A liveable wage is no laughing matter. For comedy writers, it used to be that the majority of people who performed their own jokes at nightclubs or wrote a funny movie script wound up broke; laughter was a comedian's biggest payout. Then the expansion of TV and increase in sitcoms offered ways for comedic writers to earn over a million a year. With the Internet Economy comedic writers can earn income from home via the Web; this does not pay as much as TV but has raised the average salary for humorists.
New York Times journalist Mireya Navarro revealed that a comedy writer for Married... with Children earned six figures a year in the 1990s. While such earnings still exist in the TV world, reality TV has usurped the time slots of many sitcoms. According to Glassdoor, a Comedy Central writer and/or producer reports earning between $63,000 and $68,000 a year with cash bonuses (See References 1). Popular comedy sketches and vignettes on YouTube running advertisements pay out anywhere from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars per month.
Writers are typically not known for public speaking prowess, so it is not surprising that many comedy writers are in the business of writing jokes for stand-ups. Payment for a routine depends upon the number of jokes, past success, and the popularity of the stand-up comic. Some comics will even offer material in exchange for dinner, tickets to a game, or the promise of teaming up with another, more famous comic once there is a big break. Detroit-based jokester Eric Head wrote some punchlines for his pal Tim Allen and urged him to get on stage at the Comedy Castle back in 1980 -- the rest is history.
As members of the Writer's Guild of America (WGA), screenwriters who write dramedies and comedies receive a guaranteed minimum salary per production. A week-to-week comedian writing for the silver screen must earn at least $5,384 each week (See Reference 3, page 4). The minimum for a 30-minute sitcom teleplay is $5,432 (See Reference 3, page 10). A WGA membership gives these comedy writers access to a health plan and a pension fund, perks that are otherwise rare within the industry.
Regional Hot Spots
Opportunities for comedy writers exist mainly in areas that have clubs and production studios. Research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that California, Washington, D.C., and New York are places where writers, funny or not, earn on average $80,000 to $90,000 a year (See Reference 4). Whether writing for the big screen or adding a joke to a political speech, the bottom line is that both the comedic writer and the audience are rolling in it.