“The Penniless Punchline” Article
I’m posting this for those of you who missed my article in Savage Henry Magazine. It was written for their Money edition. Please enjoy and share if you like it.
Forbes estimated Bill Gates to be worth $67 billion. Warren Buffett is at $53.5 billion. Donald Trump is worth $3.2 Billion while Jerry Seinfeld, the top earning comedian of 2013, has a net worth slightly over $800 million … The richest comedian in the world still doesn’t hold a candle to CEO’s or real estate tycoons.
If you entered comedy for the money then you may want to reevaluate your business decision. Not to say there isn’t money to be made. Russell Peters made a cool $21 million this year. He’s also at the top of his field.
Ok now, let’s descend from the lofty heights of rich comedian mountain.
Ground control to Major Andrew. Come in Major Andrew. Ok, so back to Earth. Wages for your average bar act can range from $150-200 bucks. You really have to hustle for your paycheck, collecting gig to gig to gig… to gig to gig… it’s endless. Not to mention that’s just the headliners. It usually takes anywhere from 8-10 years to begin headlining. Features make anywhere from $50-100 a performance. (Assuming they get paid) and hosts get punched directly in the face by the booker as a form of compensation. It’s a tough business.
Rodney Dangerfield (Jacob Rodney Cohen) began performing in his early twenties as “Jack Roy”. He struggled financially, even had a side job as a singing
waiter before he quit comedy in frustration. From his late 20’s to his early 40’s Dangerfield sold aluminum siding until he began rebuilding his career. He spent at least half of his life wrestling with financial insecurity.
Luckily Dangerfield didn’t struggle forever and the world got a chance to experience his genius. During his decade and a half long hiatus Dangerfield continued to write jokes which kept him sharp for his return to standup. He understood that comedy isn’t just a business, it’s a craft; a form of artistic expression. Some artists are fortunate enough to make a living but most barely make beer money.
Truthfully, most careers will never spike like Dangerfield’s did, even if the performer is just as talented. As an artist you have to be comfortable with performing for performance sake. The need, the dedication, has got to be ingrained in you. Besides, you can often tell when
a comic is just in it for the paycheck. Their act is watered down, bland and usually hackneyed; they pander and recycle familiar premises because it’s safe. Bookers don’t get upset, customers don’t get upset and they stew in bitter stagnation from gig to gig to gig; limiting their own chances at success with mediocrity.
It’s better to risk poverty and say something unique. You never know, you might be the next Rodney Dangerfield.
“Almost all the noblest things that have been achieved in the world, have been achieved by poor men: Poor scholars, poor professional men, poor artisans and artists, poor philosophers, poets, and men of genius.” Albert Pike