Sanjay Manaktala was instrumental in launching the comedy scene in India in 2010, right around the time the Comedy Store UK and others entered the country. He knows the comedy business in and out in.
So you want to know how much money you can make as a stand-up comedian in India?
TLDR: The good news…you’ll make more than comedians in the UK and America, due to the simple laws of supply and demand.
The bad news…don’t expect to make anything for your first 3 years of doing this at least 15-20 hours a week.
Pubs, Clubs and Open Mics Rates
To show you how little the Indian public knows about a career in comedy (to be fair, it’s still being defined) I once had a comedian email me back in 2012…
I want to do stand up comedy at your open mic. How much will you pay me?Some idiot finance guy who emailed me.
Regardless, most comedians in year 0 to year 3 are just hunting for stage time, and some will even pay the venue in the form of a fee, buying drinks or other things to get access to a stage and an audience.
So how much can I make doing comedy in a bar or pub in India?
Coffee Shops and Open Mic in Bangalore or Mumbai or Delhi: 0 INR (0 dollars)
You’ll probably lose money when you factor in:
- what you order at the venue,
- your fuel or taxi,
- your time,
- opportunity cost, etc…
I’d say the first year of stand up comedy is about a 30K investment in simple logistical expenses.
Pubs and Comedy Clubs and Bars: 3K to 5K INR per 20-40 minute set, and many nights will be a waste as you only got 11 people and everybody gets 50 rupees.
Pubs and Comedy Clubs Solo Show: 30K to 2L INR (where you attracted the crowd of 100-300 people, and you perform an hour)
When you do a solo show, the comedian will typically take home about 25-40% of the revenue or ticket price. (e.g. 500 INR ticket means comic makes 200 per ticket).
If it doesn’t sell out (and most don’t), this percentage goes down as the venue will take a fixed rate of 10K-2Laks.
I have done many shows where we lost between 1K and 10K.
How Much are Corporate Stand up Comedy Rates in India?
The majority of comedians, myself included, will make our income between years three and seven (you should quit your full-time job only after you’re making about 1 lakh monthly with your gigs) with corporate shows.
So doing comedy for companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Wipro, Infosys Annual Day, Toyota Sales Meeting, etc..
Most stand up comedians in India who have a following and do corporate shows of above 200 people will charge between 1L and 5L for 30 to 45 minutes.
If you’re new, like 1 to 3 years in and are getting calls for office shows…charge 20K and move up from there.
If you have a 100K organic following, charge 85K and move up from there as demand comes in.
It’s better to make 40K for doing a set on a Tuesday than saying no and waiting for the next show which may take months. And then seeing yourself at some mic nobody came to, only to realize you could have made 40K for entertaining some office folks easily.
How Much do Comics Charge for College Festival Shows?
Some comedians will come and do a 20 minute set for like 20,000 INR, others will charge between 3 to 5 lakhs.
Many college shows you should do for free initially because you’ll pick up 500 followers just for gigging. Also, you probably still stuck so take the stage time and go.
On average about 1 lakh seems standard for someone the kids know or follow online. 2 lakhs is you have like 500,000 YouTube or Instagram followers.
Rule of Thumb: If people are asking you for selfies, no more free stand up comedy shows. (But do plenty of free media appearances or cross promotions).
Are Comedy Prices the Same across Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, etc..?
For all the major metros, including probably Chennai and Hyderabad I’d say yes.
For places like Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Trichi, Mysore, etc.. I would assume the ticket prices for comedy shows go down, yet in-demand comedians will likely charge the same to come there.
For example, a comic who is making good money in Mumbai or Bangalore would go to Ahmedabad for less money (also factoring in travel) but probably do more time, write more jokes, test out stuff, etc..
Or maybe even he/she has a huge following there so they might sell more there in their home town.
It all depends on where your fans come from and if the city has a lot of comedy going on or not.
What about Overseas like in the US or Canada or Australia?
Indian stand up comedians (from India) who travel overseas probably average about $1,000 USD per show for their performance, with the range being losing money up to $10,000 USD per show if they sell out a 1,000 seater at $20 a ticket, and then split with promoter/venue, etc…
So How Much Can I Make as a stand-up comedy career?
Just because someone charges so much for a show, doesn’t imply that they’re making that every day.
The majority of days you will make nothing, as you’ll simply be testing jokes and making sure they work, and obviously trying to improve them.
Nobody gives a shit to hear what you have to say until it’s funny for 500 strangers Rohit. (I struggled hard to make sure I don’t know any comics named Rohit so please use whatever Indian generic name you have).
Years 0 to 3: You will lose money in expenses, so 0 INR.
Years 2 to 5: Money will trickle in, and you’ll average about 1 to 2 Lak PER YEAR.
Sure a comedian may charge 1L per show, but he or she may only do 1 of those shows every six months.
Years 5+: You’ll make between 1L per month or 15L-1CR.
Who is the highest-paid comedian in India?
Zakir Khan, considering if you add his ticket sales, Amazon deals and YouTube and Social Media Influencing, I’d guess he’s making at least 10CR per year at the moment if not much more. Probably Vir Das after that considering his Hollywood and Netflix associations.
What Can I do to make more money or get higher payments faster?
The good news is you can do things to earn money faster.
You can also get better faster, because someone who is on stage 5 times a week versus someone who goes twice a week, will be much better after the same year.
The bad news is they’re no shortcuts to getting stage time experience and learning the hard lessons from bad crowds, hecklers, improv and so forth.
That takes a lot of time and getting off your ass and into the dive bars.
Regardless of whatever path works for your life, here are things you can do to start earning quicker:
- Produce your Own Comedy Show and market it well so you keep sales (folks like Punit Pania do this)
- Start a productive YouTube channel (not one of your crappy cell phone recordings of stand up): Be You Nick does this.
- Build a following on social media which will get you organic traffic, which will get you sponsorship, payments, better fans, more crowds, etc.. Zakir Khan does this better than everyone, largely all stemming from his initial burst on the AIB Stand up video about Delhi Girls and small-town boys. (He was on the scene for a while before though, so that “overnight success” took a few years). Mallika Dua is another example from non-stand up, but somebody who really lives on digital and if she did do stand up would have any stage she wanted.
- Find ways to write for social media campaigns, advertisements, act, etc…
What About Netflix and Amazon and YouTube?
In India, everybody wants to think about the end result so much nobody realizes it is supposed to be everything until then.
Amazon and Netflix specials will cost about 10L to 30L to produce, and your take-home profit might be 10K, 10L or even 1CR based on the incentives in your contract.
It all depends on how much value you bring and how many of your fans sign up for the platforms. (e.g. If your Amazon special got 1M viewers and you got them another 5000 sign-ups, guess who’s having a good holiday? You ARE!)
For YouTube, ad revenues will be between 20K INR and 60K INR per million views.
But the bottom line is none of those platforms will call you or hire you unless you have a proven digital track record, so get to it.
As I wrote about here in
A comedian needs, in 2019 and beyond, to also do:
- Video Editing
- Motion Graphics
- Social Media Marketing
- Blogging (Hi!)
- Basic Web Design
- Public Speaking
- Story Telling
- Digital Marketing
- DSLR Film Making
- YouTube Film Making (yes they’re different)
- Stage Production
- Event Management
- Crowd Control
- Oh…and you also have to be great at writing jokes.
- Is it an amazing time to do stand up comedy in India? Yes for sure.
- Is it an easy career? HELL NO.
- Should you be worried about making a million dollars or 1CR? NOPE.
- Should you quit your job to do this full time? No way, not until you generate 1L per month part-time while still doing well at your job.
What’s the number one piece of advice you would tell someone who wants to do stand up comedy full time?
Oh, I’m glad you asked.
Focus on overcoming stage fright, writing good, original jokes, building stage presence, a good organic social media following, don’t compare yourself to others and be true to yourself…and the money will come in faster than you can count it.
Now go write some jokes yeah?