How much do Comedians charge?
This is tricky because each comedy club is very individual in how it decides to pay its acts. Every situation is different. There is no shame in asking questions.
What Do I Charge?
I’ve calculated that the most I’ve ever been paid to perform stand-up comedy is £6400 per hour. I wasn’t performing for an entire hour alas…
The prices for comedy circuit work ranges, and has a lot to do with how far I have to travel. If I’m free, I’m more than happy to work in a comedy club close to home (Reading UK) for £100-200 but will require serious reimbursement when I have to travel several hours to do the same work.
I do work for ‘free’ on occasion. I do talks where I’m only having my expenses covered, but this is rare and nearly exclusively for charities or friends. A lot of professional acts will perform for free, but this is usually because we are working on new material.
We rarely waive our fee for people we haven’t previously worked with or charities we don’t personally support/have had long term relationships with.
Charity gigs should pay the same as regular gigs.
If you pay full price for the bartender and the posters, you should pay full price for the show. It is up to the acts if they wish to donate their fee - but do not expect this to happen. A well organised event should factor in the cost of entertainment into their budget plan. You can make a huge amount of money around the comedy through prizes, donations and drink not just ticket sales.
I’m in a unique position where I create bespoke shows for unusual venues, such as The Dulwich Picture Gallery and The British Museum. Working out the correct fee to charge involves conversations with events teams and organisers. Ultimately the rule is no party should feel unhappy. If I require more budget than a promoter can afford I politely decline. I need to charge for my time, the less I charge means the less time I can spend on a project. Equally events need to be successful and cannot go over budget as they are failing from the start if they do that.
The one way you can ensure a lacklustre speaker event is when the performer feels ripped off. A true professional will honour a contract, and work despite their frustration. However they will warn other speakers about the lack of fees compared to the money they see being generated by the size of audience. Even if the fee is ‘good’ if it doesn’t reflect a decent percentage of the ticket sales we will feel cheated.
For example: I recently was very happy to receive £35 for a new material night when I wasn’t expecting my expenses to be covered. I was irritated by a triple figure fee when I found out that it covered less than 10% of the ticket sales. Of course I gave my best performance: but I stuck to my time exactly and made a mental note not to help with future events.
How much should you offer?
A normal comedy night will set its budget about 60-70% of a potentially sold out room. Some venues however allocate the entire ticket sales (100%) to the acts as they make their profits on sponsorship, bar sales and food.
So if you had 100 seater venue, and sold each ticket for £10 expect your costs to be at minimum £600. You may have overhanging expenses such as staff costs, room hire (this can be avoided - the venue should make enough on beer sales), promotion etc. This means you need to sell 60 tickets to break even on the night. If you can sell out the remaining £400 is for you and for the ongoing running of the club/set against future losses.
It is hard to keep a comedy club going. It is hard to keep an audience loyal and become a regular feature in people’s lives. It is constant promotion, negotiation and networking to keep a club afloat. A good portion of your profits should be kept, and used in promotions and to pay acts in quieter months.
Say after your promotion and £20 for your mate to help you with ticket collection, you are left with £500. How do you divide that up?
If I had small £500 budget I would allocate the funds like this:
Opening Act £125
Middle act/s £50
A lot of clubs do not pay the MC more than the opening act. I feel that the MC is the most important act of the night and their fee should reflect this. Skilled MCs like Mark Olver, Silky, Laura Lex, Stephen Grant etc carry a night through far more than a headliner. They also are experienced headliners in their own right.
Typically an opening act will have a harder job than a middle act because the crowd are not warmed up, they are more sober, more judgemental and not in the rhythm of the night yet. So you need someone experienced.
You can save on middle acts by booking open spot comedians who are new to the circuit and will gig for free as they are learning the craft. This is very risky. They are much more likely to misjudge the room, fluff their jokes and make the atmosphere unpleasant. However the best acts were once open spots, and I have seen acts working for free do much better than the paid talent. I think on principle you should always cover the costs of travel for new acts so factor that into your budget.
SHOULD I TIP?
It is always a nice bonus when a promoter tips. This is not necessary but it will certainly get you a positive reputation on the circuit.
I would always do this discreetly and I wouldn’t go tipping one act in front of the others if you haven’t also tipped them.
Equally, if you are paying in cash on the night, it is considered rude to discuss fees in front of the other comedians. So it is best to have the money counted ready in named envelopes. Some acts are superstitious and don’t like being paid before they have performed, so be sure to pay them in the breaks or at the end of the night.
What else affects comedian’s fees?
Venues which are hard to travel to and impossible to ‘double up*’ on need to offer acts not only fees but accommodation. Deals can be struck with local hotels and B&Bs particularly if there is regular business.
There is more work at the weekends as people are more likely to go out and see a show, this means there are more shows and more work for popular comedians to choose from. This means fees increase. I may for example headline a small local gig on a Tuesday night for under £100 but would decline the same work on a Friday night when it is possible to make significant money. The simple answer is to charge more for tickets. Which is why weekend comedy nights have more expensive tickets than weekday.
The time of year affects prices. In the summer prices reduce simply because fewer people go an see comedy in the summer months, they are already cheerful! The Edinburgh Fringe takes place in August and many comedians are desperate for stagetime to practice their shows in June and July, so reduce their fees accordingly. A clever promoter can book popular acts for much less in July than they can in September, but it is usually a struggle to sell tickets while the weather is pleasant.
Why do Corporate gigs and private functions cost more?
The work is more difficult. I’ve hosted awards ceremonies and been MC at Rugby Club Dinners. I’ve done birthdays, weddings and Christmas Parties. I have even done a Remembrance Service (!!!). Private shows are more difficult. Why? The audience isn’t there to see a comedian, they are not invested. There are usually restrictions on what material the comedian can use, the topics we can talk about. The room is usually not set up well for comedy, making the job even harder.
If you want specialised material, you have to pay for it. We are often required to write bespoke material. This is skilled labour and is charged as such.
There is little to no chance of ‘advancement’. Many comedians will chose to gig for less for established comedy clubs because there is a decent chance that we will strike up a working relationship with the promoter and have more gigs offered to us in the future. This is not a factor in stand alone corporate events.
There is usually more admin involved in corporate events. Also it is my experience that you are expected to be at the event for longer than regular comedy nights.
It is a bit like a plumber doing work for Mrs Trellis who has a nasty sewage issue vs replacing all the washers in the taps of a chain restaurant. The first is a hard potentially messy fix that pays well, the second pays less but they have a lot of restaurants, a lot of taps, and you know what you’re getting into. The first is a private Birthday Party the second is a run of circuit gigs at Mirth Control.
If you are looking to hire a comedian for a Corporate event as part of the entertainment expect to pay a minimum of £1000 for their performance. If they are a ‘name’ expect to pay ten times more. You will also pay more if you want the comedian to host the entire event rather than just perform a short set.
Private Events and Birthday Parties can be cheaper: if you know your budget you can alway ask! Try not to be too cheeky…
How do I book a comedian?
The simple answer is to ask them! If there is a comedian you have in mind use google to find their website/contact details or agency and get in touch with them. Remember to be clear from the outset about cancellation fees if the event is called off and when they expect to be paid, by when and payment method. Many acts prefer cash to balance transfers.
I don’t know what comedian to book for my event!
There are expert promoters and bookers who work with one off events to find them suitable acts. The advantage of going with a booker is that if you have a last minute cancellation (even comedians get sick) they are able to find a quality replacement last minute. They also organise all the acts to arrive at a precise time and can tell you exactly what to pay them whilst staying to your budget. They will take a booking fee as part of that budget. Usually this should never be more than 20%.
I would recommend using bookers like Geoff Whiting at Mirth Control and Paul White (Silky) at Kill for a Seat. I recommend these guys in particular as you can speak to them directly, they have a huge knowledge of the circuit and, in my experience, offer the best deals. There are plenty of other bookers out there who are equally as reliable and good.
Locally to you there might also be acts interested in organising a night. Go along to your local comedy nights, and get to know the local circuit. Networking
What if I want a specialised Bespoke event?
You are on the right site! Get in touch, and we can talk about your event.
There are experienced other acts and event organisers as well as me: I would highly recommend Steve Cross who like me, is an expert in finding both comedian and specialised speakers for bespoke science, history, book, art and comedy events.
*Doubling up - this means the comedian can open a night in one venue and go and close a night in another venue. My record is doing 8 gigs in one day at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012. Some acts have done a lot more than that!