mentioned The Animaniacs already hit it. And in a VERY similar way. Oh well. Here it is anyway. At least the second half stuff wasn't covered by those ANIMALS. Chalk it up to parallel thinking. And it was still fun to deconstruct the original bit and closely examine what made it tick.
One: So how was that classic rock festival? Two: Great stuff. The Who played first, The Band played second, Yes played third. One: Who played first? Two: Right. One: I mean the band's name. Two: The Who. One: The band that played first. Two: The Who. One: The opener. Two: The Who. One: The first band on stage... Two: The Who was the first band on stage. One: I'm asking you who played first. Two: That's the first band's name. One: The Who's name? Two: Right. One: Well go ahead and tell me. Two: That's it. One: The Who? Two: Correct.
One: Look, there was an opening band, right? Two: Correct. One: Who were they? Two: That's right. One: When they paid the band, who got the money? Two: Every dollar of it. One: The Who got the money? Two: Absolutely. One: Look, don't make me guess who. Two: The Guess Who had to cancel.
One: Come on now. All I want to know is the name of the band that played first. Two: No, The Band played second. One: I'm not asking you who played second. Two: The Who played first. One: One band at a time! Two: Well, don't change the order around. One: I'm not changing the order. Two: Take it easy, buddy. One: I'm only asking you who is the band that played first. Two: That's right. One: OK. Two: Alright. One: The band that played first? Two: No, The Band played second. One: I'm not asking you who played second. Two: The Who played first. One: [Sarcastic] Oh sure. Yes. Two: They played third, we're not talking about them. One: How did I get to the third band? Two: You mentioned their name. One: Who did I say played third? Two: No, The Who played first. One: The band that played first was...? Two: The Band was second. This is going in circles! One: Yes. Two: They played third. One: There I go, back to the third band. PAUSE Let's just stay on the third band. Two: OK, what do you want to know about them? One: Who played third? Two: Why do you insist on saying The Who was the third band? One: What was the band I said went third? Two: No, The Band played second. One: Who was the band that played second? Two: The Who played first. Are you sure you even care about this? One: Yes. [Together]: They played third.
One: Look, was there a headliner? Two: Sure. One: Who was the headliner? Two: U2. One: Did someone else already ask you this? Two: Nope, you're the first. One: Then tell me who was the headliner? Two: The Who was the opener. One: Forget about the opener! I want to know the band that headlined. Two: No, The Band played second. One: I'm not asking you who played second. Two: The Who played first. One: This is crazy. Two: Yes. [Together]: They played third.
One: The headliner's name? Two: U2. One: [sarcastic] A-ha. I see. Two: A-ha? They played the second stage.
One: Look, did you have a favorite band that played? Two: Sure. One: Your favorite band's name? Two: Boston. One: You don't want to tell me here? Two: I'm telling you here. One: Then go ahead. Two: Boston. One: Where in the city? Two: Where in the city what? One: Where in the city are you going to tell me who your favorite band was? Two: Now listen. The Who is NOT my favorite band. One: I just want to know the band's name. Two: The Band played second. Are you even listening? One: Yes. [Together]: They played third.
One: Did the second stage have a headliner? Two: Certainly. One: And the headliner was? Two: Chicago. They were great. One: So you really liked Boston and Chicago. Two: Now you've got it. One: I didn't know you were such a traveller. PAUSE Look, Let's say I'm in iTunes and I want to listen to the first band that you saw. Whose name do I start typing? Two: Absolutely. One: Who? Two: Absolutely. One: So I start typing "absolutely"? Two: No, you don't. You start typing "Who." One: So if I make a playlist with all the bands you saw at this festival, I'd start with The Who. After The Who, I'd put a song by The Band. After the band, there'd be a song by Yes. After Yes, we'd have U2. And there'd be some Boston and some Chicago. You know what? This is madness. Two: This is what? One: I said madness. Two: C'mon, I hate ska!
I also became a reader around this time, which is so important for a writer. If I read a story in The Atlantic, I would be in a daze afterward. It just meant so much to me. When I later taught writing at the Art Institute, I could very easily spot the students who never read. Their stories would be shit. I would point to their work and then to a published work. I’d ask, “Do you see a difference between these two things?” A lot of students couldn’t see the difference. For them, there was no hope…
I feel similarly about standup. You've got to be a fan to be great at it. I see a lot of aspiring comics at mics and I don't think they really love watching great standup. Maybe they like talking into a mic, but I don't get the feeling they go to shows, listen to albums, obsess over why the greats are great, etc. I don't sense they love this guy or hate that guy or watch YouTube clips or soak in what else is out there.
I feel like you've got to be at least a bit of a student to really excel at any artform. That doesn't mean you should drown in the ideas of others or ape someone else's style. Just saying if ya never input great standup, it's gonna be tough to output it.
A busboy comes out with a pizza. He's looking around frantically trying to figure out who ordered the pizza. And then he locks eyes with me. And I realize what's going on after a second and I'm like, "Oh no." And I shake my head. And then I look down at my feet. And then I shuffle away.
And I realized that's how hot girls feel all the time. It's like every guy they meet is trying to offer them a pizza they didn't order. You SURE you didn't order this? Well, are you hungry? Because I have a truck out back with 2,000 more pizzas. I'm all backed up with pizza. Please!?
So guys, imagine what it must feel like if every time you made eye contact with someone they offered you a pizza. At first, you'd be, "Oh great, I like pizza!" But soon it would start to get weird: "You're my cab driver, why are you even offering me pizza? And where would I eat it?" Eventually you'd get fed up. "Listen, I'm just trying to get to work. I don't want a pizza" And then they'd go, "Bitch." "I just didn't want pizza." "Well, maybe you shouldn't have dressed like you wanted pizza then." Which is true if you're wearing a shirt that says, "Offer me pizza. My Daddy didn't love me." You shouldn't do that. Ah, beauty. What are you gonna do with that? Stare at it, I guess...and then cry.
(L to R) Girl in blue shirt, Mark Normand, me, guy in green jacket, Mara Herron, and Matt Maragno after Matt and Margie Kment's "Now We're Talking" show at Rodeo Bar last Wednesday. I believe Mark is looking for his contact lens, which fell in that girl's ass crack.
Went to see Greg Giraldo at Gotham Comedy Club last night. I'm a big fan. (Seeing him do a Monday night spot at UCB's Crash Test years ago when I first moved to NYC was a revelatory moment for me. He was like a whipsmart tornado onstage. One of the things that inspired me to try standup even.) Seen him a couple of times since and enjoyed it, but always shorter spots, never a headlining set.
So I was psyched. But the show was a bummer. The crowd was really disengaged. Giraldo even commented on it about 15 minutes in. "I just don't feel like I'm connecting with you guys and I don't know why." I knew why. Or at least a big part of why. It was two tables of Jerseyites sitting 10 feet away. Specifically, three of the girls there who just kept talking throughout the whole fucking show. Texting and looking at their phones and then showing each other what was on their phones. After 35 minutes they got up as a group and left. Huzzah. But then they returned again...and went on to be even more distracting.
Giraldo certainly wasn't terrible or anything. He plowed through and did a solid set. But eventually he just gave up on it when one of them screamed out "It's Tim's birthday." The silly part: Giraldo was setting up a bit about how stupid it is that people expect singing at restaurants and other special treatment on their birthdays. Giraldo couldn't even believe it and pointed out how people like that are exactly the problem he's talking about.
He then finished the bit and one of the girls yelled out something else. His response: "Fuck it, what did you say? I've already given up. I'm just going to marinade in my failure after this anyway so let's talk about whatever the fuck you want to talk about." And then of course the girls shut up. And so he just shat on them. Erupting in a tirade about what "twats" they were and showering them with expletives in a really cruel but funny way. It was pretty fucking great. The crowd loved it. It felt like the whole show had been building up to that moment of them getting their comeuppance.
After returning to his set, there was one more funny comment about the whole thing. Giraldo finished a joke, took a pause, and sighed. The room was dead silent. He goes, "So NOW you're all going to be fucking quiet!? Now, when I've got nothing to say??? You talked throughout every fucking joke so I cut all my bits in half because I couldn't even focus and NOW you shut the fuck up?" Pretty damn hilarious.
I'm used to dealing with shit like this onstage but it was weird being an audience member and watching it all go down. All I wanted was for someone to shut these girls up. I was praying for Giraldo to notice them and shut them down. Or for a bouncer to go over and ask them to keep it down. I even considered passing them a "please be quiet" note at one point but figured that might just make it worse.
They really destroyed the show. And it wasn't a cheap show either. Between tickets and the two drink min, most people there spent at least $40. And there was like 200 people there. That's $8,000. I'd say we only got 60% of the value of a normal Giraldo show. If you're willing to make the leap (and do the math), these girls destroyed $3,200 worth of show. They stole $3,200 from the other people in that room. Crazy. Something like that would never happen at a play. But I guess the fragility of comedy is also a big part of what makes it so great when it's working.
One other thing too. The featuring comic, Jesse Joyce, had a decent set. He didn't address the crowd at all except for one moment when they yelled something out in the middle of a joke. At least Giraldo could break it down and get real with the audience and call the moment. He admitted that shit was going wrong. A headliner can do that. When you're featuring or MCing, you don't get to take chances as much. Imagine if Joyce had done that and turned the whole room sour. Giraldo would have been pissed as hell, I imagine.
Anyway, strange night. And I don't hold it against Giraldo. Still think he's great. Apparently, he'll be taping a new special in June so that will be good to see. Been too long since his last album. (Makes what those girls did even worse since he's probably working hard on getting material ready for that.) Anyway, he's a guy who should be getting more than he does.
One week from Friday. We're bringing back three of our fave guests from year one:
* Kumail Nanjiani (Jimmy Kimmel Live) * Sean Patton (Just for Laughs) * Dan Goodman (Best We're All Friends Here interview ever!)
Plus another special surprise guest too.
WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE: THE 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY SHOW The comedy chat show with boundary issues Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand FREE Friday, May 15 9pm @ The Creek 10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave Long Island City, NY Map Just one subway stop from Brooklyn and Manhattan
What if show producers were upfront and told the truth to comics they don't want to book? Mark and I were talking about it and came up with this...
Thanks for asking about the show. I'll keep you in mind. Please note that if I do book you, it might not be right away. No need to keep following up. You're on the radar.
I'd like to be honest with you though. I'm extremely picky and I turn down the majority of people who ask to be on the show. If you wind up not getting booked, here's the most likely reason: It's not clear to me that you're funny enough. I know that makes me sound like a dick, but I take pride in putting on a top notch show. If someone comes out and deflates the room, it's a real blow to the show. So unless I know that you consistently kill, I probably won't put you up.
I get why this is annoying. I'm a comic too. I also hustle for spots on other shows and know what a hassle it is to get stage time. In fact, there are plenty of shows that I want to do but can't get booked on. The way I take it: I just need to get better so I reach a point where someone feels silly for not booking me.
A good show producer's priority isn't making other comics happy, it's putting on a great show. Part of that is saying no. The best shows are great because they have tough booking policies. There's a reason why it's hard for people to get a spot on, say, Whiplash — the producer won't put up people who might jeopardize the show. It's also why you have to be "passed" at the best comedy clubs — it's on the club if you fuck up. It can be annoying for comics, but it's usually a very good thing for audiences.
At this point, maybe you're saying one of these:
"I'm funnier than ______ and you had them on the show." That's your opinion. I might disagree. And if I do agree, maybe it was a mistake. It happens. But I always try to book the best mix of people at each show that we can. Also, I might have reasons for putting someone up that aren't clear to you but make sense to me.
"I booked you on my show so you should have me on yours." I don't believe in spot swapping. I'm really happy you had me on your show but I don't do straight up trades for spots. I know other people do this but it's just not how I run my show. Sorry.
"But I'm your friend, come on!" Some of my closest comedy pals are people I haven't booked on the show yet. It's not a popularity or friendship thing. So please understand and still be friendly. I'll do the same. I'm just trying to put on a good show, not piss you off.
"I come to the show all the time though." Thank you, I love ya for that. But like the spot swapping thing, I'm also not into giving spots out to people just because they show up.
Just to say it again: I really appreciate your friendship, booking me on your show, and/or coming to the show. It's totally not a personal thing. PLEASE continue being my friend, booking me, and coming to the show. (Unless you really hate me. Then do what ya like.)
But I hope you at least appreciate where I'm coming from and the honesty of this response. I know other show producers who either 1) never respond to emails at all or 2) hide out from other comics in order to avoid confrontation. I don't want to be like that so that's where this is all coming from. Cool? I hope so.
And keep in mind this isn't a forever no. It's a right now no. The best way to change my mind: Start killing. All the time. If you're not at that level yet, then keep working harder. Write all the time. Do mics all the time. Become so funny that other people start talking about you.
If you're consistently hilarious and everyone knows it, booking you becomes a no-brainer. (Realize that might take months or years of hard work though.) When you get to that level of funniness, I'll definitely reconsider. Thanks for understanding and good luck.
If you're a show producer and you want to use this text or any part of it, feel free. (If you do repost any part of it online, please link back to Sandpaper Suit.)
I get annoyed when people go to a foreign country and come back acting like they're actually from that place. "We spent a week in BarTHalona. And then a couple of days in THaragoTHa." Sorry pal, you're American and you THound like an aTHole, comprendé? The matador outfit ain't helping either. Same goes for Americans who say "cheers" instead of thank you. You don't sound British, you sound like a big Ted Danson fan. And if you call me "mate," we better be 1) in Australia or 2) hoisting a mainsail.
I recently saw a host who started threatening a guy in the front row. The guy didn't play along with some questions so the MC started "joking" about how he was going to kick the guy's ass and sleep with his girlfriend. I'm fine with playfully roasting crowd members (Sean Donnelly is one MC who does a great job and does that all the time), but when it's physical threats and "really, I'm going to fuck your girlfriend" stuff, it bums me out. I sat there thinking, "This is why so many people who come to comedy shows don't want to sit up front."
I've actually been hosting a bunch lately. In the past month, I've MC'd at RG Daniels and Erik Bergstrom's Sunday Night Standup at Three of Cups, Dan Mahoney and Gabe Pacheco's Haiku show at Jeollado, and Chesley Calloway and Sean Patton's CSL show at Kabin. (All really fun shows, a big thanks to those guys for having me.) And then there's We're All Friends Here of course.
I really dig hosting. With a normal NYC-length set (8-12 minutes), you're in and out. Just when you feel like you get to know the crowd, it's time to go. When hosting, you can take a little more time to feel out the room. You get to come back throughout the night and build up a vibe with the crowd. And it's fun to riff off whatever the last comic was talking about or do crowdwork with people that you've actually gotten to know a little bit.
And I amuse myself by playing a game where I search my brain for any older bit I have that relates to something the comic onstage is talking about. Then I try to segue into it in a non-bitty way. It's a good way to bring dormant jokes back to life. Sometimes you realize there's more bite there than you thought.
Last night I did Harrison Greenbaum and Sam Morril's Don't Touch the Foot show at Sage Theater. It's always hosted by Baratunde Thurston. I've seen Baratunde host a couple of times now and I think he's really great at it. He's a funny guy but what I think he really excels at is the not-funny part of hosting. He gets the crowd to feel like a unit instead of individuals. He's really conversational. He finds out who people are, where they're from, how they found the show, etc. but without doing it in an annoying way. He really builds up the energy before intro'ing each comic and gets the crowd to applaud and make noise without badgering them too much.
And he did a really key thing last night: He got a sparse, spread out room of people to all get up and move to the front couple of rows so it felt more like a cohesive crowd. A little thing like that can really make or break a show.
To be a great MC, you have to be a bit selfless. Instead of putting yourself first, you need to put the show first. Like I've said before, hosting a show is like hosting a party. When you host a party, you don't always have the most fun. You have to worry about the music, getting people drinks, intro'ing strangers, and making sure there's a good energy going on. But all that work is what enables everybody else to feel welcome and have a good time.