Welcome, hello. Are you comfortable? Can I get you anything? I made coffee this morning, but dumped it down the sink before I left for work. I guess I could make more, or if you wanted to root around in the sink, you could. It drains kinda slowly these days since I tried to get rid of some pasta by forcing it down the drain.
That's how I would greet you if you were to arrive at my door this minute and I was home. I'm not the greatest host, is my point, but have some excellent hosting gigs coming up in the next few weeks. I am emceeing the wedding of two good friends, then doing the same at my aunt's wedding a few weeks later. In a sense, the master of ceremonies is a sort of host, in terms of a performance or presentation. To that end, and because I rather like the brides and grooms, I hope this Dream comes true.
Dream: Be a good host.
Goal: Achievable. I know it can be done because I've seen really good hosts my whole life, and some bad ones. Consider that America's Funniest Home Videos was basically YouTube before YouTube but nobody thinks to tune in because past host Bob Saget and current host Tom Bergeron are so insufferable as to make the program unwatchable.
Plan: Take a lesson from the hosts I admire and try to apply it when I rock the mic at these summertime nuptials. Hosts like:
David Letterman. I adore this dude and his show. You can keep your late night wars, as far as I'm concerned. Leno doesn't make me laugh, and while Conan's a funny guy, his nervous energy doesn't make for the greatest hour of tv. He always has to be funnier than his guests or something, and while he writes funny, there's something so manic and false about his delivery. Letterman just doesn't give a shit, which is fantastic. He's gotten to the point where it feels like the usual host pulled out and somebody's cantankerous father who doesn't quite know where he is decided to fill in for the evening. Sketches soar or fail, Dave couldn't care less, and so they've gotten so completely bizarre. Their latest trend of the fake guest is probably my favourite. The other night, a man came on who purportedly designed clothes and hats for turtles. He was nervous and sweating and showed off some of his tiny hats that he designed. Then he brought out his turtles to model them and could only find one. “Mario? MARIO!” he screamed, overturning chairs, looking for his best friend. He turned to Dave and the censors bleeped: “Fuck! I can't find him! Fuck!” and he ran off. Unperturbed, Dave turned to his camera and told us to stay tuned for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I think the reason I like Letterman as strongly as I do is because he's so much like my father. Dad will also repeat a line he thinks is funny several times, whether or not he gets any reaction. He doesn't understand why a lot of people are famous or powerful (one of my favourite Dave guest-evisceration is when he hosted a young guy from The Hills and said, “I'm not sure who you are, but if it wasn't for television, you would be living in a tree.”) Anyway, good men and good hosts both.
Terry Gross. As the host of Fresh Air on NPR, Terry's the best in the biz. I remember when I first heard the show, I thought it was a music review because Terry spoke so knowledgeably to her musician guest. But then I heard another show and thought it was a political program because Terry spoke so knowledgeably to her political guest. Turns out she's just an incredibly smart woman who must just read books and newspapers in her every spare moment because she's unbelievably well-prepared for whomever her guests turn out to be. Plus, unlike everyone else who hosts a program, I don't know anything about her. She works so in service of her guests and listeners that she doesn't share her own opinion or experience, but she conducts the most interesting interviews I've ever heard.
Finally, I love that emcee in Cabaret. The weird, pansexual, heavily made-up tuxedoe'd gentleman that opens the musical (and film) with that Fosse-fied “Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome...” song that creeps everybody out except Liza Minelli. I auditioned for that show once, and thought it would be fun to play that part but thankfully, blessedly, a much stronger singer/dancer got it and blew it out of the water. In retrospect, all I would have done was wear suspenders, blink my eyes a lot, and maybe twirl a cane without injuring myself.
I think the best quality a host can have is to know when to take charge of things and know when to get out of the way. I'm gonna say a few funny things at these weddings, but for the most part, I'm gonna step aside and let other people shine, as they should. In a way, I suppose a good host is like a marriage; no matter how much work goes into it, the best ones look effortless.