The facts and fantasy of the “comedy gold rush” in 2018 Los Angeles

Comedians had a fine time last week chewing on and chewing out a feature in The Hollywood Reporter purporting to take a snapshot of the “L.A. Comedy Gold Rush” happening right now.

It’s easy from my perch to see how this all went askew.

First, the headline. Any problematic news report usually has a misleading or click-bait headline that misrepresents the body of the story in the hopes of convincing you to read it in the first place. Here we have a quote “I Sold the Same Special Twice!” which actually has nothing to do with Netflix, per se. In fact: Nick Thune originally recorded Good Guy for Seeso, but when NBCUniversal shut down its streaming comedy experiment, that special vanished until Thune re-sold it to Comedy Central.

But it is true that Netflix, by buying up most every A-list stand-up comedian’s upcoming material that it could find in the past two years with its budget of billions, prompted every other comedy channel to rush in and scoop up whomever else they could. Or just give up. Or both (see: Seeso).

The second big mistake is taking an agent’s word as gospel. The premise of the THR feature is stated explicitly: “To get a sense of the thriving scene, THR tagged along with UTA comedy touring agent Andrew Skikne, 40, for a night of industry schmoozing and serious laughs.”

No offense to either the reporter nor to the agent named here, but that’s not how anyone is going to get a sense of how or why the comedy scene is or is not thriving.

Which leads to stating, with unnamed attribution but without context, that “A newer comic just breaking into the L.A. circuit can earn anywhere from $1,250 to $2,500 per week.”

As Vulture quickly and easily pointed out just by asking LA-based comedians, nobody is making that kind of money doing stand-up in Los Angeles. The agent is really talking about booking hot new stand-ups into comedy clubs across America. So THR updated the story June 21 “to clarify the range of weekly earnings for a newer comic on the national touring circuit,” as well as attribute the financial estimate to “one prominent touring agent.”

Those same agents who brought the THR reporter along for the ride also claimed that Los Angeles is much better than New York City for comedians to find more eclectic spots to try out new jokes. Because laundromats and taco joints, oh my.

The truth is NYC has plenty more of what we call actual comedy clubs that have multiple shows each night and pay comedians for spots — in addition to all of those bar shows and whatnot that may pay pittances or in drink tickets.

The truth is much sadder for our LA counterparts, as Vulture revealed.

Moses Storm, pictured in the THR piece, wondered why the reporter never asked him how much he earns doing comedy in and around Hollywood. Storm jokingly performed afterward with a big fake check mocking the report. As Storm told Vulture: “Not only have I never made that amount, it’s very hard to make that amount even on the road, and that’s probably the only place you can make money. On a very good week, where you get to do the rare few shows that do pay in L.A., you’re making maybe $51. You do Hot Tub on Monday, which is one of the more premium shows, and you’re getting maybe $20 of the door take. Everyone you see who has multiple Netflix specials and hundreds of TV credits, they’re getting $20 on that stage. The next night, I’ll go to the Improv to do a sold-out show in the main room. That’s $15. I’ll go to the Improv Lab across the way and do a set there. That’s $10. And for all these paid shows to even line up in the same week is so rare. That’s on a very good week.”

Ian Karmel said: “ I’ve done Conan twice, Late Late Show once, been on Comedy Central, Netflix, been on everybody’s list of “so and so hot new comedians.” I’m an Emmy nominee and I can tour pretty much anywhere in the country, and I’ve made maybe $500 total doing stand-up in L.A. Period. MAYBE. And all of that was from Hot Tub and a Jewish country club I performed at.”

You can read plenty more over at Vulture.

But good luck to all those whipper-snappers young and old who read that THR piece and headed straight to Hollywood to cash in on the gold rush!

If you do land in Los Angeles, though, you’ll probably have to start at the open mics. No money, but stage time, for sure. Here’s The Comedy Bureau list and map of open mics in LA.

The THR piece did include a handy map of LA comedy, though, to which I added the two usually no-pay UCBs as well as the actual comedy clubs in Pasadena, Hermosa Beach and Burbank. Enjoy!

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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