The Financial Aspect of Producing Comedians

Comedy is on the rise these days. Take a look at any network or online video streaming service and you will likely be inundated by stand-up comedy specials, comedy variety shows and famous comedians in blockbuster movies. Stand-up comedy nights and comedy open mics are a common fixture in local live entertainment venues. Once found only in large metropolitan cities, comedy clubs are popping up in smaller towns around the country. Considering the rise in popularity, getting into the comedy side of the live entertainment industry can be an attractive prospect for comedians, producers, club managers and talent managers alike.

But, as with any live performance art, making ends meet in comedy is not a sure thing. Most aspiring comics put years of hard work in before achieving any level of success in the comedy market. And, on the producer and manager side, success requires very careful financial planning coupled with artist development and good taste in spotting potential talent.

That being said, for those who understand live entertainment and business management, there are more opportunities than ever to take advantage of the increased comedy consumption today. Programs like Frost Online’s Master of Arts in Arts Presenting and Live Entertainment Management are designed to help candidates successfully navigate the nuanced financial aspects of production in the exciting world of comedy.

What Makes Good Comedy?

Making money in comedy depends on the quality of the humor and the personality behind the humor. Freud described comedy as a combination of content and delivery. Today’s comedians follow the same logic: comic success depends on funny concepts and perfect timing, augmented by body language and charisma; consequently, financial success in comedy depends on the same factors.

How Do Comedians Get Started?

Comedians start their careers like anyone else: They try things out, practice, work on jokes, and experiment with delivery and timing. They perform at clubs with open mic nights. They make videos and post them to YouTube or Facebook or submit them to web comedy sites like Funny or Die. And they keep doing it. This sounds simplistic, but nearly all comedians — famous or not — begin their career in a similar fashion.

How Do Producers and Managers Find Comedians?

Those on the managerial side of comedy find the next big talents by going to watch new acts perform. They gauge audience response to the comedian on stage and trust their gut. The number of views on a comedian’s YouTube channel is a fair indication of the performer’s appeal. Can you help this person become financially successful? Because managers generally receive a percentage of their client’s revenue, the manager’s income depends entirely on their client’s success.

What Is the Financial Potential of Working in Comedy?

Again, it takes a while to make decent money doing stand-up comedy, but with TV specials and movie roles, potential income can be astounding. How much can you make in the beginning, cutting your teeth in comedy clubs? Nothing, usually. Comedians have to start at the bottom and work their way up. First there are the open mics. Then come featured slots and eventually hosting or emceeing comedy shows, which don’t pay much. Comedians generally don’t get reasonably compensated for their performances until they are headlining big comedy clubs — a point that can take years (if ever) to get to.

But here comes the good news: Comedians are taking over TV and movies. This, of course, is where the effort and risk in comedy can truly pay off (for the comedian and their management). Along with traditional cable, subscription streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have been pumping out comedy specials. Big name performers (and their agents and managers) are making millions of dollars from such specials. These media outlets are embracing comedy specials because paying one star comedian and their production team is still far cheaper than a dramatic production with a full cast, crew and special effects.

Moreover, the popularity of and increased demand for comedy specials have media channels racing to find new comedians who appeal to different demographics. And with rock star comedians charging millions, networks are increasingly looking for lesser-known comedians to plug into their content offerings. And then there are movies! Most big name, highly successful comedy movie stars started in small clubs.

Like all professionals in the entertainment industry, those producing comedy shows and managing up-and-coming comedians must understand this progression of income potential. The successful industry professional takes risks on new artists they feel can rise quickly with the right support. Every manager wants to sign the next Dave Chappelle or Will Ferrell, but they balance that risk by taking on clients with a proven track record of income and steady growth.

Comedy is fun, but it can be difficult to make a good living at it. Taking an educated, business-minded approach to working in this facet of the entertainment industry can help producers, managers and comedians alike develop an enjoyable and financially sound career.

Learn more about the Frost online M.A. in Arts Presenting and Live Entertainment Management.


The Comic’s Comic: Comedy Club Managers Answer 15 Questions From Aspiring Comedians Via Reddit

The Economist: Stand-Up Comics – Serious Business

The Ringer: Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Creative & Cultural Skills: A Comedy Producer’s Career

SAGE Open: The Production of Comedy: The Joke in the Age of Social Media

The New York Times Magazine: Funny Money

The Wall Street Journal: The New Comedy Economy: Stand-Up Specials Proliferate on Streaming Services

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