Good article in the NY Times about 300 area comics founding a union to get pay raises for sets, including doubling the weekend rate from $60 to $120 and raising weekday rates from $15 to $25.
While reading the article, one of the first things that flashed in my head was Bob Zmuda’s book on Andy Kaufman. In it, he describes how a 70s boycott of the LA Comedy Store damaged the art of comedy. At the time, the Comedy Store had comics perform for free. Andy Kaufman opposed the ban, believing it would hurt comedic experimentation. His rationale: the more people had to pay for a show, the more conventional entertainment they’d demand from comics. (I’m away for the holidays, so I can’t provide the exact reference. I’ll dig it up on my return.)
I certainly don’t feel this way myself. I do think the price of seeing a show ($30 a person according to the article) does keep good crowds out and makes people a lot more demanding. But there are the alternative spaces out there which allow for comedic experimentation and attract crowds that embrace it. (Something Kaufman couldn’t had forseen in the 70s.)
In a sense, comics at mainstream clubs are getting paid to put up with performing for audiences that aren’t as sophisticated, interesting or intelligent as those in alternative spaces. Raising pay rates may not always be good for comedy artistry, but for the comedy industry it’s a good thing.