Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mr Xcitement

The MC has a pretty full-on job to do in a show. They have to get the audience out of their pre-show funk and make them keen to participate. They have to wrangle the players. They have to fish offers out of the audience. They have to introduce games and explain things just enough that newbies in the audience will get it, but not bore the ones who have seen it before. And more than anything else, they are responsible for putting a nice box around each of the scenes and presenting the show professionally to the (hopefully paying) audience.

I've been blessed to work with excellent MCs here in Brisbane, such as Tamzin McCauley. As great as an MC might be, the music supporting them can really help (or hinder) them as they go about their job.

Starting the show

When the lights go down and the house music fades, usually the MC will do a voiceover. The music behind that should help to rev the audience up and get them ready to go. While the voiceover takes place, it's important not to clobber the voiceover with noise - the audience can't see the person talking, so to have any impact at all they have to hear it clearly. I usually play something with a bit of anticipation for that. My (over-used) favourite is to play a low octave with my left hand, and hammer it a bit like you're playing a tympani roll. That's nicely out of the way of the MC's voice, and seems to give a bit of anticipation.

When the voiceover finishes, the lights go up, and the MC steps out on stage, you can go more wild! Generally the MC gets a good reaction, and can milk the clapping and cheering for a little bit.


There are times when an MC will segue in to a new element, such as "That's the end of round one, now on to ROUND TWO!!!" At times like these the musician can provide support by building the music to announce that new element. You'll see this sort of thing on TV talk shows or variety shows all the time.

Another time for a build might be in a judged scene, just after the judges are giving their scores. The music can, for example, accentuate the end of a great high-scoring scene, or defame the judges if they've lowballed a good scene.

In some ways, when the music swells and takes over the stage, it is like giving permission to the audience to make a lot of noise as well. If you were, say, starting round two of games, the music and the audience energy can feed each other.

Getting offers

Now and again the MC is going to get an offer or a gimme from an audience member, along the lines of "Give me a household chore" or "What's your dream occupation?" or "Tell me somewhere you'd like to go for vacation?". At that point, the audience member has to speak up loud enough for the MC to hear. While the MC is framing their offer, I get ready to either hold a chord or stop playing altogether, so the audience member can be heard. When they've given their offer, and the MC accepts it, it's important to ramp back up again - positive music from the muso, and positive sounds from the MC, validate the offer the audience member made, and encourage other people to make offers in the future.

Mind control

One of Brisbane's legendary improvisers (Doug Bayne, aka Mephisto on Double the Fist) (and you know you've made it when you have your own IMDB and Wikipedia page) would often MC shows. I remember chatting with one of the players during a show at the Southbank Piazza, saying how Doug would nearly always subconsciously key off of the background music I gave him to give his MC a particular character. This other player didn't believe me, so for five or so scenes in a row, while Doug was doing his thing, I'd play specific themed music. Rap, reggae, country... At one point he was mid-sentence in super-rasta mode when he stopped what he was saying, turned and glared at me... He hadn't even realised what he was doing, and it was a hoot to see him realise I'd been puppeting him around the stage with music.

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