NYC vs. LA: Moving for Your Comedy Career?

By James Lang

Are you looking for ways to chase your dream of becoming a professional stand-up comic? Do you see yourself as the next Louis C.K. or Kevin Hart? Wow, if you answered yes, you definitely don’t lack ambition. But, maybe we can help you figure out some options for your next move.

Priyanka Mattoo

I was reading a fantastic article by Priyanka Mattoo on SplitSider and it inspired me to build off her points and maybe even take this blog article in a slightly different direction. Who’s Priyank Mattoo? How dare you! Well, I guess there’s no such thing as a bad question, but we’ll probably have to get you up to speed pretty quickly if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself in the future.

Mattoo formerly worked with UTA and WME as a comedy agent. Today she is working with Jack Black as Head of TV Production at his television production company: Electric Dynamite.

Do you really need to move to pursue your comedy career?

As many, many industry experts and A List comedians have said, it is always best to perfect your stand-up style, material and delivery in a smaller pond. Working the clubs in your local market gives you multiple benefits.

Comfort and Support

Stay close to friends and family. It’s much easier to fill a crowd with friendly faces if you’re performing close to or in your hometown. After all, you’ll need the support of friends and family to generate buzz about your show, and markets with less competition are more generous with stage time.

Advanced Level: Make the Move

After you feel supremely confident in your material, style and delivery you can start to consider making a move. If the people you didn’t invite to the local comedy club are busting their gut laughing, then you’re onto something.

Build a Presence at Comedy Festivals

Just because you’re killing it in your local club doesn’t mean you’re ready for the big move. Dip your toe in the water by attending some comedy festivals in major markets. Mattoo recommended in her piece that even if you’re just starting out, a budding comic should attend two major festivals every year.

In my opinion, this keeps a comic grounded with a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in major comedy circles. It can be the best of both worlds. Get an idea of what a bigger market is like without permanently leaving your network of support. Plus, by attending these events, you’ll have an opportunity to build relationships with agents and producers who can help launch your comedy career to the next level.

Once you feel you’re truly ready to make the move to one of the major comedy markets in the US (New York City, Los Angeles, etc.) then you’ll be able to lean on your existing network of friends and colleagues that you’ve built up through your attendance and participation in the national and international festivals.

New York City Comedy

Do you belong in New York City? If you feel like the Big Apple might be calling you to its impressive, world-class lineup of comedy clubs and television network studios, you’re in good company. There are a ton of talented comedians that call New York City home. Jon Stewart, Louis C.K., Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock, John Oliver (seriously, I could go on forever, but here’s a list of the top 50 comedians that call NYC home).

So is it the perfect place for you to move? Part of that question comes down to who you are and what you’re looking for. NYC is a very busy, hectic place that is unbelievably crowded. If you feel like you need some space to breathe, NYC might not be the perfect fit.

Reliable Comedy Club Access

In terms of access to clubs, it doesn’t get better for intermediate comics than the comedy clubs in New York City. With so many clubs in such a relatively close area, it actually isn’t impossible to head to a club, build some rapport with the team and get some stage time. Sure, initially it won’t be on a big night, but it’s about getting out there and acclimating to the world of comedy in a bigger pond.

5 minutes of stage time in NYC’s comedy clubs will generally run around $3-$5. There are more than 160 live-mic opportunities listed online in multiple online comedy publications. If you move to NYC, you’ll find even more stage time opportunities. Just ask Tom Cowell, a comedian who has lived in NYC for more than 8 years.

Incredibly High Expensive Cost of Living

One of the biggest barriers that aspiring comics experience when considering a move to NYC is the cost of living. Compared to smaller markets, you can spend more than your current monthly budget for all of your expenses on rent for a closet-sized apartment.

The other side of the coin when it comes to cost of living is the amount of money you can make by picking up a side-job. Because life is more expensive in the Big Apple, salaries tend to be significantly higher than elsewhere. Bonus points if you can score a day job related to the television industry or world of comedy.

Los Angeles Comedy

On the opposite side of the country you’ll find beautiful, sunny Los Angeles. While there aren’t as many comedy clubs in LA as NYC, the cost of living is slightly lower and you tend to get a lot more for your rental dollar (just look at these comparisons!). You also get to enjoy California sun! NYC’s winters are brutal, so a little sun is very much a wonderful bonus.

Is Television Your End Goal?

If you’re looking to get your face on television as a future A Lister, then Los Angeles wins, hands down. The film industry is in LA and you have a much better chance of having the opportunity to share your talents on a comedy stage where a producer or network exec will be in the audience. Granted, there aren’t as many open-mics as NYC, but LA is about quality versus quantity when it comes to stage time (in regards to moving closer to an on-screen role).

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