Emcee brings puns, laughter to All-University Sing stage
He’s a three-time champion of All-University Sing. He’s a seven-time veteran of emceeing and, yes, he’s the guy who always shows Halloween pictures of his kids at Pigskin Revue. Alumnus Dr. Blair Browning, associate professor in the communications department, might have attended more Sings than any other Baylor alumni, but Browning still loves cheering on many of his students by hosting the event each year.
Browning has been Sing’s master of ceremonies for seven years now. He was a member of Phi Gamma Delta as a student and competed in Sing in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
“We won my sophomore, junior and senior years, and then what would have been my fifth year, but I went for four and a half so I can’t say it was all me because they won after I graduated,” Browning said.
Twenty years have passed, but Browning is still on stage — though performing a different role.
He said one of his favorite things about Sing is that it’s a Baylor tradition that connects Baylor students across generations.
“The fact that it’s been around for so long — people could be on the same stage where their grandparents were doing the same thing,” he said.
After receiving his master’s at Baylor in 1999, Browning began teaching and later earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M University. In 2008, he replaced the former host Pete Coutler, another Baylor alumnus who lived in California.
“I think they had decided they wanted someone with more of a campus presence who knew students and was out and about on campus, so they asked me if I would like to do it,” Browning said.
He throws in one-liners in between acts during the show, often teasers about the upcoming act’s theme, but said his goal is to be an “upbeat, supportive personality” and keep the show moving.
“Someone said to move once, after I think I said something like, ‘I need a few more funny lines,’ and they said, ‘No one is there for you!’” Browning said. “It was a little humbling and it hurt a little bit, but it’s exactly right. I’m there to be an upbeat facilitator and I’m there to make sure this thing, which is already a pretty time-intensive ordeal, keeps flowing.”
With Sing’s diverse crowd, Browning’s jokes have to be “down the middle,” he said, but he doesn’t feel the need to do stand-up comedy throughout the performance.
“That was one of the funny lines last year,” Browning said. “Someone tweeted something like, ‘Emcee #notfunny,’ and I said, ‘I’m not trying to be funny! I could kill it up here if I wanted to!’”
While Browning said he enjoys the spotlight and does not get nervous, the six performance nights give him room to throw out any jokes that fell flat and play around with new ideas. During Pigskin 2013, Browning had a special guest come on stage and help.
“I said, ‘I’m going to need an understudy here – I need somebody who could step in a pressure situation. Nick Florence?’” Browning said.
Florence joined Browning on the stage as planned, much to the crowd’s delight.
With students spending several hours a night at practice and performing for two weeks, Browning can see the potential distraction Sing causes its participants, but believes it’s no different from any other distraction students face in the middle of the semester.
“There will always be distractions, so why not harness it toward something positive?” he said.
He also said he believes the busyness can make students more productive and even boost GPAs.
“For the one kid who might have overslept class, there are 10 others who are totally on the ball and actually probably ahead of the game because they are in a busy season,” Browning said.
As for Sing’s other benefits, Browning named conflict management, personal communication, handling pressure situations and artistic vision as a few of the skills a seven-minute performance can teach participants.
With seven years of hosting, three years of performing and a few others as a crowd member, Browning has seen a lot of acts, but his all-time favorite is Kappa Omega Tau’s second-place, circus-themed 2011 act, “The Show Must Go On.” He also mentioned the a capella portion of Phi Kappa Chi’s 2012 “Sing for Dummies” as another standout moment, as well as seeing one of his students, George Strake, do the splits each year during Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s act.
“I’m hoping he’ll go a third straight year in that,” Browning said.
Browning said he was surprised by last year’s first-place tie between Kappa Sigma and Kappa Omega Tau.
“I think I even tweeted ‘What is this — soccer?’” he said. “I think even each group would have preferred something to resolve it. It could have been rock-paper-scissors, but just to have a winner.”
As for the upcoming competition, a dark horse he would like to see make it is Sigma Alpha Epsilon so returning alumni could see the act at Pigskin Revue.
“In a fun way, I would love to see Sigma Alpha Epsilon make it, simply because I think alums would crack up and just love it,” he said. “I think part of that is because every time the curtain closes they yell, ‘Pigskin!’ or ‘Nailed it!’ They have fun, but they put a legitimate act together so they’re not just messing around.”
Browning said he hears various rumors of themes from students — most often mock themes — which is exactly how it was when he participated in Sing.
“Things haven’t changed and that’s fun,” he said. “Again, it speaks to the idea of the Baylor family that they are participating in the same deal that I participated in 20 years ago. It’s selling out. It’s students having fun and students learning good skills and showing the ridiculous talent we have at Baylor in so many different aspects.”
While Browning prepares his clever puns for each group’s theme and maybe practices his award-winning moves from his time on stage, throwing out some high-fives behind stage and interacting with the students is what he truly looks forward to.
“Really, it’s getting to celebrate the talent of my students,” he said.