Over the years I've written, produced, and directed hundreds of episodes of sitcoms shot before a live studio audience. Especially in the late '90s when I was freelance directing and it seemed like every week I was at a different studio on a different stage with a different show. Just as I moved around, so did the warm up men. My wife and daughter, Annie would often attend these filming nights. Annie was ten then. She became somewhat of an aficionado of warm up people. Some she liked, others she tortured. After awhile she knew them all -- their strengths and weaknesses. And thus she's compiled the 8 Tips For Becoming a Good Warm-Up Guy -- the most comprehensive and only guide to this unique art. So today I'm going to turn it over to Annie. C'mon, folks, let's give her a big hand.
Being a warm-up guy cannot be easy. You're the commercials that no one can fast-forward through. (Though DISH is probably working on that.) You struggle on the standup circuit,, claw your way onto a studio lot, and all you get is heckled by a sassy ten year-old. (At least, all the warm up guys I sat through did.)
Growing up listening to warm-up guys every week has made me a self-appointed expert on the subject. So, should you be lucky enough to land one of these auspicious gigs, here is some unsolicited
advice for you at no charge. I won't even make you give me an autographed photo of the cast.
1. It's a big deal to get that job, so act like you want to be there. There's nothing more annoying for the audience than having the first scene end and you're already in the parking lot. Worse is the extended sigh as if to say, "Shit. I gotta talk to these idiots again?" Gee. Thank you. We idiots are not thrilled by you either.
2. Not everyone in your audience is brand new each week. Some of us are related to the cast or crew. For those of us who are there time and time again, please throw in some new material. The people who create the show write a completely new episode each week. All we're asking for is one new fresh knock knock joke. And maybe lose the one about the blonde and the dead bird.
3. This isn't your big chance to get into the Friars Club. Jim from Idaho didn't wait in line for three hours to hear how fat he is. A little gentle ribbing about where we're from or how long we've been
married is fine. If you start foaming at the mouth, you've lost us.
4. Give away candy and we'll laugh at your jokes. Give away merchandise from the show, and suddenly the sitcom we came to see is opening for you. (Well, not always. I once won a shirt and I was insanely excited. Thirty seconds later my mother handed the shirt back to the warm up guy. I believe her words to me were, "We have enough of this crap at home. Let the tourists have it.")
5. You might think this would go without saying, but your material should not rely on cursing or dirty jokes. Especially if it's a family show. The audience over at JESSIE does not need to know how long it’s been since you’ve received oral sex. One guy exclusively told raunchy jokes, like he was doing warm-up for Andrew Dice Clay’s bachelor party. Needless to say, the audience looked like they were sitting on burning coals.
6. Keep your energy up, no matter how late the filming goes. Keep a tool belt of Red Bull or pick up a cocaine habit. Whatever. Just don't yawn.
7. Make sure you can pronounce all the cast members' names correctly before you introduce them. It's important that the audience likes you, but it's equally important that the actors on the show don't want you dead. Don’t just take a stab at Kunal Nayyar. Ask him. At some point during the night, let everyone know who wrote and directed the episode and anyone else involved – line producers, assistant directors, that weird guy in shorts who’s always changing light bulbs. They all deserve a round of applause.
8. Just have a good time! You have an audience required to not walk out on you. That’s like a comic’s greatest gift. Don't worry if you have an off week. Just blame it on that week's episode and move on.
Knock 'em dead. And ignore the ten years-olds. They're just cranky their moms won't let them have swag.