There’s a simple answer: As much as you think you can.
If you have a strong enough web presence and a good reputation you’ll get some calls or emails out of the blue. People have no idea what comedy costs. In my early years I took what I could get and sometimes named my own price but then accepted their counter offer.
If you know that you can’t provide an extremely strong show under any circumstance, then it’s okay to charge $200 or less. If you’re working with 2 other professionals, $500 is a good minimum. I know guys who won’t take anything under a grand and they’re no funnier than the rest of us–but they get their gigs, just less of them.
Here are some important questions to ask yourself or the person paying you that will help you justify raising your price.
1. What night of the week is it? (Saturdays should be your most expensive)
2. How many people does the place hold? (Figure out how much the venue will be making)
3. Is it for charity? (You can take as little as you want in this case. We’ve all done free shows for a good cause, but I’ve found they realize you cost money.)
4. What’s their budget and what do they pay for bands? (You can charge the same sometimes.)
5. How much is it going to suck? If it’s a terrible gig like my break room holiday gig back in 2004 with no microphone that started at noon you should get more than $50 (I was dumb). My worst gig of all-time, President Casino, was also my highest paying per minute ($25 per!).
6. Are they giving you a hotel room and how far are you traveling?
7. Do you have to book the other comics? That should be rewarded as well because it’s often very annoying.
There will be times when you feel like you overcharged, and some shows you know you could’ve made more. I haven’t perfected it, but as long as you can sleep at night and they want you back in a year or two you’re doing it right. High-ball them a bit and then negotiate down to what they’ll give. However, when you charge too little, you’re hurting the industry for the rest of us.
For more tips on how to make money performing stand-up comedy, order my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.