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.

Related Article: Top 10 Reasons Why People With Comedy Talent Suck At Stand-up Comedy Open Mics

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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.

Related Video:


5 Stand-up Comedy Lessons - Killer Stand-up Online Course
This training module intro page provides comedy lessons on why conventional stand-up comedy writing methods don’t work.

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

  1. It is interesting that the number one thing in the end is to make people laugh. Comedy seems so simple. People are always trying to make comedy so complex with all these different formulas and theories. Steve, you are really doing comedy good. It is all about laughter and smiles.

  2. This brings up an interesting question: just how much money does the average standup comic in America make in a year? The more I read and hear about this topic, the more it seems the answer is “not very much.” Sure, the guys like Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan who can fill theaters are doing great, but many people would be shocked at how little many well known comedy club headliners make in a year.

    Jim Short is considered one of the top comics in San Francisco, which is one of America’s most competitive comedy markets, home to some of the biggest and best known comics. But if you go to his website and watch his clips, he regularly jokes about being broke. In one clip he says “I make about six thousand dollars a year telling jokes”, while in another he says twelve thousand. These are certainly exaggerations, but he clearly isn’t making very much, and he’s been on Letterman, Conan, and Ferguson.

    I just discovered a blog by a comic who’s the house favorite at one of the top clubs in Chicago, and has been for 25 years. He’s a very “successful” headliner in most people’s eyes, but he rents a room in a basement and struggles to pay his bills. I won’t mention his name, but his blog is quite a shock to read. He’s been updating it nearly daily since 2007, and the whole time he’s been just barely getting by even though he works constantly, headlining in some of America’s best known comedy clubs.

    Here’s a blog post from a guy who hasn’t been doing it nearly as long. It’s all about how comics can save money on the road – things like packing bologna sandwiches for the six hundred mile drives where you’re lucky if the gig pays enough to cover your gas money, and keeping a Coleman camping stove in your trunk so you can pull over and make yourself a hot meal every now and then.


    Part of the problem is probably that there’s way too many comics, and not nearly enough really good ones, but it appears that the vast majority of working comics never do more than barely get by.

    • The problem is that there are (and have been) too many comedy club comedians since the 1980’s. It boils down to supply and demand — too much supply, not enough demand.

      Outside the comedy club market is a different story. Ah but alas, one cannot get those gigs unless they have a clean act.

      Stand-up comedy is one of those things where “cool” trumps “payday” most of the time.

      • The headliner whose name I won’t mention wrote about running into an old comedy friend he hadn’t seen on the circuit for years. He thought the guy had quit comedy, but it turned out he had just quit comedy clubs. He now does corporate gigs. He told the headliner that his typical fee for one corporate show is about eight times as much as a typical headliner makes for a week at a comedy club.

      • Comedy clubs are great gigs when you can get them. But the real money in stand-up comedy is working outside the comedy club market. The gigs I list on my corporate comedy secrets website are real gigs out of hundreds I did in the corporate comedy arena.

        The “sweet spot” in stand-up comedy is to be able to entertain in ANY market. 🙂

  3. “Unfunny can’t hide either…” But you sure wish it would and could. One of the “comedian” DVDs I got for Christmas was scary and should have had a warning label. (Warning: If you expecting to laugh uncontrollably and frequently, be hereby warned. It ain’t gonna happen.) This guy was funny for his audience…a large group of old-time, old-fashioned church people. The kind that laugh maybe once a year. This man told several long stories. So every two to four minutes, he’d get a good, hearty laugh. I found myself thinking about the Comedy Evaluator Pro. That would have said this professional comedian bombed. If your material is not producing big laughs, please don’t sell DVDs of it! I’d rather it go into hiding!

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