“The first comedian bombed horribly. It was so bad, it was difficult to watch. You couldn’t help but feel bad but he was way in over his head. I’m not sure I can stand to sit through another act if this is any indication of the quality of show we can expect. ”
How many times have you been at a comedy show and heard something similar? It might have come from a friend at your table, a colleague, a first date, or even a person nearby whispering it to the people in their group. Maybe you have even said it yourself or at the very least, thought it.
Did you know the comedy standard format for staging a comedy show is different in Canada? It’s true!
In Canada, for as long as I can remember, they have always used a different system. The way they structure the flow of a comedy show has always been focused on the first comedian being a stronger and more seasoned professional to begin the show. Their format has a dramatically bold philosophy and approach that yields real success.
What do American audiences naturally think about the first comedian?
Everyone knows what they think. It’s never a shock: “The first comedian who bombed; he really wasn’t good at all!” That is because in America, our MC and hosts are, more often than not, really bad at hosting, and very inexperienced new comedians.
Think about the logic behind it. The American Comedy format has always been about giving new, up-and-coming comedians the chance to MC. While it may be a kind gesture, is this really what’s best for the entire show?
What were we expecting from someone who has little experience on stage in front of a diverse range of situations and circumstances? Even if they are okay, they aren’t consistent, and let me tell you, consistency is the most important trait to have as a comedian.
For all the lessons a comedian learns in a comedy club, in my opinion, road comedians learn valuable tactics to help them perform their material in the most hostile of environments. Admittedly, I’m partially biased because that was the path I took, but I sincerely believe it made me a better comedian.
The road is tough; it’s a battle; one where victory is often measured not by the last soldier on the field.Instead it is measured by the unit that had the fewest casualties. Sometime a win is just getting out alive. On the road, it’s not always about having the show of a lifetime, but how to bomb so gracefully that everyone believes you are a pro.
In Canada, it’s not just the slight difference in their language or their heated passion for hockey that makes our Northern Allies different. They hire an accredited headliner with many years of experience to host and MC.
Let’s break this logic down: The average comedy show lasts an hour and 30 minutes. There is a lot of science behind that, but that will have to wait for another article. The host is almost always expected to do only 15 to 20 minutes, which includes announcements. The feature act is required to do 25 to 30 minutes. The headlining act closes the show with 45 minutes of pure gold. At least that’s the goal. But if our “amateur host” isn’t strong enough and bombs, they lose the attention of the audience, forcing the headliner to spend their first 10 to 15 minutes recapturing the attention of the audience.
Canada took the belief that the MC spot is actually even more important than the headliner, and the feature act is the least experienced of all.
They hire a headliner who hosts the entire night, rather than their typical closing position. This host has the credits and years in the business to warm up the audience, rather than dig a hole right out of the gate. They still only do 15 to 20 minutes, sometimes they’ll perform 30, just like a typical feature. Then the second headliner, who is just as accredited or a household name as the “host,” does 45 minutes. The sweet spot is given to the least inexperienced of the three acts. In the industry, they are referred to as the “middle act,” who only does 5 to 15 minutes at best, and is squeezed between the two established comics. This gives them an opportunity to improve, and even if they don’t perform to their best ability, they still don’t negatively affect the show.
As I focused my attention towards the future of Stage Left ENT, I came to this conclusion: In order to produce the best comedy shows possible, it only makes sense that we use the Canadian model. I’d rather invest money hiring a comedian to perform 12 minutes of hilarious material in the beginning because it sets the tone for the evening. The entire show from top to bottom is awesome. And guess what? People leave saying, “Damn! That first comedian was great, then it just kept getting better! I’m coming back next month.”
And that is exactly what everyone wants.