I just finished listening to the newest Connected Comedy podcast episode and wanted to share my thoughts since unfortunately I wasn’t able to join for its recording.
In the episode (which I highly recommend you check out), Jordan Cooper, Josh Homer, and Chelcie Rice discuss the recent dustup in the New York comedy scene about whether or not stand up comedians should be paid for shows they do at the UCB Theater. As I listened to it, I didn’t find myself wanting to take a side but rather coming back to a broader observation.
Everybody in comedy is taking advantage of everybody else in comedy…and that’s ok.
Arguing about whether or not comedians should get paid is kind of pointless because I think there’s only one thing that should happen in comedy – comedians should take advantage of the value they create and venues/bookers/industry should take advantage of the value they create. And if both sides are doing what they should do in that matter, then the question of whether or not comics should get paid works itself out.
For example, comedians should take advantage of show producers/promoters by using the audiences they attract and provide to build their own fanbases – that’s their job. And clubs should use those comedians to attract people to their venues to make as much money as possible off of them – that’s their “job.”
But here’s where it gets interesting. The big question for every show (and for that matter every TV production, podcast, web series, or any other comedy creation) is what is the real reason the audience has come out to the show?
If the audience is there because of the venue, then the venue should exploit that value to make as much money as possible for it.
But on the other hand, if the audience is there because of the talent, then the comics should exploit that value to make as much money as they would like from it. It’s basic business – whoever has the most value should reap the most rewards.
So what’s really interesting to me about the UCB situation is that it’s easily resolved if both sides are willing to figure out who really provides the most value by controlling the audience. If a popular show at UCB left the theater to go someplace else where they could make more money, how much of the audience would follow them to the new venue? And, just as importantly, how much of an audience would UCB draw to the show that replaced it in the theater?
It’s possible that both sides could thrive on their own, or it’s equally likely that both would draw smaller audiences on their own. Either way, you’d have a clear realization of who was actually providing the value and therefore who was taking advantage of who.
The business of comedy – just like all business – necessitates that people take advantage of the value they provide. That may sound crass, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s also not anti-comic. Too many comics fail to take advantage of the value they do provide.
If a venue is generating $1,200 on the strength of your name and you’re not getting the majority of it, then you’re a terrible businessman. And if you’re a venue who’s paying a big sum to a performer who’s not responsible for generating any of those ticket sales, then you’re equally dumb.
Arguing about whether or not venues should pay comics or whether comics should perform at venues that don’t is just a distraction. Wouldn’t we be better off talking about how both performers and promoters can increase the value they provide?