Hey Dave – Is it easier to be a single comic or have a partner go on stage with you? – B.H.
Hey B.H. – Neither is easy. As the old saying goes, if it was easy then everyone would do it. And as long as I’m throwing out sayings, here’s another one from my first book – which makes it an older saying than any used in my second book:
Comedy is a serious business – with a lot of laughs.
For our purposes today, the key to that saying is the word business. When you have an on stage partner not only are you co-writing and co-performing, you’re also business partners. This means also sharing the off stage business duties such as publicity, booking gigs, scheduling auditions and showcases, arranging travel, and (in many cases) sharing rooms and all expenses while on the road.
But probably the one detail that stops most potential comedy teams dead in their tracks is this one important detail:
Comedy teams have to split the profits while single comics keep it all.
That may not seem like a big deal if your super stardom brings in the big bucks. I know there are improvisational and sketch groups performing in theaters and at private / corporate shows that provide a good income for all (or most of?) the troupe members. There are also legendary comedy duos such as Cheech and Chong, Martin and Lewis and The Smothers Brothers that could afford their individual lifestyles after dividing the profits. But all (or most) comedians really don’t make much money when they’re starting out, which is a big consideration when you’re thinking about taking on a business partner.
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I tell aspiring comics in my workshops that in the beginning it’s going to cost THEM money to do this. They’ll be paying for their own transportation, meals and even accommodations (or sleeping in their car) until they can move up into at least the MC / opening act position in the better (meaning paying) comedy clubs. But it’s tough to even imagine having a savings account or a down payment on a house until you start booking feature and headlining slots at the best comedy clubs, or working in the corporate or college markets.
When you’re starting out in the comedy business it’s a lot like being an apprentice or going to college. There’s a lot of dues-paying and learning the ropes through experience before even thinking about a profit.
This makes it tough for just one comic to survive. A comedy team would split the costs, BUT would also have to split the profits. And don’t think just because there are two of you performing as a team that a comedy club owner is going to pay you twice what he pays a solo act.
Excuse me while I try to stop laughing at that thought…
Okay, I’ve caught my breath. Let’s continue…
Comedy is a business (there’s that word again!) and club owners will only pay x-amount of $$’s for a show that will make their audiences laugh. What that “x-amount factor” is depends on the performer’s market value.
For example, Louie CK can sell out arenas. For our purpose, let’s put him in a 500-seat comedy club with a top dollar ticket price of… oh, let’s say $100 a ticket.
Because his star-power sells every ticket, the club owner will pay him more than another headliner who can’t sell-out the club. If Louie brings a partner to perform with him – they can’t sell any more tickets because there are still only 500 seats. And because the ticket price for a non-fundraising club show is pretty much maxed out at $100, it’s highly doubtful the average comedy fan will pay more than that for a show.
The profit for the club owner is the same regardless.
Whether it takes one comic or ten to do the job doesn’t matter because the pay for the entertainment – whether a negotiated price or a percentage based on the amount of tickets sold – will also stay the same. So the smart move for Louie CK is to forget about bringing in a partner and do the show solo. That way he keeps the full payment.
As far as I’m concerned – this is why you don’t see many comedy teams anymore. No one can afford it.
But if you want to make a go of it with a partner, look over the list I gave above. You need to write, perform, travel and live well together – and also share business duties and expenses. And when a booker finally hands you a paycheck, you also have to be ready to share it with your partner.
If you can do all that, it’s easy. Well, okay – it’s not all that easy. If it was, then everyone would be doing it.
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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!
Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.
For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubs, private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com
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