By Greg Dean
One of the most neglected aspects of stand-up comedy shows is the introduction. What most comics just don’t realize is that the introduction itself is already the very beginning of their show. And yet, as critical an opportunity as it may be, it usually gets ignored or simply relegated to the Emcee to supply.
Unfortunately, introductions are most often employed to just bring the comic on stage. Yet it can also be utilized to affect the audience in some very powerful ways. If well written, the introduction can set the tone for the comic’s show, influence the audience’s attitude toward the performer, establish the comic’s character, setup an opening joke, create credibility, and yes, even get a huge laugh. If well written.
Conversely, a poorly written introduction can set a bummer of a mood, give the audience a bad attitude toward the performer, establish the wrong character, screw up an opening joke, discredit the comic, get a groan, or otherwise dig a hole from which a comic may never recover.
What I want to do with this article is to suggest some simple ways to improve the opening of shows by writing a great introduction. Here are some things to consider:
Never Tell the Emcee, “Just Say Anything.”
You’re assuming the Emcee is competent. Bad assumption. Especially at open mikes, Emcees are often another beginner comic trying to get stage time. Even if you happen upon a good Emcee, giving him or her permission to “Just say anything” is still a bad idea. One comic I know, when he’s the Emcee and people tell him to “Just say anything,” will intentionally mess with them. Here is a paraphrase of one of his “educational” introductions:
“Our next dickhead is a knuckle dragging, mouth-breather, who made a big mistake when he entered the club tonight. He told me he was going to get more laughs than the other comics because this audience would laugh at anything since they have the I.Q. of a cuff link. You can make up your mind whether you think he’s funny or not—here’s Joe Blow.”
Needless to say, it was a comedy nightmare. After the show, the comic blew up at the Emcee, but the Emcee laughed it off and said, “You told me I could say anything. So shut up, and next time give me something.”
Supply Your Own Introduction
Begin by taking responsibility for the opening of your show. This is the first time the audience will meet you. Take the opportunity to get on stage the way you think is best for your show. Since most Emcees won’t know you, they can’t possibly give you a proper introduction, unless you write it. Spend a little bit of time learning how to write one. It’s well worth it, because it will have a positive effect on the quality of your show.
Put Your Introduction on a 3 X 5 Index Card
This is useful because the Emcee can stick the card into his pocket, then later pull it out and read it on stage. Print it in large letters that’ll be easy to read—sometimes performers go on stage without their glasses. Also, bring two or three duplicate cards with you to the show, because the Emcee may lose the original. If you have an extra, you’ll be able to hand it to him just before your introduction.
Spell Your Name Phonetically
If your name is difficult to pronounce, print it out phonetically. One student was blessed with the name Mark Dziwanowski, (jew-van-ow-ski). If he doesn’t spell his name phonetically, the Emcees either screws it up completely or just introduces him as “Mark.” If you make it easy for the Emcee, he will be more likely to use your intro.
Set the Proper Expectation
One of the more damaging mistakes made in an introduction is setting an unrealistic expectation. They usually appear as statements like:
“This next comic is very, very funny.”
“You’re going to love this guy, he’s amazingly hilarious.”
“The next performer is going to make you laugh and laugh.”
On the surface, these sound flattering. But what they are really doing is setting an expectation that the comic, for whatever reason, might not be able to live up to. Too high an expectation can make the comic look bad and make the Emcee appear to have lousy taste in comics. Setting the proper expectation is one of the primary reasons you need to write your own introduction.
Make the Intro Funny
You’re a comic, so write a joke to get yourself on stage. You spend a great deal of time thinking and writing funny material for your act. Consider the introduction as part of your act. If the Emcee thinks he’ll get a laugh, he’ll use your introduction. Here’s one that I gave Emcees because they couldn’t screw it up:
“Our next gentleman needs no introduction because you don’t know who he is anyway—(walk off stage).”
The Emcee got a laugh, and I got to introduce myself.
Use Credits Sparingly
If you have some legitimate credits, it’s okay to put them in your introduction. But don’t give the audience your resume. I’ve heard credit introductions that list the performer’s credits for three minutes. As an audience member, I’d begin to think, “If you’re all that, what you are doing at an open mike?”
One or two good credits are enough. Any more than that, and it will seem as though you’re trying too hard to impress the audience. If you don’t have any legitimate credits, then make fun of that with a standard introduction, like this:
“If you’ve seen Comic Relief, The Tonight Show, or An Evening At the Improv, well, this performer has also seen these shows.”
Incorporate Your Subject Matter
You’ll be ahead of the game if you’re brought on stage with an introduction that mentions your first bit or the central theme of your show. If you’re starting your show with some television material, then write an intro about being a “couch potato.” If you just broke up with your lover, get introduced as someone “easy to get along with.” If you’re a sports fan and your first bit is about sports, then try something like, “our sports fanatic for the night.”
It’s better to have an unfunny introduction that sets up your material than to have a funny one that puts you in the wrong light.
Design it to Establish Your Persona
If you have some overt characteristic like being really heavy, cranky, tall, you wear thick glasses, or are of a particular ethnic group, use it to your advantage. An introduction that sets up the comic’s identity is a very slick thing to do.
For instance, a female student of mine, Karyn Faranda, is rather brazen. To prepare the audience for her strong personality she wrote this introduction:
“This next comic is a woman, but definitely not a lady”— Karyn Faranda.
It gets a good laugh, but more importantly, it sets up her character as being uninhibited, so when she says outrageous things the audience is poised to accept her.
Set Up Your First Laugh
An introduction can be used as the setup for your opening joke. Often, the intro won’t be funny by itself, so you might want to explain to the Emcee that it’s a setup, otherwise he may not read it. Another student of mine, James Hildebrandt, had a deadpan character, so I suggested this type of intro:
“Get ready, because this next guy is a ball of energy. He’s an effervescent powerhouse with a dynamic presence. Ladies and Gentleman—Mr. Excitement.”
Jim came on stage with his long deadpan expression, stood gaping forlornly at the audience and said, “Hi.” It was an easy laugh. This is not to be confused with setting the proper expectation. Yes, this last intro sets an unrealistic expectation, but only as a setup for the comic’s opposite personality, or in this case, the lack thereof. Using the introduction to get your first laugh will make you look like a pro.
Collect Standard Introductions
It’s better to have some much-used introductions in your repertoire than not to have any at all. Old joke books are great sources. If you read or hear a really good one, always write it down, because you will likely forget it. Here are a few:
“I’d like to introduce a very funny comedian. I’d like to, but unfortunately I have to introduce (comic’s name).”
“Our next comic is a legend in his own mind.”
“It’s not my job to stand up here and bore you, but it is my job to introduce someone who will.”
“I’d like to apologize for the sound system here, because you will hear every word this next comic has to say.”
“As for our next comedian, is he friendly? Yes. Intelligent? Yes. Working? No.”
“Next is a comic who will really add something to this evening . . . about a long half hour.”
“This next comic has just finished his first movie. (Wait for applause.) Right after the show he’s going to Blockbuster and rent another one.”
“The next comic is without a doubt the next comic.”
Avoid Introduction Clichï¿½s
These are all of the hack phrases overused to the point of nausea. The audience wants to be entertained with original talent and material, not deluged with tired clichï¿½s. I know it’s difficult to avoid these stand-bys:
“Please welcome to the stage . . .”
“Give a warm round of applause for . . .”
“Our next comic . . .”
What I’m suggesting is that you think about what you write. Challenge yourself to create something original rather than mindlessly accept a clichï¿½. For instance, I don’t think any Emcee ever again needs to say:
“Without any further ado . . .”
Utilizing these few suggestions, writing a really good introduction can be fun and easy. It will take some initial awareness, experimentation, and a little practice. But remember, the introduction is the beginning of your show. If you are really clever, you can write one that creates the proper expectation, establishes your persona, sets up your first laugh and is also funny. Write an excellent introduction and get on stage looking like a stand-up comedy star.