If you’re doing comedy to “get paid” I suggest you try a different art. The pay in stand-up comedy is laughable. The average trivia host makes way more than we do in a night. So what do we do about it? Fight for fairer pay? Go on strike and stop doing open mics? Demand money from bookers upfront?
In this chaos a new formula has emerged, whispering its way into the ears of every comedian who’s performed on two or more shows. As long as the show is free you don’t have to pay anyone, but if the show has a cover, then “experienced” comics expect to be paid. This approach sounds fine on paper, but in reality it’s just checking a box. There’s so many different levels to payment. With this attitude you’re saying you’re fine doing a free show where the booker takes home $450, but the second they charge $5 at the door you have a different attitude? You suddenly stand up straight and ask, “is it paid?”
The thing that bothers me the most is comics aren’t consistent with this. At all. They’ll pay their left nut (or labia) to do a showcase for Funderground Comedy or the DC Improve, but go after indie show bookers that are just trying to cover their costs?! And in the event they get paid from one of these clubs, its such a small fraction of what the venue brings in. Hosting a club is the hardest job of the night. Where are the pitchforks calling for better pay?! The DC Improve could pay you $1 for 10 minutes of stage time and you’d still do it. Hell I know I would.
Many don’t realize that on any given show, usually only one of these people is taking home money.
All these glorified open mikers are worried about getting screwed over, but what about the screwed over booker that paid a stellar comic $150 to do material and instead sexually harassed an audience member for an hour? What about the venue’s staff busting their ass to serve 50 people water on the rocks all night long?
To the people reading this that think I’m siding with the sleazy bookers, hell no. I pay a lot of my expenses from working road gigs. I know that some nights I’m gonna collect, and some nights just the main talents are gonna collect. That’s how it works, and hopefully I do well enough on stage to be brought back as that main talent. Just because a few millennials start having opinions doesn’t mean the fundamental rules of the game have changed one bit.
I’m running out of steam here so let me get to my final point. I think if you host you should get paid. Hosting is WORK! I think if you headline you should get paid. However, if you’re doing 8 minutes at a show where you show up late, don’t promote, don’t draw, don’t social media circle jerk after, and just do an average set on stage….I’m not sure about that.