Becoming the next Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld or Kevin Hart is the dream of an amateur comedian. Reaching this dream comes with the sacrifice of "paying dues," which means working for little to no money and performing as often as possible to gain exposure. While amateur comedians may occasionally earn money for performing, the general rule is that they earn very little annually and mostly work for free.
Amateur comedians may start out working for parties then gradually finding gigs at clubs and restaurants if they are fortunate. The goal of any amateur comedian is to find professional work. As such, building a resume is most important in trying to find jobs that pay a salary.
The Open Mic Scene
Performing at open mics is how most amateur comedians fine-tune their technique. Comedy at open mics can be found in cities across the country, such as New York City and Los Angeles, and smaller cities such as Seattle and Dallas. Some venues may charge a small fee for patrons, such as Mr. Spot's Chai House in Seattle, which sometimes charges $5 for shows, according to a December 2007 "Seattle Times" article. The small dollar amount and relatively small crowds at such venues ensure very meager earnings for comedians.
Making a Living
Amateur comedians often perform at night and earn their salaries from day jobs. The December 2007 "Seattle Times" article provided an example in Danielle Radford, an amateur comedian who worked as a court secretary during the day. She admitted to performing at four to five open mics per day. Similarly, Dan Carroll, an amateur comic and owner of People's Republic in Seattle, was a radio advertising salesman.
Through shows such as "Last Comic Standing," amateur comedians can reach millions of viewers, earning fame and instant fortune. The show's Season Three winner, Alonzo Bodden, has appeared on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and in movies such as "Scary Movie 4." In prominent open-mic clubs such as The Big Deuce on Madison Avenue in New York City, amateur comedians compete for opportunities to be booked for feature shows at the club in addition to the opportunity to emcee a show.