Like every other talent-based industry, there is no set pay scale for comedians. Your pay for club work depends largely on your ability to make money for that club.
But there are generally accepted industry standards. Sometimes there are outliers – for instance, a small venue won’t have the budget of a bigger club. The following are general numbers, but this will hopefully serve as a guide that can help you better understand the current market. Apologies that this only covers America – it’s the only scene I know well enough to write about in depth.
Hosts get paid the most in a showcase city like NYC and LA, but the least on the road. If a road host does get paid, they can expect $10-$50 per night. In NYC and Los Angeles, hosting will pay between $35-$75 per show on weekdays and $50-$150 per show on weekends. Road one-nighters don’t usually have hosts – but if they do, it’s often a local who is volunteering for the stage time.
Hosting is a wonderful skill to have – not just because it gets you paid in NYC and LA, but because hosting corporate events and television shows pays a lot more.
In NYC and Los Angeles, most showcase spots pay between $10-$75 on week days (usually $20-$40) and $20-$100 on weekends (usually $40-$75). Each club has a standard that they typically stick to.
Featuring at a one-nighter typically pays between $50-$125 and usually comes with a hotel room. Club feature work pays between $200-$700 per week, often based on how many nights the gig spans and how big the club is. Most common is the $300-$500 range.
Clubs that rely on out-of-town features typically provide a hotel room or a “comedy condo”. Clubs that use mainly in-town features rarely provide the feature a hotel room because they have a stock of locals that don’t need one.
Headliners/Closers (With no draw)
We call these acts “Just Funnies” – comics that can close a show but don’t make the club any extra money in ticket sales. These are typically loss-leaders for clubs, booked to fill gaps between celebrities or because the club believes the act will eventually become a draw. One-nighters typically pay $150-$300, while weekend rooms typically pay $400-$600. Clubs that have 3-4 nights of headliner shows (the most common configuration) usually pay between $800-$1200. There are some that will pay a 3 night headliner $600 (especially during the summer) and higher-end clubs may pay their best “Just Funnies” closer to $1500, but these are outliers. Rates are similar for clubs that have 5-7 nights per week of headliner shows, just pro-rated to accommodate the extra nights.
Clubs and one-nighters almost always provide a hotel or “condo” for their headliner, unless they’re within a short drive of a city like NYC or LA and rely on local talent.
Headliners/Closers (With a draw)
This is the first time you will have negotiating power in the business: when you can make a venue more money than they can make you. Some acts think that they’re a draw when they’re not – unless you’d be willing to shoulder the risk of being paid based on ticket sales, you’re not a draw.
There are several levels of draw, and there’s a wide range within each level as well.
A pass draw is an act that people will likely redeem passes to go see. These acts will experience a small uptick in ticket sales, but they have enough of a name that they can be marketed to some local press. Depending on the size of their draw, they’ll usually command $1500-$2500, and often work in a bonus deal based on a headcount. These bonus deals usually involve tiers with minimums (i.e. triggered at every 100 people over 500 paid admissions, or something like that).
A door-deal draw is an act that people will buy tickets to, so much so that their main pay is based on ticket sales. These are celebrities (or local celebrities). Door deal acts will receive anywhere from $5K-$30K bases vs. a % of door (usually 60%-80%), depending on how many tickets they can sell and the price of those tickets. The simple math is an act is worth 90% of the tickets they can sell (clubs pay for the credit card fees and taxes out of the remaining 10%). And then the club makes their profit off the food and drink. If an act comes in for 70%-80% of the tickets they can sell, the club considers that a great week and happily brings that act back in again.
There are rare instances when clubs will pay more than the ticket price for an act who will get them a ton of publicity (i.e. a truly household name). But if you’re one of those, your agent already knows that, and you’re not reading this.
The way any negotiation works is you’re only in the position to negotiate when you can afford to walk away. Until then, most gigs pay the same amount: “take it or leave it.” If you can afford to walk away, go ahead and ask for more. But if you do, understand you’re risking losing it completely.
Whatever level you’re on, remember this – always deliver a show worth more to the club than what they’re paying you. That’s what will make them want to bring you back again and again.