I used to work at the desk of a successful comedy theater answering phones. We got a lot of random callers, as you can imagine, and one afternoon someone rang just to ask, “How much do you get paid for stand up comedy?” It was the funniest thing I’d heard in weeks.
In an interview with Wealth Simple, Bamford told her own finance story to writer Sara Corbett. At this point, Bamford is one of very few stand up comics who make a lot of money by performing. Like, a lot of money. And she doesn’t try to hide it:
There’s so much shame attached to discussing finances. I don’t totally understand it. Why can’t we all know what everybody’s earning? When I get booked to do a stand-up show, I can gross $20,000 or more in a night. That’s my current market rate. Two years ago, it would have been maybe a quarter of that amount. A year from now, it could be more or it could be a lot less. It’s impossible to predict. My finances have definitely changed from one year to the next.
Like many comedians, Bamford didn’t start out focused firmly on finances. She claims she didn’t pay her $140 per month rent for a year while living in a commune in Minneapolis in her twenties. She busked, playing the violin, but says she was never good enough at that to make more than $40-$50 a day. Bamford’s big break came when she started playing Star Trek characters at the Mall of America. She made about $600 a week playing a Bajoran.
Making money isn’t the same thing as keeping money. Bamford was doing better, but she was still spending cash almost as soon as she made it. She says she was living in LA, her parents had cut her off, and things were bad. Bamford found a 12-step program that dealt with money and things turned completely around. It sounds like they basically encouraged her to sign up for temp agencies and actually go to work, but it made a big difference in how she viewed earning money.
Sharing your plans, tips and strategizing in a group appears to be a lesson that Bamford has kept in mind ever since. She offers transparency to other comics, because it helps them figure their shit out:
Now that I make a living as a comedian, I like to show other comics what I’m earning. It feels useful. When I perform, I have an opening act, my dear friend Jackie Kashian. I pay her a third of what I net for every job, since she does a third of the time on stage. There’s often a middle-act comic—usually someone who’s just starting out. I pay them between $600 and $1,000. I also tell them what I’m earning. I show them what a contract looks like, what my manager and agent take out of my fee. I want them to have an idea of what it all looks like—it’s really important not to be ignorant about this stuff. It’s empowerment.
Empowerment. The magic word.