Fringe comedy: Laughing all the way to the bank
- 13 August 2011
- From the section Scotland business
The business of comedy has never been healthier, according to some of Scotland's leading industry figures.
The Edinburgh Fringe is in full swing - and comedy is dominating the programme.
The annual event has drawn a host of rising stars as well as established comics such as Phill Jupitus, Stewart Lee, Ed Byrne and Sarah Millican.
It is an opportunity for performers to get noticed and for promoters and agents to make money from packed venues in Edinburgh.
Comedian and BBC radio presenter Fred MacAulay has seen the Fringe grow enormously over the years.
He said: "I spoke to Paul Merton about this last year and he has a fringe brochure from the 1980s - there were six stand-ups doing an hour.
"Now I guess that's three figures - well over 100 solo stand-up shows."
The rewards can be enormous for those performers who make it to the top.
Comic superstar Michael McIntyre is expected to make £25m from a 58-date tour next year while the tills are also ringing for Eddie Izzard, who recently became the first solo comedy act to appear at the Hollywood Bowl.
But Tommy Sheppard, director of the Stand Comedy Club which operates in Edinburgh and Glasgow, said only a few could hope to reach that level.
He said: "If you are lucky, have a modicum of talent, the right management and are in the right place at the right time, as a stand-up comedian you can make a very great deal of money.
"There aren't that many people that do that - you could probably number them in the dozens - but there are some people who get extremely rich out of performing stand-up comedy.
"The biggest money usually is to be made on the live circuit. You tend to find people will do television for rather modest fees because television is essentially an advertising vehicle for the live shows."
He added: "If you get the awareness built up of your character on prime time television, then you will sell tens of thousands of tickets, not just thousands."
Further down the scale there is still money to be made, according to Scottish comedian Alan Anderson, who also books acts for private functions and corporate events.
He estimated comedians performing in front of 300 or 400 people at weekend gigs on the UK club circuit can make between £800 and £1,200 a weekend.
He added: "However, where they really make a substantial amount of their money is through doing corporate events and black tie dinners, after-dinner speaking - that kind of thing."
Business is also looking healthy for those running comedy venues, as well as agents and promoters.
Tommy Sheppard, who also helps run the Scottish Comedy Agency which organises comedy tours and festivals throughout Scotland, said more than 100,000 people now flock to his two Scottish venues every year.
The Stand is now set to open in Newcastle as business rolls in.
Mr Sheppard noted that the attitude of banks towards the comedy business had changed in recent years.
He said: "Fifteen years ago when you were looking for funding for a comedy venue, people said 'what?', whereas now you can almost see the cash registers ringing in front of their eyes.
"They are much more attracted to the idea - it seems much more like a commercial business proposition, partly because of the growth in the live circuit with hundreds of thousands of people every week buying tickets to come and see shows in comedy clubs.
"But it's also because of the phenomenal growth of stadium tours - not the odd one, but every month - by big name comedians and also of course our prime time television dominated now by these artists as well.
"It's huge business," he added.
You can hear more about the comedy industry by listening to Business Scotland on BBC Radio Scotland at 10.05 BST on Sunday, and later by free download.