Average Salary: $20,000
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $700,000
Ha…hysterical. You might really have a knack for this thing.
Oh, you were serious. Roughly one in a hundred comics makes enough to eke out a meager living doing stand-up—about one in a thousand live comfortably. Even those who do all right are traveling constantly and spending money on airfare, accommodations, psychiatry bills, etc. The odds of you becoming the next Dane Cook (not in terms of funniness, but merely in terms of success) are close to one in a million. Whether or not you’re stealing jokes from Louis CK.
As long as you're not stealing his fashion sense.
When you're starting out, you're getting paid zip. You'll sign up for an open mic at a coffeehouse, comedy club, or bar, then hop up there and put in your eight minutes for a bit of experience and (usually) a good, solid dose of humility. And not much else. If you impress an owner enough that they offer you a spot on one of their paying nights, you might take home $50 or so for a set. When you consider that the rate comes out to around $200 an hour, it sounds pretty good, but unless you’re spending all evening driving around town from one paid gig to the next, you’re probably going to have to settle for a max of $50 on any given night.
If you can work your way up in some of the bigger clubs (now we're talking only major cities, especially New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Vegas), and especially if you've snagged a talent agent who can negotiate a good rate with the club owner, you might make hundreds or more for a set (don't forget that agent fees come out of that number). Become a big-time comic with your own nightly show in Vegas and who knows—you might even be able to pull down $10k a week. But you have better odds of plunking down a few hundred dollars on a roulette table and letting it ride all night long.
Of course, the real money is when you make the transition from stand-up to film or television. If that scout from NBC who's been to see you a few times finally asks you to meet with some executives, who then pony up a contract and sign you to star in your own sitcom… suddenly, you could be rolling in it. But how many people do you think it actually happens to? Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you could really be the next Kevin James. If the answer is yes, then good luck. Also, you might want to go on a no-carb diet for a while.