It is always weird to me when I hear comedians talking about getting paid and they are so comfortable with just taking whatever they can get. It may be due to their awkwardness in asking someone for money, but I think it is due to something much bigger: not knowing what they are worth. You can sit down with a comedian and tell them how much everyone else is getting, but if they don’t know why it matters it will go in one ear and out the other. I will try to explain as best as I can.
Now, your worth as a comedian changes from place to place. In the Midwest, the money comedians are getting is different than in the Northwest. It can also vary depending on if it’s a one night performance in a bar or if you are at a comedy club. It can also change depending on demand. If you have a market that is flooded with comedians, it may be harder to get as much as say, someone who lives in Spokane, WA. So, the very first thing you need to do if you are a working comedian (or trying to be one) is that you need to ask other comedians what is the going rates in your area. That way you are not undercutting yourself out of ignorance. It is important to know that, for example, if you are tasked with hosting a show at a bar, it usually pays a certain amount.
Okay, now that we took care of that, let’s look at why it is important to get paid what you are worth. If you ask any comedian that has been doing it for 20-30 years, they will tell you that the pay hasn’t really increased since they started. With the price of inflation, that $100 that was seen as great in 1990 is almost $200 in today’s dollars! That means that the market has not kept up with inflation. Why? Because so many comedians are insecure and love comedy so much that they will take the $100 and be happy. A lot of comedians think it is weird in the first place to get money for something that they enjoy, and that gives the people handing out the money an advantage in that they use this against you. They know that the average comedian will take that $100 bucks and if that one doesn’t then the next one will. Because there is no union and for a lot of comedians, work so infrequent, they think it is better to get something rather than nothing.
This is all well and good until you think about all the other aspects of comedy other than just performing. You have to get there. That cost. You have to eat. That cost. If you take that $100, after you have paid for gas and food you maybe down to $60. Now, that means much more work on your part. This is why there aren’t that many touring feature acts. You can’t afford to travel and perform. If you are traveling and performing in comedy clubs, that may soften the blow because you don’t have to jump in your car each night, but a lot of clubs don’t give features hotel rooms, so that means you will either have to have a friend in that city, or get a hotel room and that eats into more of your pay.
Getting what you are worth is important because if you want to do it full time, you will have to maximize your pay while minimizing the cost. So, if it cost you $150 to go perform, you may want to make sure you are getting enough that you are not constantly doing expensive open mics. It is also important because it adds value to not only your comedy, but comedy as a whole. Some of the worst crowds I have ever perform in front of are crowds that got in for free. They see no value in it so they don’t care what they get out of it. If a booker knows he can pay you $25 to feature, he is not thinking of your comedy as a valuable product.
People make fun of me because I am always trying to get more for my performance. The reason I do that is because I feel like even though I am not a big comedian or famous, my time and my comedy are worth something, at least more than what others are getting. I know I am not going to raise the amount everyone gets paid because it is only me looking for more pay, but it does add value to my comedy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to make it seem like while others get $100 I get 400, but I try to make sure I am getting what I am comfortable with so that after I am done paying for expenses, I have money for silly shit like bills and drones. That is also the reason I have kinda moved away from mostly bar stuff to corporate stuff. I can get paid what I am comfortable with and I don’t have to drive all over the place. Getting what you are worth is not greedy. It’s just smart.