Inside the Improv Green Room: Juston McKinney

April 15, 2008

I was the MC for Juston McKinney two weekends ago. He was just very polite but still knew how to take care of business.  He worked clean for most of his act, so I tried to follow suit.  However,the feature act pretty much brought out his dirtiest stuff.  People always say that the MC is supposed to set the tone for the show.  I had always thought I’d done a good job doing this, but I realized that I had typically been paired up with Headliners who had similar styles, so I never really had to adapt.  This was a stretch assignment to work clean for me and after a few shows with Juston which went well, I realized how selfish I had been in the past.

Comedians are like heroin addicts on stage.  We need laughs to sustain us.  Ask any comedian in the midst of brutally bombing in front of a big crowd if they would at least consider stealing their child’s DVD player to make the audience laugh; you’ll hear some disturbing answers.

Friday’s late show was when I had my epiphany.  Some actor named TJ Miller had met my friend Adam on a plane back from LA.  TJ said he was going to Pittsburgh to shoot a movie.  They somehow got on the topic of showbiz and comedy.  Adam mentioned to TJ that I was a comedian in Pittsburgh and gave him my number if he ever wanted to do a show.  I went to the Improv and the manager told me that this TJ Miller would be stopping by to do a guest set.

The that night crowd was energetic, although that is in relation to Thursday’s and early Friday’s crowds, which were just OK.  I went on and started telling my jokes; I tried to start out clean.  I dropped a joke that had a repetition of a dirty word and went with something else.  But the more the crowd got into it, the more not-so-clean jokes I gave them.  I remember feeling only slightly guilty while I was doing them but rationalized it as “Oh it’s a late crowd, they want this stuff.”  I never once thought how it would effect Juston’s set.  I brought up TJ Miler and he did a few really good jokes (Particularly a character called the “Big Tough Construction Guy who Apologizes a Little Too Effeminately to Excuse a Burp).

I went up, did two more jokes that weren’t clean then brought up the feature act.  People loved the feature act, but he was filthy.  After he got the light, I went on stage and introduce Juston.  His set went well overall but it took him a few minutes to get off the ground.  As he meandered through the very early part of his set, I realized that all the of comedians who went on-stage earlier in the line-up couldn’t care less about how the rest of the show went; they were all in it for their own selfish laughs, including myself.  I felt very guilty and luckily I had a day to think about it.  I was out of town on Saturday visiting my friend in Washington D.C.

I tried to readjust my set on Sunday.  I switched up some wording on material and took out some jokes.  I did well and I brought up the feature act who dirtied it up even more-so for a Sunday.  “It’s hard for me to follow such a visual and dirty poop joke with my opening line ‘Isn’t it weird that my name is spelled with an ‘O’ instead of an ‘I’?’ The feature’s  joke just brings the audience to a low-brow level and it’s hard to get them out of that hole,” Juston remarked.

I knew what I had to do.  I went up on-stage and told some clean, “thinking” jokes that only got maybe a chuckle from the audience.  I would be the palette cleanser, the Ginger slice in between meals that no one really likes, but that allows you to enjoy the entrée more.  Juston had them from the opening, the audience was great.  I didn’t get a lot of laughs but I felt a lot better about myself because I had done what a good MC would probably have done, which is adapt to make sure the entire show was good.  I started to realize that probably half of the MC’s that I’ve seen suck in the past probably didn’t suck, they were just being a good MC and I didn’t even know it.

I got along great with Juston and he even has been helping me with writing some jokes.  I have so much respect for him for being welcoming to me as an up-and-comming comedian.

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