06/28/2012 04:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Comedy Tech


In the comedy world, techs are appreciated, because they need to be able to run all the technical, behind-the-scene elements of live shows when few other people want to. I've been a comedy tech for nearly five years. It's a job I love and the position in live shows that I'm most comfortable with. In that time, I've worked with a wide variety of comics, actors, improvisers and storytellers in New York, and these experiences have taught me how to approach each project professionally and creatively.

Standup and Storytelling shows are relatively easy to run. Set-up is having a microphone onstage for the performers, sound checking the mic and any music you have and keeping the stage lights on for the duration of the show. In many cases, the show's producer will ask you to be the time checker for the performers, and signal them when they're almost out of time. These shows help with time management, and are also fun because some of the jokes and stories can be very good.

Improv shows are usually simple. If a group doesn't specify that they'll call the end of their set, you'll get to make that call. If you're also an improviser, calling a blackout should be very easy. I always treat the blackout like a sweep edit: when the time is right, follow through and finish the scene. Teching for improv can also be a great opportunity to experiment with any variety you have with the lighting plot, especially for musical improv. If a scene is taking place at a school dance and you have a disco ball at your disposable, please use it. Improv shows are fun to run when you act like an additional member of the group onstage: constantly listen.

Sketch shows are where an extensive skill set becomes necessary. Depending on which group your working with and what tech elements they utilize for their shows, you may be running multiple audio and/or lighting cues within sketches before your reach the blackout lines. Some groups may also use projections in the form of photos, PowerPoint, videos or even a live video feed. I've encountered one group who used all of these elements in their show! These are the opportunities for you to show how effective you are at multitasking and following directions. Do everything that's asked of you, pay attention, (especially if you just have a cue sheet), and unless specified otherwise, always be quick with blackouts. Nothing kills a good blackout line more than a pause before the sketch ends. If you can run tech for a sketch show, you can do anything.

It's easy to praise your tech person with the amount of work they do, but it's also very easy to upset them without meaning to. Here are some things I've heard from comedians over the years, that I still hear today, that drive me crazy:

  • I don't have music or video cues with me today. Well then, you better be ready to pay extra for when I'm cramming your tech rehearsal into the 10 minutes before your show starts! Never assume that the audio and/or visual files you're using in your show will just work, that's what the tech rehearsal is for.
  • Can we just make one more change? If you're making this request after house has opened, the answer is 'no.' By this point, the show has started and your tech is in control. Unless it's an emergency where a cast member is missing or unable to perform, you should not be making any changes to your line-up.
  • Oh, I didn't know I had to pay you! Reaching out to a tech person to run your show and their agreement to do so is an informal contract between the two of you. The theaters with tech personnel for you to reach out to on your own are freelancers who are preferred by the theater to be rushing their equipment, so the theater is not paying techs to be there.
If you avoid these habits and trust your tech, you two may work together for a long time, especially if they think you're funny.

Christine Liz Pynn is a freelance technician, working regularly at the Peoples Improv Theater. She recently received her first television credit for running motion graphics on the new IFC series BUNK. Christine is a native New Yorker.