Jeff Dunham, Dane Cook, Chelsea Handler top Forbes list of highest paid comedians

Chelsea Handler
Chelsea Handler

If you’re like me, you’ve probably never associated Forbes with stand-up comedy, but in a recent article, the online source of all things business has published a list of the top-earning stand-up comics in the past year (June 2009-June 2010). Collectively, the bunch made a whopping $165 million; here’s the breakdown:

1. Jeff Dunham, $22.5 million
2. Dane Cook, $21 million
3. Terry Fator, $20 million
4. Chelsea Handler, $19 million
5. George Lopez, $18 million
6. Larry the Cable Guy, $16.5 million
7. Russell Peters, $15 million
8. Jeff Foxworthy, $11 million
9. Howie Mandel, $11 million
10. Bill Engvall, $10.5 million (This is perhaps the only time coming in last place isn’t so terrible.)

(For the full slideshow, go here.)

The list isn’t really surprising, given the notoriety of the comics listed, but you might have wondered why funnymen like Leno, Conan, and Seinfeld didn’t make the cut. One of the qualifications for the list, Forbes says, is that a comic must be able to claim stand-up as his or her primary source of income. For Seinfeld, most of his earnings come from reruns of his self-titled sitcom, and for the other two, their paychecks come from NBC.

For those on the list, Geof Wills, President of Live Nation Comedy, told Forbes that their success is directly related to hard work and “adapt[ing] the environment they’re currently in.” One such way of adapting is through television, not so much for the paycheck though as for the self-marketing. In fact, Forbes reports that Handler’s earnings for stand-up is more than double her income from Chelsea Lately.

But even those comics with more modest incomes are in a good place for a bad economy. Wills explains, “With all the doom or gloom that you hear on TV and read about in the newspapers…people like to laugh.” That is precisely why the art of stand-up comedy won’t diminish anytime soon. As long as we live in a messed-up world, comics will always have something to offer, and we’ll always be willing to pay for it.

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