Thursday, August 25, 2011

Joke freelancers

Liam McEneaney is a Brooklyn-based stand-up comic and a writer with a spot on "the fax list," which, despite the outdated reference, is still a term used for those who submit jokes on spec to late-night comedy shows. He estimates that since 2008 he has submitted about 1,100 jokes. Of those he has sold one, to the Weekend Update segment on "Saturday Night Live," which pays $100 per joke. ...

In New York's market for jokes, these are small-time exchanges—they provide their makers an ephemeral modicum of joy, as well as a possible introduction to more lucrative opportunities. A more steady and well-compensated form of freelance joke-writing is creating "batches" for in-demand comedians, who typically acquire two to three pages' worth of jokes, often collated by topic. Abraham Smith, 31, sold his first batch based on a "never-miss bit about the original Nintendo" that he'd been doing in his own act. "It always, always killed," he said. A comic he knew, who made a healthy living touring colleges, was "hot for it" and made an offer of $7,500 in the summer of 2004. ...

This year [another freelancer] was brought in to write jokes for a major televised awards show. She and three other writers came up with an estimated 1,500 jokes, from which the best were selected for use. This is part of what separates joke writers from regular people who are funny: the sheer quantity they must produce, under pressure, and on the regular.
--Lizzie Simon, WSJ, on the market for jokes