We all love a good laugh, and we are willing to pay quite a bit for it. Billboard estimates that stand-up comedy generates approximately $300 million in income per year.
A few standup comedians have broken out of the relative obscurity of the neighborhood comedy club and are now packing concert halls and other huge venues, raking in the cash in the process. Most have other vehicles such as TV shows, televised specials, or movies that help them cash in, but standup tours are where the most money is made.
Here are a few of the highest-paid standups according to their earnings on tour and not including television appearances, unless it was a television broadcast of the stand-up show. Some of these might surprise you. Not all of the numbers below cover the same time period — Forbes compiled the last comprehensive list in 2013.
- Kevin Hart – Hart (pictured below) may be small in stature, but he is large on the comedy tour stage. His "What Now?" Tour grossed $35 million in sales by March 2015 before the tour even started. It is assumed that, after its completion in August, Hart's tour will be the highest-grossing tour of all time for an American comedian, thanks to his ability to fill larger venues.
- Jerry Seinfeld – No doubt Seinfeld (pictured below) is raking in residuals from his iconic TV show, but the real money is in his standup roots. In 2013, Seinfeld grossed $27 million from over seventy tour dates. With an equally challenging schedule in 2015, he is likely to give Hart a run for his money (pun intended).
- Terry Fator – Who? If you are a fan of America's Got Talent or a frequent visitor to Vegas, you’re aware of him. The comedy ventriloquist regularly appears at the Mirage in Las Vegas and works extended tours every year. The sheer volume of his tours brings him to a gross of $24 million according to Forbes.
- Jeff Dunham – Political correctness has not yet caught up with comedy ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, whose act features such caricatures as Jose Jalapeno (a giant hot pepper on a stick with a sombrero and droopy mustache) and the skeletal Achmed the Dead Terrorist. In 2014, Dunham grossed over $3.7 million during a twelve-show tour alone and his corresponding merchandise sales has him in the neighborhood of $19 million.
- Louis C.K. – His highly-acclaimed show on the FX network and controversial appearances on Saturday Night Live have built Louis C.K. (pictured below) a loyal following. His innovation is not limited to comedy — in 2012, he bypassed the traditional ticket sales route and sold tour tickets directly to fans, allowing him to keep the price a reasonable $45. That effort grossed $4.5 million. His total take is approximately $16 million.
There are many other standups grossing in the millions of dollars, including Russell Peters, Daniel Tosh, Gabriel Iglesias, Larry the Cable Guy, and Larry's cigar-smoking, Scotch-drinking cohort from the Blue Collar Comedy tours, Ron White. Up-and-coming comedians like Amy Schumer and Aziz Ansari will cross that threshold soon (if they haven’t already by the time you read this).
It may look easy, but these comedians work hard at their craft. If you get the urge to try out your skills on stage, try an open mike night sometime at your local comedy club. Work up a routine, think up a few retorts for hecklers, and give it a try. You might find out just how hard the stand-up life is. Final hint: Wear something you don’t mind throwing away afterwards, in case the crowd is armed with rotten tomatoes.
Header photo ©iStock.com/ LifesizeImages | Kevin hart photo by Adam Bielawski (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Seinfeld photo ©iStock.com/EdStock | Louis C.K. photo by Spc. Elayseah Woodard-Hinton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons