The Year In Comedy: Comedy’s ‘Golden Age’ Delivers More Laughs, Bigger Grosses

We all know, now more than ever, there’s nothing like live events – and the sentiment absolutely holds up when it comes to comedy. Though there are so many options to yuk it up at home, from TikTok posts to standup specials, there’s just something about hearing new jokes in person, surrounded by thousands of other fans laughing together, naturally high on endorphins. The love for live comedy translates to big bucks (and we’re not talking funny money) with comedians taking up 19 spots on Pollstar’s North American Top 200 Tours chart with a total gross of $296.2 million compared to 12 comedians ranking on the last pre-pandemic North American Top 200 tours chart in 2019 with a total of $130.3 million – representing a 127.3% increase in grosses.

And who couldn’t use a laugh these days?

“Live comedy always does big business during war and recession; it’s always been that way,” Judi Marmel, founding partner and president of talent at Levity Live, told Pollstar when interviewed earlier this year for our inaugural comedy issue. “The confluence of that, the post-pandemic release and at the same time as First Amendment rights are being attacked, it makes live performance more important than it’s ever been. You can laugh and release and share common ground.”

Marmel’s longtime client Sebastian Maniscalco is again the top-grossing comedian, ranking No. 32 on the North American chart with a gross of $48.9 million based on 93 shows in 44 cities, with an average draw of 4,895 tickets per night priced at an average of $107.47.

Maniscalco spent the year playing a range of venues, from four nights at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas (grossing $757,335) to his March 21 return to New York’s Madison Square Garden (grossing $2 million). His 2022 gross represents a 97.98% increase compared to 2019 when he ranked No. 53 with $24.7 million grossed from 77 shows in 46 cities, with an average ticket price of $82.71 and 3,886 tickets sold per night.

As part of Pollstar’s Comedy Issue, we polled executives in the business to determine if this is truly a Golden Age for comedy and the consensus was a resounding yes, especially when it comes to revenue and opportunities – thanks to streaming platforms, social media and podcasting on top of the typical late night TV appearances, standup specials and building a reputation in one’s local clubs. Today’s comedy offers a range of options depending on your taste, whether that’s observational, political, clean or raunchy.

“When I first started in the business, a comedian doing an arena show was almost unheard of,” UTA agent Heidi Feigin says. “Today, many UTA clients including Sebastian Maniscalco and Bert Kreischer are regularly performing in arenas as well as ballparks, racetracks, and other non-traditional venues. … Comedians have become the new rock stars.”

In May, Gabriel Iglesias made history as the first comedian to headline Dodger Stadium, joining the ranks of superstar musicians like Elton John, Madonna and The Rolling Stones. And after nearly selling out the May 7 show – which featured regular seating for concerts (grossing $3.6 million with 53,492 tickets sold) – a second show, “Fluffy On The Field,” was added May 6 with seating limited to the field for an intimate experience.

“Dodger Stadium was like a trophy for all of us. It didn’t feel as much like I did it –
it felt like we did it. It was like, man, this is nuts, this is huge. We’re part of something
that’s never been done before,” Iglesias said, shouting out his team including manager
Joe Meloche of Arsonhouse Entertainment, agent Matt Blake of CAA and promoter Paul Meloche of Icon Concerts. Iglesias ranked No. 58 on the North American chart with a
gross of $23.9 million.

Other comedy highlights of 2022 include Kevin Hart teaming with Chris Rock for a run of shows, on top of their own respective tours; Kreischer bringing his “Fully Loaded Comedy Festival Tour” to ballparks from Ohio to New York; and Adam Sandler launching his first full-fledged tour since 2018.

On a not-funny note, the comedy world lost a few big stars in 2022 including Louie Anderson, Bob Saget and Judy Tenuta.