A feature in the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter gives the lowdown on the financial situation for stand-up comics who release televised stand-up specials. In short: It’s good. Really, really good.
By their calculations, 80 percent of all comics are making $50,000 and $500,000, and that’s the low end of the spectrum. Get to the bigger names, and the values rise—15 percent make between $500,000 and $2 million, and one percent are even pulling in upwards of $6 million. The reason is purely economic—Netflix and other streaming services have entered the arms race for stand-up specials, and the usual suspects, including Comedy Central, HBO, and Showtime, now have a bidding war on their hands. It’s a bidding war that Netflix seems to be increasingly winning, with recent specials featuring Aziz Ansari, John Mulaney, Chris Tucker, and Chelsea Peretti.
“With the exception of porn,” said Brian Volk-Weiss, owner of Comedy Dynamics (which produces 40 specials per year), “there’s nothing cheaper to do.”
Companies like his have increased their output of stand-up specials, and can now turn to places like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vimeo, and even the new NBC upcoming streaming service, Seeso. The viewership numbers back it up—for young people, said one expert, stand-up comics are like a modern version of the preacher, helping us navigate a strange world while making us laugh. It may not be a wonderful time to be alive, but it’s certainly a wonderful time to be a comic.