May 10, 2024 - Economy

Live comedy is booming, and everyone is winning

A green column chart that displays annual gross ticket sales for live comedy from 2012 to 2023. The y-axis represents gross sales in millions, while the x-axis shows the years. Sales peaked in 2023 at $909.6 million, up from $371.4 million in 2012.
Data: Pollstar via Bloomberg; Chart: Axios Visuals

The business of making people laugh has been booming over the last decade — closing in on $1 billion in ticket sales for live comedy shows last year, Pollstar data shows, per Bloomberg.

Why it matters: That an industry around comedy is emerging means careers in comedy are more attainable than before.

Behind the numbers: The internet has enabled jokes and personalities to reach wider audiences than ever before.

  • Netflix's investments into comedy specials, specifically, have played a huge role in growing fanbases too.
  • Before Netflix, comedians had to have landed their own successful sitcoms to build a large fanbase, Taylor Tomlinson told Bloomberg.

The big picture: Laughs bring attention, which can start a flywheel of opportunity for bigger dollars in other ways.

  • Loyal fans who pay to see a show are also presented with opportunities to buy merchandise.
  • And as a comic's star rises, they can command endorsement deals — leading to spending in other industries. Trevor Noah's Smirnoff Ice partnership is a recent example.

My thought bubble: Choosing to produce more comedy is a no-brainer for media companies chasing cost-efficient growth.

  • Comics offer the full package: They're great writers, they're engaging performers, and they're often producers of their own shows too.
  • More recently, with the success of shows like "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver and "The Daily Show" bringing back Jon Stewart, comedians are increasingly delivering on some of responsibilities of journalists.

What we're watching: Netflix just aired one of its longest-ever stretches of live comedy specials. They'll play a big role in the platform's overall content strategy going forward, so expect comedy to continue to grow as an industry.

Go deeper