Q’s With UTA Head Of Comedy Nick Nuciforo
While much of the world was on standby for quite some time during the coronavirus pandemic, Nick Nuciforo, partner and head of the comedy touring department at United Talent Agency, and his colleagues stayed busy. They stepped back to rethink strategies for their clients — a roster that includes Will Ferrell and Nikki Glaser — and saw the fruits of their labor in 2022 with a record year for the agency.
Nuciforo, one of comedy touring’s most distinguished executives, chatted with Pollstar about last year’s successes and challenges, as well as the current state of the comedy industry.
Pollstar: 2022 was a record year for live entertainment, marking a true return for music and comedy. How was the year for you and your clients?
Nick Nuciforo: We had more shows, more clients headlining and incredible growth within our team. So, it all grew together to coalesce in what became our best year ever. It was fueled by social media, YouTube specials, podcasts; anything with an algorithm helped our clients find new audiences. Really, we’re at a new age now where comedy is ubiquitous. Just about everybody consumes comedy as a part of their daily life. There’s a higher and greater awareness of comedy now than there’s ever been, so it’s our time to shine.
What opportunities came from the pandemic, and how has it changed the live comedy industry?
I think UTA and the team here did a great job of helping our clients pivot in that moment to invest in projects to help build our clients’ careers and help guide them to the building of their audience coming out of the pandemic. Our colleagues in film and television really worked hard to work with our clients, to package them with great writers and showrunners and sell shows to networks.
Sebastian Maniscalco did “About My Father,” which is about to come out in theaters and was born out of the pandemic. His show, “How to be a Bookie” developed with showrunner Chuck Lorre, who is an absolute legend, was sold at that time and put into motion for HBO Max. Bert Kreischer’s movie (see page 22) based on a story in his life, “The Machine,” was pitched and sold and organized during the pandemic. We made a bunch of deals for our clients to do comedy specials, we had clients doing podcasts, we had clients on YouTube. In May 2020, Mark Normand put out a special on YouTube and it exploded for him.
So, you can see how all of these things got put into motion for our clients that really paid off. It wasn’t sitting on the sidelines waiting to get called into the game. It was really a strategy put together in conjunction with the clients to figure out, “Ok, how do we now invest in something that pays off later?”
What challenges now exist in this high-demand, post-COVID world?
Well, a lot of the good news is also accompanied by bad news. There are more comedy touring artists now than ever before, which means more traffic at [venues]. I’ll go on the positive side of that and say that there’s more comedy fans than ever before. So luckily to date, … we’ve been able to sustain success because there’s more people to buy the tickets as the number of comedy fans has grown.
It sounds like a humble brag, but I’m going to say that we’re running out of available nights at some venues to add shows. It’s an interesting moment when that’s a complaint.
One great example is Taylor Tomlinson, who’s rapidly ascended and selling 10,000-plus tickets in a lot of markets, mainly due to the success of her specials. She just played three sold-out shows at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre and we could have easily sold a fourth, but there were no available dates.
It’s a good problem to have. With many comedians involved in TV and film, how has WGA strike affected your work and how will it affect live comedy?
I think the strike is causing our multi-hyphenate clients to shift standup and live performance to the front burner while they’re not active in other parts of their career. Comedy touring, unlike film or TV or any other area in an artist’s career, is the only thing that a client is totally in control of. Everything else relies on somebody else saying yes or no or a gatekeeper. But touring is something we can be very nimble with, and book shows and get things on sale and get somebody on stage.
For that reason, a number of our clients have really leaned into that.
What are you looking forward to most in 2023 in comedy and with your roster?
I’m excited about the impact that film and TV projects coming out are going to have on our clients, that the algorithms are getting stronger for comedy across all these platforms and it’s spinning the clients up a lot faster than before and I’m excited about international touring. We have a great team in our UK office and more clients are touring overseas than ever before. I’m excited about the growth of our clients being led by an amazing team of agents and our work with some of these digital native comedic talents who are now crossing over to become sellout headliners.
What’s the best show you’ve been to recently, comedy or music?
There are two things that rise to the top for me, and it’s comic special tapings because it’s the culmination of one to two years of work of a client. It’s satisfying to watch the material evolve from the germ of an idea, incubate and blossom into a fully polished finished product. The other thing that’s a highlight is where I get to celebrate big milestones. Just last week I was at [Denver’s] Red Rocks with Chelsea Handler, who unbeknownst to me at the time was the first female comedy headliner in the history of Red Rocks, and that was special. I’m shocked that it’s 2023 and it hadn’t happened yet. It’s just great to see the success the clients are having, to be there and be a part of it.