While some in the live entertainment industry are looking for new ways to increase their income in the face of the economic downturn, the folks who make people laugh appear to be doing just fine.
Forbes magazine published its list of the top earning comedians for the period from June 2008 to June 2009 this week and the top ten earners “collectively raked in $256 million,” with the top spot on the list going to a comedian who doesn’t even do stand-up much anymore.
Coming in light-years ahead of the competition is Jerry Seinfeld, with an estimated take of $85 million from syndication rights to “Seinfeld” and occasional commercials like the Microsoft campaign that reportedly netted him $10 million.
Although Chris Rock’s estimated earnings of $42 million is less than half of Seinfeld’s, it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at and lands him at No. 2. Rock’s comic empire includes not only touring, but movies (“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” and the upcoming “Death at a Funeral”), an HBO stand-up special, a book contract and, of course, Fox’s “Everybody Hates Chris.”
The performer earning the No. 3 slot is actually a bunch of comedians rolled into one: ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. Dunham’s $30 million was earned by scoring the highest grossing stand-up tour of 2008, as well as merchandise and DVD sales and a multi-platform deal with Comedy central for a new special, tour and TV show.
While lots of people profess that they just don’t get his comedy, it doesn’t appear to be hurting Dane Cook’s bank account. Cook scores the No. 4 spot on the list with $20 million from sold-out arena tours, films like “My Best Friend’s Girl,” a Comedy Central special and a new album.
Tied with Cook is a stand-up veteran George Lopez, who earned his $20 million from a successful tour, syndication of his sitcom, films and his new late night show for TBS.
Rounding out the Top 10 are “Deal or No Deal” host Howie Mandel ($15 million), Larry the Cable Guy ($13 million), Jeff Foxworthy ($11 million), “America’s Got Talent” winner Terry Fator ($10 million) and Russell Peters ($10 million).
Read Forbes’ complete analysis of the 10 top earning comedians here.