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It is not easy to sell jokes or break into professional comedy writing. It requires talent, skill, planning, persistence and luck. However, if you are gifted with a sense of humor and are determined to sell your work, there are a number of potential buyers who may be in the market for your jokes.
Sell Jokes to Established Comedians
While they don’t always advertise the fact, established standup performers will buy jokes to freshen up or fill out their acts. Approach midlevel working comedians that you admire, rather than targeting the most famous. Make sure you know their style and tailor your material accordingly. If you are unable to catch a comedian’s show live, study his or her work on YouTube.
Once you have drafted jokes you feel would work for a particular comedian, get in touch to make your pitch. You can approach a comic in a club after a performance, through social media, or through the comedian’s agent. According to the Wall Street Journal, more money is made by selling a “batch’ of related material to comedians, rather than selling individual jokes. A batch of jokes can sell for $5,000 to $7,500.
Sell Jokes to "Saturday Night Live"
“Saturday Night Live” has a stable of established writers on staff, but there is a small window of opportunity open for freelancers to submit jokes for its Weekend Update segment. Study the show’s credits to find the name of the current Weekend Update producer and request submission guidelines. Don’t be discouraged if your joke is not picked up right away. It is not unusual to submit hundreds of jokes before making your first sale. You will be paid $100 if your joke makes it on the air.
Sell Jokes to Late-Night Talk Shows
The “Late Show” and “The Tonight Show” have been known to accept submissions for their opening monologues and pay $75 to $100 per joke. Some show runners consider it a violation of the Writers Guild of America contract to employ non-union writers and pay them a fraction of the union rate. Their doors are closed to freelancers accordingly. Policies of any given show may change along with host or staff changes. Contact a show’s producer or head writer to learn their current submission policy.
Sell Jokes to Anyone Who Will Buy
Other possible markets include magazines, websites, greeting card companies and speechwriters. They may not not be as glamorous as showbiz, but they are a great place to start. To find a list of magazines and greeting card companies that pay for jokes, invest in a copy of “Writer's Market.” One sale will likely recoup your initial investment. Type the query "write for us" in your Internet search engine and see what humor sites show up in the results. Contact the speechwriters who work for your local legislators and offer up some political humor. These small-scale victories will lead you to better opportunities with bigger payouts.
Tina Richey Swanson earned a Bachelor of Arts in communications and began her career as an advertising copywriter. She has worked as a journalist, screenwriter and public relations writer. Her current writing focuses on careers, education, the entertainment industry and health and wellness topics.