assembly-lineOne of my comedian friends was recently brutally upset by the fact that he had to pay an admission fee to a comedy competition to be considered for it. He failed get into one of the regional prelim competitions so he was told by the organizer that he needed to resubmit in order to be considered for other regional prelims.

He was very upset by this and felt unsatisfied when he vented his frustration to the organizer who runs the festival, so he went public. He vented his frustration on Facebook and Twitter, “exposing” the principal of this festival. In addition, he made various personal accusations and assumptions about the organizer with other comedians in the thread, slinging insults about not only how unprofessional the guy was but also about his clothing and spelling.


The irony being that if you’re accusing someone of being unprofessional while slinging insults about a person’s spelling, clothing, financial situation or other personal attacks, YOU are the one who is being unprofessional.

Pretty ugly.

It all boiled down to one thing. The comedian who was upset spent “seventy dollars” to not even be considered for the competition.

All around; very frustrating. I get it.

This comedian is not alone in his complaint. There are a ton of other comedians who are upset by the results of competitions and the expenditure of real dollars to get into these competitions or to go out on the road, etc.

Let me try to sort some of it out…

This is show-business. Show business is two words, there’s the “show” and there’s the “business.” This business is no different than any other business in that you have to spend money to make money. You have to speculate to accumulate. Sometimes you have to raise the money to be able to invest it in your business. How you raise the money is up to you. But spending money on an administrative fee for a competition is a necessary cost of doing business.

It’s hard for creative people to deal with that, but…

That’s the way it goes.

I remember, a number of years ago, having to pay $25 dollars to a comedy booking company for them to take the time to look at my tape. I’m old school and didn’t believe in so-called PAY-TO-PLAY. So I bitched and moaned to my wife and my parents and any one else who would listen to me about how I thought I was getting “screwed.”

But this particular booker had 25 weeks of work on their schedule. I paid the $25 dollars, didn’t get a review in the time they allotted. I submitted again, paid another $25. Same thing. I sent a letter (remember, it was before e-mail).

They sent a letter back saying that they had so many submissions, that sometimes they just can’t get to a tape before the deadline and that I would have to submit again. I did. Another $25. I was already $75 in the hole! This time they called me and offered me a week of work as a feature act. I thanked them for considering me and while I had them on the phone I said that I would be traveling all the way from Los Angeles to the East coast to do this gig. “Is there any way you could tack on a couple more weeks so I can better justify the cost of travel?” They did. (In business, it’s called an ‘upsell.’). While you have them saying ‘yes,’ get them to say “YES” again!

Sort of like doing your act. If they laugh at the punch line, tag it, top it and do an act-out, to get more laughs from one premise. Same concept.

They gave me 2 more weeks. While on the gig I met the headliner who taught me how to sell t-shirts. I had a great time, gave them solid shows. I showed up early, and I over delivered. I made it my goal to give them the best shows that I was capable of. Then I called their assistant, asked what kind of wine they drank and sent them a “thank-you” case of Merlot; $110. They called me, thanked me for the wine and booked be for 10 more weeks that year.

In total I spent $75 on the submission, $110 on the wine. That’s $185.

That year according to the W-9 I received from them, I made $8250.00. Not a ton of money, but remember I was working as a feature act.

Most Comedians Think Like Employees

Was it worth it for me to spend $75 for the submission, then $110 for the wine? You bet!

But most comedians don’t think this way. In fact, most comedians lack even basic business acumen. Because most comedians think like EMPLOYEES.

How many comedians know the average profit margin of the average business? How many know the definition of cost-basis? I’d bet that there’s not many. Because traditionally our experience is as an employee. Why should I have to spend money in order to get paid?

But you’re not an employee, you’re a business. So it’s time to start thinking the way businesses think. And that’s profit margin and cost-basis.

A quick “ALT-TAB” over to Yahoo Finance, will tell you that the overall average profit margin of all the industries listed is 7.8 percent. What?! 7.8 percent net profit margin?!

After investing $185 in the booker, (all tax deductible, don’t ya know), I made approximately 45 times what I spent. That, by the way, puts all industries listed on the stock exchange to shame in terms of profit.

Would I have earned that if I just bitched about it?

So suck it up, guys. You may have gotten into comedy to skirt the system or not do a nine-to-five or get out of the “rat-race,” Not participate in the business world.

But here’s the reality: You are not only in the business world. YOU are the BUSINESS!

The beauty of it is, is that the business is COMEDY! Hell yeah!

Tune in, tune up, and kick ass!

Have any ideas you can share with how you make a living? Love to hear them!

    12 replies to "Stop Thinking Like an Employee"

    • Absolutely agree with your analysis in regard to investing in yourself as a business. A key in my opinion is alignment with other business that have similar missions with your own. So think of your mission statement and pursue opportunities targeted to the same.
      I feel most journeyman comics pursue outlets without that specifically in mind. TheSaleem

    • Jerry Corley

      Just about everything I’ve ever done in this business from my first paid gig to the movie deal I just signed, was done through building a relationship. Same game in stand up. Thanks for the comment Saleem.

    • Wayne Manigo

      What a great post Jerry Corley! I’m currently working on an article explaining why comedians should consider themselves as entrepreneurs. Your stories are solid examples of what the ‘up-and-coming’ comics need to hear. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jerry Corley

      Thanks for the comment Wayne. Let me know when you post your article. I’ll stick a link up to it!

    • Stan Silliman

      I’ve always viewed myself as a comedian and a business man. Before I ever started comedy I’ve owned and ran businesses with up to 50 employees so your advise rings true. You have to invest time and money to make a success and to make a return. Only quibble I would have with your presentation is equating your gross income (the $ 8250) with your investment. I know it’s meant for emphasis but most businesses subtract the salary component (watch Shark Tank and you’ll see this every time) away from the gross to calculate a R.O.I. Your true ROI is what you earn after subtracting what you’d pay yourself as salary and your expenses (travel, otherwise). As if you were a corporation. That’s where the 7.8% comes into play. It’s the profit after salaries and expenses are paid out.

      I know I’m quibbling. I’m finnicky that way but as a businessman as well as a comedian I like to see apples compared to apples.

    • Jerry Corley

      Great point Stan! I knew someone was going to bust me for that. But you’re right. Done for the emphasis. Thanks so much for the comment and the cool info.

    • Gary Weaver

      Good read! More like this please.

    • Ken Weaver

      So true.

    • Jerry Corley

      Thanks Gary. Will be working on more about comedy business.

    • Richard Allan Jones

      Great point. No matter what kind of entertainer you are, success in this business is in your own hands. There are so many more opportunities today to “do your thing” and not wait on fate, permission, or papal blessing. Remember the old saying, “it takes money to make money?” So, invest in yourself and your dreams–get a good website, have you headshots photo shopped (make me look more like Cary Grant, please), pay the entry fee, rent a camera and make a tape…whatever it takes. Look at Justin Bieber (you do it, I just can’t)…He kept putting videos on the Internet until somebody (Usher) decided he could sing. Why not do that for comedy? Oh yeah, Will Ferrell did…check out “Funny or Die.” Or we could start our own Internet site called “Comedy in the Cloud” and all become rich & famous…hmm, now where did I put my list of savvy investors?

    • Dareece Navarro

      Hey Jerry! That’s great insight- thanks for posting it.

    • Scott Allin Von Wald

      You just gave me some perspective and it is appreciated.

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