Highest-Paid Stand-Up Comics

Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Highest-Paid Stand-Up Comics
September 30, 2015

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

  Conversation   |   34 Comments

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Sarah | 09.30.15 @ 18:03
Wow, being funny can be serious business... and my teachers always said my sense of humor was pointless... I coulda had it made!!!
Shannon | 09.30.15 @ 18:03
They deserve it!
Erin | 09.30.15 @ 18:07
I'd love to be making that kind of money. Unfortunately, I don't think most people appreciate my type of humor.
Angie | 09.30.15 @ 18:07
This was very interesting! I didn't realize that Kevin Hart was that far at the head of the pack!
Steffanie | 09.30.15 @ 18:07
They are some funny guys and are worth what they are paid!
Jo Ann | 09.30.15 @ 18:09
I wish i could be funny and make that kind of money. But alas I am not funny so i will be broke forever. LOL
Daniel | 09.30.15 @ 18:09
Some great money being made there, very tough to get going in that business though they are still overpaid IMO good for them following a dream
Meredith L | 09.30.15 @ 18:10
I guess comedy is like any other job in the arts... you can trudge along for years being relatively unknown and then you are in the right place at the right time and blamo! You're on the radar! These guys didn't succeed overnight though. It's not an easy road.
Chrisitna | 09.30.15 @ 18:13
Making people laugh is definitely pays off!
Sara | 09.30.15 @ 18:17
Who knew that being a "class clown" would actually pay off.
Elaine | 09.30.15 @ 18:18
Shocked they are paid that much on something that can be so subjective. Most I don't find funny so I wouldn't think they are worth that much.
Kathryn | 09.30.15 @ 18:26
I love Kevin Hart! Kinda sad that Gabriel Iglesias wasn't on this list though! He's hilarious!
Nancy | 09.30.15 @ 18:27
It surprises me that Kevin Hart made the list. I guess I need to check out his stand up.
Kamie | 09.30.15 @ 18:34
I thought I would have seen Gabriel on here.
Selena | 09.30.15 @ 18:40
Wow, being a comedian looks like a pretty good paying job.
Wanda Langley | 09.30.15 @ 18:42
I had no idea they made this much money but they are funny!
Jonathan | 09.30.15 @ 18:44
Some of these figures are quite amazing, heck I could try harder to be funny...
Alec | 09.30.15 @ 19:05
I love these men! Although some of their jokes aren't in the best taste, they make people laugh and feel good even if just for a while. They brighten peoples' day and that is obviously worth a lot literally and figuratively. They deserve to be paid so well!
Tina | 09.30.15 @ 19:08
No Brian Regan??
Clarissa | 09.30.15 @ 19:11
They say do what you love and love what you do. I think they deserve it!
Britt | 09.30.15 @ 19:12
I knew that they made a decent amount of money, but I had no idea JUST how much.
Carla | 09.30.15 @ 19:47
I love to laugh and I wish I were witty and talented enough to be a comedian. Some of these salaries are really surprising.
steven | 09.30.15 @ 20:01
Why cant I be paid for being funny.... lol. but in all seriousness did not know they got paid so much.
Donnie | 09.30.15 @ 20:02
Big business in comedy.
irene | 09.30.15 @ 20:07
Pretty much everyone in the entertainment business makes huge bucks if they are popular, whether it's through movies, comedians, albums, sports, I thought it was common knowledge that they're all rich
Heather | 09.30.15 @ 20:12
There are a couple on that list I don't find funny at all. I can't believe they make that kind of money.
Owen | 09.30.15 @ 20:21
Time for a career change.
Christina | 09.30.15 @ 20:27
I love watching some of these!!! They have a good talent.
Zanna | 09.30.15 @ 20:32
Love Terry Fator! I would love to see his show.
George | 09.30.15 @ 20:32
They deserve what they get paid.. Very good comedians..
Chelsey | 09.30.15 @ 20:37
Being a comedian is a tough job. Find a way to appeal to a lot of people while not making them mad!
Debbie | 09.30.15 @ 20:44
To me laughter is everything that is good in life. Well worth paying to see them if you can afford it
Victor | 09.30.15 @ 21:15
It's not fair, I'm funny too, and I do it for free. These people get serious money for being funny
Leslie | 09.30.15 @ 21:31
The saying goes, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard," but it doesn't seem like it for these guys! I've seen just about all of them on tv or in movies, so I had no idea that anyone still did stand up tours.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 11.30.20 @ 07:44