Why Can’t I Make Money With My Stand-up Comedy?

make money as a comedianI frequently monitor the search terms that people are using to find this blog and my other websites.

One such term that grabbed my attention was this one:

“Why can’t I make money with my stand-up comedy?”

Humm. My first thought was this…

Could it possibly be that your stand-up comedy act just isn’t funny?

Before I continue I should say that professional comedians can command what most people would be considered an exceptional income on even a part-time basis provided they are able to generate big and frequent laughs consistently show after show.

Related Article: How Much Do Comedians Get Paid?

Stand-up Comedy is not like a government job where a person can automatically advance due to longevity nor due to accumulating a certain number of performances.

Those aspects only come into play for the comedian who has demonstrated their talent, is already getting paid and “moving up the ladder” in stand-up comedy so to speak.

Stand-up comedians get paid to cause audiences to laugh. The speed at which a comedian can get paid to perform is directly related to four primary factors:

  • The audience laughter levels they can generate
  • The consistency of high laughter levels for a wide variety of audiences
  • The duration a comedian can generate audience laughter (performance time)
  • The reputation and experience a comedian develops

Many who venture into stand-up comedy have more than enough comedy talent to do very well as a comedian.

But they simply will not do what it takes to truly develop the skill to get their act up to speed and get them noticed for potential paid performing opportunities.

That’s amazing to me considering that a complete A-Z, no stone left unturned stand-up comedy education can be had for about the cost of a single college textbook (not a college course, just the textbook for the course).

Now don’t get me wrong — some folks who enter the stand-up comedy arena don’t have the comedy talent God gave an ingrown toenail. A person cannot be taught to have comedy talent they didn’t possess before they made the decision to become a comedian.

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However there are many who do have plenty of comedy talent but are simply unwilling or unable to acknowledge that their stand-up isn’t doing well at all.

These folks don’t feel that they need any assistance because they are already “killing” audiences in their own mind.

Here’s a brief story to illustrate this point…

I had been performing stand-up comedy for about 3 years and had already been headlining for almost a year when I got a call from a new comedian I knew:

“Hey man, you need to come over for a beer. I did a set in L.A. last night and I killed! I’ve got the video and I want you to check it out.”

Well, not to be one to turn down free beer…

I went over and watched this new comedian’s 5 minute set where he allegedly “killed” the audience.

I was kind of blown away because the most significant reactions exhibited by the audience in this video was…

Two people coughed during his set and one person sneezed rather loudly.

He did get pretty good applause at the end. But I suspect that it was because of the shear relief that he was finally done with his set.

There was no real laughter to speak of as evidenced by the video. Maybe, just maybe, there was massive telepathic laughter that I couldn’t hear. 🙂

All I know is that the two best things about this video was it was short and there was a free beer involved for suffering through it.

Yet, in this new comedian’s mind, he “killed” the crowd.

He couldn’t even see that he wasn’t getting any laughs and was actually bombing.

The real tragedy here was that this person had plenty of comedy talent and had a great stage presence. But he simply could not develop or deliver a stand-up comedy act that would generate laughs.

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In order to get regular paid work as a comedian, no matter what market you are performing in, you must be able to generate significant audience laughter on a consistent basis.

If you can’t do that, you simply don’t have a marketable or salable comedy entertainment product.

Bad stand-up comedy is much like a turd — it can be varnished and polished to a high gloss on the outside. It can be wrapped in a fancy gift box and touted as a rare and exquisite delicacy that demands a sophisticated “acquired” taste.

But no how you slice it, bad stand-up comedy is still a turd — and audiences, talent buyers, comedy bookers, agents, and comedy club managers will continue to refuse to choke it down, no matter how a comedian tries to sell it (ie: like labeling it “alternative” comedy).

Ultimately, it ends up getting flushed with little afterthought.

It does not matter how “meaningful” your “message” may be. It doesn’t matter how “cutting edge” or “edgy” your material may be. It doesn’t matter how witty or clever your comedy material may be.

If you can’t generate a minimum of 18 seconds of laughter for each performing minute on stage (headliner level performance)…

Don’t expect to move up quickly in stand-up comedy or to ever get paid much more than gas money, if that.

I say in my online course that “funny can’t hide”.

Well, unfunny also can’t hide either and won’t command much of a paycheck. End of story.

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8 Replies to “Why Can’t I Make Money With My Stand-up Comedy?”

  1. As with any art, the vast majority of performers do it for the sheer love of the craft and not for the financial rewards. I suspect that those relative few who do eventually “make it” financially in this field do so as a result of patiently honing and refining their product while it is still their first love, their passion, their obsession. The money, I would suggest, comes because of that final polished and perfected product, the 18-seconds-of-laughter-per-minute that we are all hoping to attain.

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