Im-profit-zational comedy or “Y U No Make Me Monies?”

Here in Chicago, the big game in the entertainment world is improv, as in improvised comedy, or improvised theatre. And while ChiTown is home to some of the best scripted theatre in the world, as well as numerous opportunities for film and television, it is for improv that Chicago is most well-known. If one couples this with the fact that improv has virtually no overhead costs (design, crew, props, etc.), it makes sense to think that improvised entertainment would be insanely profitable.

But it isn’t. Not even a little bit.

Most improv actors I know, even the insanely talented ones, are as broke as I am. And most theaters that host improv shows are usually earning just enough money to get by. Unless the theaters also have a training center and a bar, profits are as elusive as Nessy.

Even traditional theatre has a modicum of profitability, especially when Equity is involved. Maybe that’s it – there’s no Union for Improv Actors.
Or maybe they fall under Equity as well. I’m not sure – I don’t know jack about unions.

But what I do know is that us improvisers seem to be gluttons for punishment, in some cases even more so than traditional theatre actors because most improvisers are also traditional theatre actors. The difference is that we routinely go on stage with nothing prepared in front of a crowd that demands satisfaction. And since we have no rehearsals or previews to determine the merit of our performance, we just have to hope that what we do will be good. We do this over and over and over again for no pay, and little reward more than a healthy applause. Are we insane? Of course we are!!!

The reason why we do it is because we love it. Our payoff is the joy, the RUSH, of performing in front of a live audience. Anything else we receive are just perks. That’s true for all actors; not just improvisers.

But improvisers and actors still need to eat and live inside of places. So we still need currency.

So what do you think? Do you think improv should be more profitable for the performers? How could that happen? Or is the art the reward?

Let me know what you think!