Going up first

A guest post from RG Daniels, producer of Sunday Night Standup at Three of Cups:

A lot of young comedians seem to believe there is a stigma attached to going up 1st on a show. I've heard everything about the 1st spot from being the "weakest link" to "taking a bullet". Truth is, it's a spot and it should be treated as such an opportunity.

As a producer of a weekly show I can honestly say the 1st spot is generally reserved for a younger comedian to prove him/herself or for a more established act to shake the room up right away (this of course, barring any circumstance where a comedian needs to leave early). Good producing requires you to consider every spot and to trust the performer to do their job. The momentum of a show is only as good as it's lineup and if your lineup is incomplete the show will suffer.

Some producers will purposely put a comic up 1st to get their spot out of the way. That is bad producing. If you care about the show, then you will consider each performer's act and know where to place them. If the energy of the room has not been established up top, that falls on the MC, in which case even more motivation for the 1st comic to "own" that spot.

Sure, the middle/close of a show is more desirable. But if your act is funny and your jokes are proven then there are no excuses. You are the comedian. You are a reflection of yourself, ultimately, and NOT a reflection of the entire show (that's the producer).

The next time you are upset about being asked to go up 1st consider the thousands of other comedians who would love to have that spot.


My name's Josh Guarino said...

Spot on, RG. I find the first spot to be the most crucial to the success of the show. While the host should set a positive tone to start the show, it should be a one-two punch. A great opener will keep the crowd involved. Producers shouldn't look at that spot as throwaway. If you open the show strong and then put up someone who's unproven, the risk is very high that the comic won't deliver and the crowd will sour. A strong start is very important.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Excellent post! Onus is on the producer to craft the momentum of the show, for sure. I agree 100% about knowing the style of the comedians and what works well for the show.

I've been on shows where the producer asks, "Who wants to go first?", and everyone says, "I will!" in unison. From a performing perspective, you'd love to go on when the room is full and attentive. (Other reasons for going first: you get the idea that the show will lose steam, run long, or the audience will dwindle. Sometimes you need to get to your next gig, or you have explosive diarrhea).

londoncalling said...

oooh please ! Going on first can be hard cause the audience are usually cold.
Going on in the middle will be easy cause the first act "has taken one for the team " .I've know acts to feign "car trouble" to wiggle out of opening . There is another way of looking at it .
Jerry lee lewis used to hate opening for chuck berry but gave a gangbuster performance setting the piano on fire etc . As he passed chuck berry in the wings he'd always hiss "follow that* " . That's the attitude you should have if you're opening "FOLLOW THAT ! FOLLOW THAT "

Cody Hess said...

Wearing my comedian-hat: I prefer not to go first. Going first is more difficult, especially if the emcee hasn't gotten the room in order.

Wearing my producer-hat: Someone loud AND talented goes first. I know great comics that I would never ask to go first because of their laid back persona. If I don't have a suitable comic, I'll go first and be extra loud.

But with a good host, whoever takes the first spot really shouldn't have trouble. I find 'cold audience' during the first comic is usually the result of a producer treating the emcee as a throwaway spot. On my show, the emcee is the most important and hardest position to book.

Hank Thompson said...

Going first is definitely not preferrable but a comic shouldn't shy away from it. A quality performance can set the tone for the rest of the night. If you've never been to a standup show before and the first act is a dud you might regret your decision for that night's entertainment, souring your outlook on subsequent performances.

I'd like to hear thoughts about contests? I went first at one and I blame losing on that. Also, on not knowing how to build a set or make an audience laugh.

Neil Constantine said...

I agree whole heartedly with RG.

Even though; technically, the MC is always taking the bullet; not the first comic on the docket. If the room is cold it's because the MC left them that way.

When I hear comics complain about going first, they easily forget they are not first. Maybe if they watched the MC instead of complaining or muttering under their breath, they could gauge the room and figure a game plan to open them up or blow them away if the MC happens to fail at doing that.

Aalap said...

Good post RG. I agree that a spot is a spot and should be treated like an opportunity and never burden or chore.

londoncalling has got it right. Our attitude should always be one of "Try and follow that" even if we aren't hitting home runs every night.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

"On my show, the emcee is the most important and hardest position to book."

Like Cody, I co-produce a small show at a non-club venue. At The Living Room we try to take the bullet at the opening with a few audience questions and a lot of rounds of applause before we throw it to our host. But it takes a host who knows how to guage the energy of the room to get them ready for the next act. We try to afford the host more stage time so he / she can flex with more material towards the middle once the room is warm.

londoncalling, great point. And Jerry Lee Lewis sounds racist in that story.

myq said...

I think Josh did a great job in the bullet spot of this comments section, but RG was a great e-MC. (Squared?)

More often than not, even a great comic going first will get a reaction that is not as great as they would get if they went later. Audiences do often warm and loosen up as the show goes on.

In contests that can certainly have an adverse effect and add to the general unfairness of trying to compare comedy sets in that way. I have seen people move on in contests from the opening spot. but it also takes other factors that might be out of your control. If the host doesn't get the best reaction, it's unfortunate, and sometimes a comic will break the audience open for the rest of the show without getting the response they deserve and could have gotten with the benefit of that warmed up crowd that they helped create. But that's how it goes. You can only control that which is in your power. Out of talent, work, and chance, you can only control the work.

And of course going first is better than not going at all. Can't win if you don't play.

Did I even add anything new to this discussion?
Man, if only I had gone first.

soce said...

My sets these days generally just consist of me yelling and screaming, "Men!! Women! Spot the differences! That guy knows what I'm talking about! Dookie!" then running around and high-fiving everyone, so I think I would be a great opening act for most shows.

It's always a give or take.. Sometimes the act before you will say something really toxic that kills the room, and you'll wish you went on early. It's always nice to have a warm room who's super ready to love you, but when you aren't dealt that, think of it as a challenge.. Do you have what it takes to win them over?

Abbi Crutchfield said...

"Men!! Women! Spot the differences! That guy knows what I'm talking about! Dookie!"

LOL. I like the fact that you wear a bright green silk suit and wipe your brow with a matching handkerchief.

Do you have it? Guts! (Doo-daa-doo-da-doodle doo. Guts.)

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