"It took me two years before I ever made a single dime doing comedy"
June 20, 2018 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Hollywood Reporter followed a comedy agent around Los Angeles for a night and breathlessly reported that "A newer comic just breaking into the L.A. circuit can earn anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500 per week...". Comics -- newer and less so -- were somewhat surprised at these numbers .
posted by Etrigan (21 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
They'd just waste it on gym memberships and fancy microphones
posted by thelonius at 1:42 PM on June 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


thelonius : but not too fancy of a microphone, because when you extend it out at arm's length and then drop it on the floor to punctuate the earth-shatteringly funny joke you just delivered, you'll be very sad that you did it with a $1500 microphone.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


SM58s all the way down to the stage.
posted by howfar at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2018 [10 favorites]


I've never been to a comedy show in LA, but I assume they have cover prices at the door? The idea that the performers aren't getting a cut of the door cover is bonkers and comics shouldn't put up with it. Is there a union? There should be a union!
posted by dis_integration at 2:03 PM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]




Every once in awhile, I think "People think I'm pretty funny, maybe I could do comedy! Not get famous or anything, but make a little money on the side after awhile."

This reality check was helpful.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:20 PM on June 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


Is there a union? There should be a union!

They tried that.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:22 PM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


One major part of the reason why I left performance, and comedy in particular, is what James Adomian says at the end:
Obviously, systems that rely on not paying people for large chunks of their careers tend to reward those who can afford to exist without being paid. That’s why you have people from rich or comfortable families overrepresented across the entire media landscape, in all the arts, perhaps as it has always been.
Now, obviously there are those performers who came from lower-class backgrounds who also knew how to hustle (I'm thinking like Richard Pryor and folks like Bowie), but while I definitely came from the lower class, I didn't know how to hustle, and not being able to pay rent or for health care if I needed it was among the things that scared me off from the business.

I knew talented young people who, after 10-12 years, are still struggling to get paying gigs (I'm still FB-acquainted with many of them). They coach improv teams, teach sketch-writing, or temp in offices. They're all going into their mid-to-late 30s now, and I wonder how long most of them will be able to keep this up. Out of about 100 people, I can count on both hands who has actually made it to regularly working in some capacity on various comedic TV shows, or have gotten into films as comedy actors. A couple people I knew have lucked out in getting one or two commercials a year, or do corporate training. So much of one's time is this business, no matter what part of it one works in, is about lining up that next gig, and I found that to be stressful.

Those folks I knew all still do stand-up. It's part of the hustle. And save for my old improv coach Dion Flynn, all these people come from comfortably well off families, so someone's got their back if they absolutely need it. I didn't and don't have that, so I threw in the towel at 35. More power to anyone who can persevere.
posted by droplet at 2:35 PM on June 20, 2018 [19 favorites]


A newer comic just breaking into the L.A. circuit can earn anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500 per week...

...at their waitressing job.
posted by clawsoon at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


The show Crashing is #1 very funny #2 a good look at how the comedy industry is and what it definitely does not pay. Not only does it not pay for the main character, he has to work for hours handing out flyers to get a spot to perform. I haven't done comedy in NY so maybe it's not accurate, but since it has every famous comedian in it playing loose characters of themselves.... I'm gonna go with yes.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:40 PM on June 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


OnTheLastCastle, the show's creator Pete Holmes has a podcast where he interviews other comics, and they often reminisce about their years in New York, Chicago and Boston, working long unpaid hours barking (flyering, standing outside the bar repeating slogans, etc.) just for a shot at a spot.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:04 PM on June 20, 2018


It's been awhile since I read it, but Aisha Tyler's Self Inflicted Wounds has a series of stories about her trying to make it in comedy clubs, and the nuts and bolts of getting on stage and failing over and over. I'm pretty sure she was paying the club to get up on stage for a long time. It's a quite funny book, and even better when you listen to her read it.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 3:05 PM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think "People think I'm pretty funny, maybe I could do comedy!

I get that too. This would be me on stage.
posted by Splunge at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Every once in awhile, I think "People think I'm pretty funny, maybe I could do comedy! Not get famous or anything, but make a little money on the side after awhile."

This reality check was helpful.


People laughed when I said I was gonna be a stand up comic. Well, nobody's laughing now.
posted by azpenguin at 3:40 PM on June 20, 2018 [34 favorites]


I think the writer is using "breaking into the L.A. circuit," in a weird and misleading way. Someone who has been doing stand-up for years and years outside of L.A. could possibly make that money doing headlining gigs around the country, but then move to L.A. and "break into" the scene and get scouted by Netflix and such. $1,250 to $2,500 per week is closer to what a comic would make doing a pretty big tour of colleges. The article kind of hints towards this:

He'll book his acts at traditional clubs in major cities on the weekends, then build a trail of music venues, theaters and colleges during the week.


Even so, this whole article is like looking at NBA players and saying people can earn millions in the basketball gold rush. Netflix made, like, 60 comedy specials in 2017. 120 players made their NBA debuts last year.
posted by Regal Ox Inigo at 4:16 PM on June 20, 2018 [8 favorites]


I work on a comedy show (easily findable here), and I can tell you that I've been in the room with talent as they were talking about being on the level to work on my show, a somewhat high bar, and having been broke when they took the gig. And not one person, multiple people. Happily, at the higher end it begins to pay.
posted by nevercalm at 7:14 PM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


This comes to mind. Sounds like there IS gold in them there hills, but it's still the same old talent+luck+hungry to the point of canibalism.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:36 PM on June 20, 2018


So today's comics are still getting paid the 1979 wage? Ahh, show bizness.
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 8:05 PM on June 20, 2018


That story wasn’t very funny.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:15 AM on June 21, 2018


> jacquilynne:
"This reality check was helpful."

My reality check's still in the mail.
posted by chavenet at 5:22 AM on June 21, 2018


Regal Ox Inigo: $1,250 to $2,500 per week is closer to what a comic would make doing a pretty big tour of colleges.

Yup, looks like you nailed it.
@SethAbramovitch: One or two of you have written in to mildly object to a salary figure for working comics. The figure has been corrected to refer to full-time touring comics on the national circuit. I apologize for any confusion.
Emphasis added. Interestingly, the sentence in the article is corrected in place -- the sentence now reads "A newer comic on the national circuit can earn anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500 per week, according to one prominent touring agent; more established names can pull in anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 in the same period." -- and the correction note at the footer just says "Updated to clarify the range of weekly earnings for a newer comic on the national touring circuit." They don't have make any record of what the previous version of the article actually said and hence why people thought it was so worthy of ridicule.

It looks like the writer has deleted his previous tweet calling the Vulture article "relentlessly vicious" (lol). I'm also pretty sure that he also deleted a previous defensive tweet that attributed the ludicrously high figure for "breaking into the L.A. circuit" to information he got from a comedy agent. Odds are, there was some kind of sloppiness here either in how the agent communicated the figures or how Abramovitch interpreted them. But, regardless of any communication snafu, either Abramovitch or his editors should have seen that number on the page and had an instant gut check and thought "hey, this can't be right. we better double-check that."

Like, if you write an article saying that you can make around $500K a year playing for a AAA minor league baseball team like the Albuquerque Isotopes and then get all huffy and super defensive when everyone calls you out and says that's bullshit and then later have to go back and correct your article and say "sorry I meant to say you can make $500K a year as a rookie in the majors"... well, you really kind of did this to your own dumb self.
posted by mhum at 8:35 AM on June 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


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