This is a question that every comic should ask themselves from time to time. If you are trying to get paid from comedy, you have to access your worth. You have to be honest, critical, and self aware. This is an important question that only one person can really answer. You.
Now, you could say that the market determines your worth, but that isn’t really true 100% of the time. For example: You could be asked to do a show and they tell you that you get 100 bucks for the night and a hotel room (pretty average in the northwest for a feature doing a one nighter). That is what the large amount of feature comedians accept as their pay. If you do not like this amount of money there are a couple of things you can do. You can just accept it and know that eventually you will be making more money with this booker in the future. You could tell the booker to shove it and never get booked by them again, or you could just politely refuse and try to get more money in the future. This is the rub with comedy. You can independently work out a wage, but people have accepted what promoters and bookers have given them and I think it is because we all deep down feel a little weird about accepting money to perform comedy. We love it. You rarely get paid to do the things you love. If that were true there would be a lot of professional masterbaters out there.
The comic is really in control of the money. It is just that because of certain things this is what we have arrived at. I will tell you a couple of stories. I worked a club in Boise and I got paid 600 bucks for the week. I did shows on Thursday, two on Friday and Saturday, and one on Sunday. I have done other comedy clubs and they have not given me 100 a night because their reasoning was that because I didn’t have to travel in between shows that 75 was good enough. See the reason I got paid these amounts is because comics before me have said this is what is acceptable for all of us. This becomes a problem though when the money becomes so low that it is not really feasible for quality comics to perform on those shows.
When I was starting out, I did a bunch of shows like this. Mainly because I wanted to be on stage and it was a bonus to be getting money as well. I would get thrown 35-40 bucks and I felt good about myself. It became an issue when I felt I didn’t need to jump on a stage for time and that my act actually suffered for it. I mean, I haven’t actually gotten paid 35 dollars at a well established place. The places that are paying that out to the talent are not the greatest places to begin with. I would be asked to do shows where there were 5 comics and four of them were doing it for 6 months and had a shaky 5 minutes. That was when I came to terms with the fact that I may have just placed myself out of that type of money. I am not saying I am gonna get 6 grand a show, but I think that the act that I have developed is worth more than 35 bucks. That is hard to tell someone that just started doing comedy 5 months ago.
It does come with a lot of consequences though. I am friends with a lot of comics that don’t have the material or the experience and so small money is great to them. They can buy their beer and go get taco bell. They do not think of what is happening to their value down the road. If you are getting paid 35 dollars to do your feature set then why would a booker pay you more to do it for them? That is how I look at it and decided not to do these types of shows anymore. You don’t want to be uppity about it, but you have to help yourself somehow. I mean would we value a Ferrari if it cost 23k? Would we hold Jerry Seinfeld in such high regard if he was doing his show for 100 bucks a night (The cost of something doesn’t dictate worth, but you value something more if you paid more for it)? The issue comes when I tell my friends that and they think I have gotten an ego. I have had arguments about this with a lot of people for a long time. One night a comic asked me what I thought I was worth. At that time I thought I was worth the 25 bucks they were paying me to basically do an hour show. As the years went on though I noticed that the people I was doing these shows with either were not as serious about it as me or they were not strong enough to be getting paid to perform and I had to go back to that comic and say, “You were right.” I am worth more than this.
When you make this declaration though you have to come to terms with a couple of things. You will not be getting a lot of shows now. That is a good thing though because those 5 extra shows a month equaled the one show you did in terms of money. If you price yourself really high (Like I did for this college that wanted to book me) they may go another route. You just have to believe that you are worth it. That is why you have to have stuff like a great headshot and an awesome bio and well made clips on YouTube (I have one out of those three so please don’t think I am perfect). That way they can see you are as serious as you claim.