Why I am getting increasingly annoyed with compères in small comedy clubs

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Ladies and gentlemen: Why bother introducing the acts at all?

There is a problem in British comedy clubs and it seems to be getting worse.

If I go to a large venue and see a famous comedian – a household name – although that is something I seldom do – he or she is normally introduced by a disembodied voice off-stage saying:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome (insert name of comedian)” and then (depending on the level of the comedian’s fame) loud applause of varying intensity starts.

In small comedy clubs where I and other audience members are often seeing comedians they have never heard of, there is an increasing habit for the compère’s introduction to go along the lines of:

“Now our next act. Let’s start with a little ripple. You sir, clap gently. Now let it spread round the room… give it up, make it louder… now everyone… all together… give it all you got… give him/her a big welcome, it’s (insert name of comedian).”

By this point, if the compère has successfully done what they think is their job, there will be riotous applause and no-one in the audience has any chance of actually hearing the comedian’s name.

Occasionally, a shrewd comic will end their act with: “Thankyou very much. I’ve been (insert name of comedian). You’ve been (insert genuine or sarcastic adjective).” But it is rare.

In a bill with six or eight comics, none of whom you know, you can’t even look at the bill and guess who you may have seen unless you trawl through Google and look up images of each of the names on the bill until you find the right face. Who is going to do that?

Far more effective an introduction would be to say: “Now our next act (insert name of comedian). Let’s start with a little ripple. You sir, clap gently. Now let it spread round the room… give it up, make it louder… now everyone… give it all you got… give him/her a big welcome…”

In an industry where ego, insecurity and desperation vie for top billing in performers’ psyches, it is extraordinary that, increasingly, the least clear words spoken in the entire evening are often the names of the performers.

It is a surefire way not to get famous.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Why I am getting increasingly annoyed with compères in small comedy clubs

  1. Hi John. I am a comedian based in Australia. Whilst I agree with your sentiment that it is important for a comedian’s name to be heard, there is a couple of key things left out of this article.
    First is the way that the ‘ripple applause’ works as an effective medium to warm up the crowd and hype there energy up for the next comedian to enter the stage – especially an unknown comic. Known comics get the applause they do, because they’re known and the audience are there to see them in particular. Line up shows usually have less well known performers, and the audience aren’t there to see any one in particular – so the likely hood they’ll hoot and cheer in a huge applause before the act they have never heard of comes on is unlikely, unless the MC/compare is doing a really good job in the first place.
    Your suggestion to say the name before doing the ripple also bares the problem that there are judgements made on a name when its heard, and so the best time to say it is just before they come on.

    Most of the time the names are read out at the end of the show, with another round of applause for the acts; and audience members who really liked the acts usually hang around to meet and talk to them after.

    Lastly, the way to ‘get famous’ is simply to keep performing. Like a lot of creative professions, if you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and you’ll be picked up by bookers who will then promote your name.

    • I still think it is better to namecheck the comic before the ripple applause starts rather than inaudibly at the crescendo of the noise.

      In the UK, sometimes names are listed by comperes at the end, but almost always after the compere has encouraged continuous applause which, again, makes the names inaudible. The object is the applause not the namechecks.

      In the UK, in my experience, it is not normal (though it can happen) that audience members hang around to meet and talk to the acts they liked afterwards; indeed, most of the earlier acts may well have left the venue immediately after they performed.

      And (again in the UK) being good is no guarantee, alas, that you will be noticed, be booked or become successful. If you’ve got it, you will not necessarily get it without good promotion or, at least, people knowing and remembering your name.

  2. It seems common sense to structure the introduction so the acts name is audible but in reality, no one will remember the acts name anyway wherever it’s said. More important is the attitude from some promoters that the least experienced act will do as compere where in fact, at it’s best, it is a specialist role that really sticks the night together. Being funny enough to get the audiences attention though disciplined enough to not take too much out of them because that laughter is for the acts, is a rare talent especially in the world of inflated egos comics inhabit. A good compere is like a good goalie; no glory but takes a hell of a battering for the team. I would say the habit of prefacing any new subject with “give us a cheer if…” is far more irritating.

    I say hurrah for the good compere. Let’s appreciate them more and criticise less!

    • Yes indeed. Brilliant stand-up acts can make bad comperes when they just do bits of their own act in between the other acts. It is a very special talent and much, much under-rated.

      I am always bemused when I hear that a member of the audience has said to a compere at the end of a show: “You were very good. You should be a comedian yourself.”

  3. Noel Faulkner

    Fuk the ripple as a compare do a few gags settle them down get the wankers back from the bar do 2 min of material and then say are we ready for the next act please give it up for jesus, Charles Manson, Elvis, or who ever the fuk is coming on so many MC,s dribble about the stage it drives me crazy if the act dies a good compare like Martin Davis will come back on and do a topping 5 min and make them forget all about the act that died.

  4. David Mulholland

    I think you make a good point here. As the house compere for Soho Comedy Club, I was gratified that I don’t do any of those things. I think it’s important to say the name of the comedian. I actually get them applauding first. Then, after they’ve stopped, I tell them to give it up for [insert name of comedian]. Then after the comedian leaves the stage, say the name again after the applause dies down. It not only reinforces the name, it prolongs the applause. Finally, say the names of all the comedians at the end of the show. Psychologically, you are reminding people of the fun they’ve had and prolonging the applause. And the more they applaud, the more fun they think they were having.

  5. David Mulholland

    I’d add, that if a compere does more than 5 mins, 10 mins max, of stand up material, it’s not going well, or they’re a stage hog. Personal glory is not the role of the compere, it’s warming up the audience and making the night work as a cohesive whole.

  6. I always make sure I sign-off with my name for exactly this reason. Intro always gets lost under ripple applause.

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