It would be hard to watch the fat sweaty faces that featured in the 1970s TV series The Comedians and think 'one day those blokes will be the richest people in the country'. But in the last few years, comedy has taken a monumentally wild turn. Now the top stand-ups earn more than rock stars, actors and footballers. They play enormous stadiums and sell millions of DVDs and, if they have any sense, keep most of that loot for themselves. Plus there's the inevitable call from Hollywood, the merchandising tie-ins, panel show appearances and advertising. But there's an enormous gap from what the top earners rake in and the take home pay of the lowliest beginner.
PUB GIG/OPEN MIC
Like all parts of the entertainment world, you have to pay your dues. If you're starting out in stand up, expect a few years of craft honing as you appear in the back rooms of pubs and turn up to open mic nights, hoping you get a few laughs, or possibly get out alive. Even headliners at pub gigs can probably only expect to get their petrol money back and the price of a few drinks, around £50 at the top end. Mostly you'll get diddley squat. But it's invaluable experience and a good way to network and meet fellow comics as you claw your way to the top. Plus if you enter a few competitions and do well, you'll get noticed and earn a bit of prize money.
COMEDY CLUBS/CORPORATE GIGS
Ok, so you've conquered the beery circuit and you're ready to move up a notch. Time to hit the Comedy Stores, the Jongleurs and the various Chuckle Huts and Laff Factory's up and down the country. Headlining a smaller provincial club is probably going to make you about £100 - £150 if you're known, but not too well known. Not Buzzcocks/Mock the Week well known. If you're opening up for a bigger act and perform a tight 5 minutes, you'll probably take home about £150. Once you've made it to Night at the Apollo and the like and you hit the road like the touring monster you are, expect £500-£1000 per headlining appearance. But corporate gigs (like 'Partridge's famous Dante's Fires appearance) can double that money or more if you're a famous face. A famous face can get £10 to £20K and more for a corporate.
The staple of the comedy world. There seems to be a never ending stream of panel shows concerning everything from music, politics, lying and sport. And they all need quick-witted comedy minds like you to bring the funny. As with everything, experience is all, so your Jimmy Carrs and David Mitchells are going to be bringing in the big bucks. But for you, my darling bog-standard punster, you can expect anything from £500 for something on (yuck) cable to closer to £750 for a celebrity cookery show and into the thousands for a terrestrial channel appearance. For instance, according to their booking website, the fee for a "Popular Irish Stand-Up Comedian & Panel Show Host" falls within the £16K to £25K price range.
Hurrah, your humorous quipping potential has not only been spotted and utilised on numerous schedule-clogging panel shows, but some crazy producer somewhere has decided you can act. Suddenly you're the 'wacky neighbour' on the new hit BBC One situation comedy Grandpa's Attic. Sadly you're not the star, so don't pop that Cristal just yet. But you do have a sort of regular role. You'll probably get a £1,000/day that they need you, maybe a little bit more if they enlarge your part. Plus you'll have repeat fees and a slice of DVD sales to pile on top of that (if your agent is any good). And once your dulcet tones have been heard on the telly, suddenly an advertiser is clamouring for you to be the new voice for of Grimbell's Quality Biscuits. You're a beginner, so expect about £200 to £600 per hour. Once the Grimbell's brand goes through the roof, you can double that, or even add a zero to the end.
Wow, look at you! Just a scant few years ago, you were in that dingy back room of a pub getting peanuts flicked at you. Now you're a comedy superstar and Hollywood has come a-calling. Suddenly turning your basement into a heated indoor swimming pool and sauna isn't such a pipe dream. Again, your movie fee will fluctuate vastly depending on who you are. It's your first Indie film, shot in Skegness and dealing with alcoholism in nuns? £10K or so. The overall wage average for an actor is around £14K (which seems insanely low) while it's $50K in the States (which seems far more healthy). A below the title role in an actual, real Hollywood movie is going to get you a few $100K (plus a slice of the profits if you have any sense). Beyond that, and if you wangle your name above the title, you're into Gervais money. Plus there are the spin-off kids books, Twitter endorsement deals and the fact that you suddenly stop having to pay for anything.
Miraculously, Michael McIntyre is now the world's most successful comedian, netting an amazing £21 million, last year alone, which is almost as much as the Rolling Stones made. That was for 73 shows on his arena popping Showtime tour, making him around £300,000 per gig. Obviously he has to set a few fireworks off at the end and pay the bouncers, but when you total in all the merchandise sales (and DVD sales) he's walking away with a fairly substantial slab of moolah. Peter Kay made a similar amount for his last jaunt around the country with Lee Evans not far behind at £13 million. So there you go, that's all you have to do. Just become one of the biggest comedy stars in the country and the millions will soon come rolling in.