You can hire a comedian for any event, from intimate gatherings of less than 20 people to large festivals with more than 1,000 attendees. Comedy acts can be geared to any age audience and for any occasion, including weddings, birthdays, school events, sporting events, corporate parties, fundraisers and more. The cost of hiring a comedian depends on several factors, not least of which is the entertainer's reputation. Up-and-comers may charge anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for an evening to make people laugh, while the best comedians (or the best-known comedians who play local comedy clubs) in high demand may charge tens of thousands of dollars or more for one show. Big-name celebrities and comedians with TV credits are the most in demand, and the most expensive.
Most comedians for hire offer a free quote for their services and will give you a price range for their services depending on the size and date of your event.
Here are the factors that can affect the average cost of hiring a comedian for a party or event.
Even in local markets, highly sought-after comedians or stand-up comedy performers typically charge higher fees than comedians who are just starting out or who are not as well-known. Adam Oliensis of LoHud Comedy in Blauvelt, New York, has been rated a top comedy act three years running in New York; as a result, he has increased his rates a certain percentage each year. Reputation provides credibility, giving clients more confidence in the services they're buying. It also increases competition for the comedian's time, often resulting in higher rates.
Reputation and experience go hand in hand. It's a good idea to find out where an entertainer has performed, whether it's the local comedy circuit or even late-night talk shows. Some comics play a wide range of gigs, so may be just as skilled at entertaining your CEO at a corporate event as trading jokes with a talk show host.
Types of comedians
An entertainer may be strictly a stand-up comedian, or she might also carry a guitar and include music in her act. Some have content appropriate for adult audiences and private parties, while others specialize in clean jokes that appeal to younger audiences. Some comics have just enough material for 15 to 20 minutes, while more established comedians may have sets that last as long as two hours.
Also, many comedians for hire offer additional talents, such as emceeing, auctioneering and giving keynote talks. Some may also customize their set to fit the event, including jokes targeting the bride and groom or a group of salespeople. Some comics give physical performances, offering juggling and stunts as part of their acts. Still others work as comedy duos and perform magic tricks.
Interviewing the entertainer
To make sure the entertainer is right for your event, it's a good idea to interview the comedy talent or their agent before you sign the contract. You want to make sure the entertainer is experienced enough to be comfortable performing for your audience, whether it's a clean corporate event or a bawdy bachelor party. A new comic may not have the stagecraft to handle large crowds or hecklers. Run through these questions:
- Who is your usual audience?
- Is your act clean?
- How long is your stand-up act?
- Do you have any videos I can watch to preview your act?
- How long have you been performing? Have you performed in front of an audience like mine?
- Do you bring your own sound equipment or should I provide that? Do you need an amp or just a microphone?
- Do you allow photographs?
Also, ask for a list of references from clients who put on events similar to yours — and actually call them. Find out if the comedian delivered the act they promised. Ask if the audience was entertained or if the jokes flopped.
Finally, review their social media platforms. Many comics use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to build up their fan bases. You can get a sampling of their jokes as well as insight into their sense of humor from their social media presence, which is a quick and easy way to find out if the comedian is likely to be a good fit for your event.
Private shows or event type
Good comedians typically have set rates for their shows, with a little give or take, depending on the length of the performance and the size or type of audience. Todd Charles of the Todd Charles Comedy Spectacular in Sarasota, Florida, explains that an additional 15 minutes doesn't greatly affect his costs because he still has to drive to the location and load and unload the same amount of equipment. Here are some examples of average show rates:
- 40- to 45-minute presentation for a private audience: $250
- Shorter, nearby show for clients on a budget or with special circumstances: $150
- 30 to 45 minutes: $300 to start for events within close driving range
Performing for large audiences, commercial audiences (such as at a bar where the host may make money off the guests), or at a public show or festival typically costs more, even for the same performance length as a private show. According to Oliensis of LoHud Comedy, upscale corporate events can be high-pressure, which typically demands a higher rate. Here are a few examples of average prices for show rates in this category:
- Large corporate (and similar) events: $1 per guest
- 40- to 45-minute presentations for small commercial audiences, such as performing at a bar, where the host is earning money off the guests: $300-$350
- One show at a large corporate event or fair: $500-$1,000
- A full evening of comedy at a large corporate affair: $3,000 (higher-end)
Some comedians charge fees to cover travel expenses to and from an event site, increasing the total cost of services. Depending on the comedian and how great the demand is (or is not) for entertainment in their area, some comedians charge a fee for anything outside their immediate area. Other comedians, such as Todd Charles Comedy Spectacular, travel frequently and are willing to go further afield. When performing in New York City, LoHud Comedy factors in the $15 bridge toll, gas and $20 parking (approximately $40 out-of-pocket total) when quoting gigs.
Date and location
In addition to reputation, travel costs, sound equipment and the actual performance, the date you need a performer can also affect the average cost. Friday and Saturday nights are more popular than Tuesdays and may therefore be more expensive. The event date is also important: New Year's Eve, for example, is one of the most expensive nights to hire a comedian. In addition, geographic location affects costs. Comedians in areas with a higher cost of living and more competition, such as New York City, typically charge higher rates.
Another factor to consider is whether your venue can accommodate an entertainer. In general, comics expect to work on a stage with an attentive audience facing them; a room that is set up only for people to mingle and network will be too distracting and noisy for a comic's set. Your venue must have a stage that elevates the entertainer enough to be seen at least from the waist up, with chairs and tables arranged so that the audience can settle down and enjoy the performance. It's expected, too, that the comic will be provided with a microphone and stand as well as a spotlight in a darkened room. Ideally, your venue will also have a green room, a private space your comic can use to prepare for the set.
Planning a comedy event
When you're planning your event, you need to decide whether the date or the entertainer is your priority. If you can be flexible enough to plan your event around the comedian's schedule, you're more likely to book your first-choice entertainer. The further in advance you can plan, the better your chances for booking your top entertainer on your preferred date. If the event must be on a specific night, create a list of at least five entertainers you'd like to book and see who is available for your date.
Booking the venue can be just as tricky. If possible, ask the venue if you can put a hold on a few different dates for just a week while you contact entertainers.
If you're booking an entertainer through an agency, they probably have a boilerplate contract that they use. If you're booking directly with the comedian, he or she may have a more complex contract. Either way, make sure these rules and agreements are written into the contract well before the night of your event:
- Specify any content or language restrictions. The comedian needs to know what is and isn't allowed before he or she develops an act. For instance, you might not want the comedian to make jokes about your company at a corporate event. If children will be present, you may not want the comic to use curse words.
- Specify the length of the show, which is usually a key determiner of the cost. Audience attention spans tend to wane after an hour or more. Depending on how late your event will run, you may want just a 20- or 30-minute set, especially if it's the pre-dinner entertainment.
- Negotiate a payment and stick to it.
Book midweek for typically lower rates. Most people throw parties on Fridays or Saturdays, so there is more competition for an entertainer's services. Weekday rates are often lower.
- If desired, clients should ask entertainers if their act includes strolling entertainment and whether that service costs extra.
- Watch a performer's video clips to make sure the content is right for your audience. You don't want a comedian geared toward kids at a 21-year old's birthday bash — or vice versa.