The Year In Comedy: Belly Laughs Are Booming Business

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THE GANG’S ALL HERE: Nate Bargatze breaks a Bridgestone Arena attendance record in his hometown of Nashville, just one example of how comedy is booming in 2023. (Photo by Studio Moderne)

To say that 2024 was a good year for live comedy would be a woeful understatement – and if the trends hold and the tea leaves don’t lie, 2024 will bring even more bounty for the funny bone.

Pollstar recently surveyed the state of live comedy and, in tallying the Top 30 tours for the year ended Oct. 15, was pleasantly surprised by what we found. The data bears repeating here: The Top 30 comedy tours performed 1,617 shows in the 2023 period, up 15% from the 1,408 tallied in 2022. Those shows moved 6,227,055 tickets, up 32% from the 4,728,273 in 2022.

And grosses skyrocketed 44% among the Top 30 – to $513,660,505 from $357,065,266 in 2022, itself a breakout year that included Gabriel Iglesias playing two nights at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Sebastian Maniscalco’s multi-night arena runs and chart-topping $44.9 million tour gross.

With comedy tours on tap including a huge arena trek by Matt Rife, another just announced by Maniscalco and tours with Jerry Seinfeld, Jo Koy, Tom Segura and many others on the calendar, 2024 is looking good, too.

There’s been increasing demand for stand-up comedy since – and before – the COVID pandemic created even more pent-up demand for belly laughs. And increasingly more platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and even old standbys like HBO are ramping up their production of comedy specials that, in turn, drive demand for live shows. And social media platforms like YouTube, Twitch and especially TikTok are driving it up even more.

By 2023, stand-up comedy had evolved far beyond putting a mic and a stool in front of a brick wall and telling jokes. Bert Kreischer made a franchise of his annual “Fully Loaded” outdoor summer festival package of his favorite comedians, with 2023’s routing including stadiums such as New York’s Forest Hills Stadium. Add his solo tour and it was enough to give him 87 shows, a gross of $33,366,442 and the No. 2 spot on Pollstar’s comedy chart for the chart period Oct. 16, 2022 to Oct. 15, 2023.

Kevin Hart topped the chart with $68.3 million grossed from his 77-date “Reality Check” tour. Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle moved 130,413 tickets over just eight shows reported to Pollstar, in an arena co-bill that grossed nearly $20.8 million dollars. Nate Bargatze to date has reported 352,182 to Pollstar Boxoffice in 2023, grossing $22,122,286. That tally includes a hometown record-breaker at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, where Bargatze sold out 19,365 tickets.

But where the new comedy paradigm might be making itself most felt is in the world of streaming and social media platforms.

“We’re very excited by the passion and enthusiasm Amazon and Hulu have demonstrated,” says CAA comedy agent Justin Edbrooke. “We’re also finding that social media networks like TikTok and Instagram have emerged as commanding forces in building a fanbase and establishing these artists.”

And he’s far from alone. “I think there’s a transition from linear cable into streaming services,” says Matt Blake, CAA’s head of comedy touring. “And there’s more bandwidth for streamers to put comedians up. Comedians also have the ability, through social media, to direct their audience to the location of their special. It’s really just continuing the expansion of the reach of stand-up comedy. As stand-up comedy becomes more popular, more and more people are discovering it and, with more options, it’s a never-ending growth cycle.”

Bargatze fired a major shot over Netflix’s bow over at Amazon Prime Video with his Jan. 31 streaming debut, “Nate Bargatze: Hello World,” which, according to Nielsen streaming counts, racked up 2.9 million viewers in its first 28 days after its Jan. 31 debut.

“I believe people find the comedian through watching [streaming stand-up],” WME comedy agent Andrew Russell says. “Whether streamers or YouTube, I’m a big proponent. People will watch their streaming services or their tablet or iPhone, they’re laughing, and then they go, ‘Let’s go see this person live when they come to town.’ There’s still something to say about being in the room live with a comedian. It’s electric, and the experience can’t be replicated or duplicated. Either you’re there or you’re not.”