Standup comedians are performers who entertain crowds through their comedy routines. They typically perform in live environments, standing in front of audiences on a stage while speaking directly to them. During their performances, comedians usually tell prewritten or impromptu jokes or share humorous stories in the form of a monologue. While comedians often stand on the stage alone with a microphone, some use props or even have guests take part in their performances. Among their many talents, standup comedians are known for being able to control a room and manage hecklers who make fun of them or try to interrupt their performances.
The origins of standup comedy date back to as early as the 19th century with comedic lectures from individuals like Mark Twain. In its early decades, standup comedy largely took the form of variety shows and minstrel shows. In vaudeville houses, standup comedy often involved comedy teams talking to each other as opposed to the audience. However, there were comedians like Frank Fay who performed solo while communicating directly with the audience.
Currently, there are 10 recognized styles of standup comedy: observational, alternative, anecdotal, insult, improv, sketch comedy, topical, deadpan, musical, and surreal. Comedians like Bob Hope, Borscht Belt, and Jonathan Winters helped establish the modern-day era of standup comedy. Other comedians who contributed to or advanced modern comedy styles include Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Jerry Seinfeld.
While many comedians align themselves with one or more of recognized standup styles, there is no guideline for performing standup comedy. As long as the audience connects with the material, the comedian will likely find success.
It is generally understood among standup comedians that the process of transitioning from an amateur to a professional can take as long as 10 years. While there is no specific manner in which to begin this career, some recommend taking a standup comedy class to learn joke-writing and how to write comedic sets. This type of class can also help you meet other amateur comedians and build the nerve to perform in front of an audience.
Standup comedians are also encouraged to take part in “open-mic nights” in settings like comedy clubs, nightclubs, and bars where they can test out their material in front of live audiences without the requirement of first being booked to perform. It is in this environment that comedians receive the honest reactions they need to create the best routines. These types of performances are typically unpaid.
As standup comedians continue to test their material, they might begin booking paid gigs in nightclubs, comedy clubs, bars, pubs, and at festivals. As they become more popular, they might be invited to perform at colleges, for corporations, on cruise ships, in theaters, and possibly even as warm-ups for television shows. The most successful comedians are able to perform for an hour or more in front of a live audience and have their routines recorded for distribution on popular television networks and Internet streaming services. Others have been able to transition into successful television and movie careers.
Determining how to bill for standup comedy performances can feel quite daunting when you’re a beginner in the business. If you started with open-mic night performances where you were not paid, you will now have to determine your worth as a comedian.
A great way to start is by looking at your current market. Some markets are known for paying standup comedians better rates, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Austin, Denver, Boston, and Minneapolis. If you’re not in one of these markets, it’s possible that you could earn lower rates.
It’s a good idea to check with fellow standup comedians in your area to learn the going rate for local comedians as well as the best places to seek gigs. Once you’ve gotten your footing in the industry and can command your desired fee, it’s time to figure out how you can bill your customers.
Here are some considerations to make:
Standup comedy can be a tough business with a reputation of paying low fees for performances. But as you continue to make a name for yourself as a top talent, it will be easier for you to command the rates that align with the time and effort you give to your craft.
It’s good to note that standup comedians often don’t invoice their clients, particularly early in their careers. You might receive your pay in cash or a check and comedians are responsible for keeping their own records for tax purposes. But for standup comedians who perform at colleges, corporations, or cruise ships – or have the opportunity to perform comedy routines that will be distributed and sold – invoices are a necessity.
Here is some information you always want to include in your standup comedy invoices:
If you’re not sure how to create your own invoice, take advantage of Indy’s downloadable invoice templates. You can personalize each one by including a logo and contact information for you and your client. We also offer an invoice generator that creates professional invoices in minutes. Easily manage your invoices by adding and subtracting important details, submitting invoices electronically to your clients, and receiving online payments through services like PayPal and Direct Deposit.
Standup comedy is not considered the most lucrative of careers, especially for performers who are just getting started in the business. Some comedians have admitted that even in larger markets like Los Angeles, they have earned as little as $10 for a performance.
Standup comedians often take on side jobs to support themselves as they test their material and work on becoming comfortable on the stage. Some find opportunities to work in bars, nightclubs, or comedy clubs where they can convince the promoter to give them time on the stage for a few dollars or a portion of the total earnings from paying patrons.
It’s good to note that the pay standup comedians earn isn’t always low. The estimated income for a standup comedian ranges from about $17,000 to more than $74,000 annually. A comedian’s median income is estimated at $54,000. Now, let’s take a look at average earnings per gig:
It’s good to keep in mind that different venues might require that you make adjustments to your standup routine, which isn’t always easy to do last-minute. Let’s say you are accustomed to performing in nightclubs and comedy clubs where your material is geared toward an adult audience. If you are asked to perform at a corporate event or a school, you might have to adapt your material to your new audience. It’s always good to ensure that your material is appropriate for your audiences to increase your ability to secure future bookings with your clients.
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