Unlike other comedians, like Sarah Silverman, who invented anecdotes about the gender wage gap to pander to left-leaning audiences, Maria Bamford is actually candid about how much money she makes—and how she learned to manage her money once she started earning a living from her art.
Bamford told Wealth Simple, “There’s so much shame attached to discussing finances. I don’t totally understand it. Why can’t we all know what everybody’s earning? When I get booked to do a stand-up show, I can gross $20,000 or more in a night. That’s my current market rate. Two years ago, it would have been maybe a quarter of that amount. A year from now, it could be more or it could be a lot less. It’s impossible to predict. My finances have definitely changed from one year to the next.”
Before that, she was pretty broke: She admits to never paying her $140 monthly rent while living in a commune near Minneapolis and needed her parents to bail her out. Once she started making more money, she reveals that she spent it almost as fast as she earned it and had to sign up for a 12-step program on money management.
“I think that there’s huge power in a group of humans coming together, getting out of isolation, and helping one another think of new ideas,” she said. “It’s a weirdly miraculous thing. And there’s always free coffee!”
She continued, “The money 12-step was not unlike going to AA meetings, which I have also done. In this case, it was about finding a way to live a financially sober life and not be living on the edge all the time. People in my program helped me find an affordable place to live. They were like, ‘What are your skills? What’s something you can earn more money at?’ It was all very logical. I signed myself up at like five temp agencies and started calling in available for work every day. It was a simple thing, but it turned everything around.”
Now, she extends her wisdom to her peers, explaining, “Now that I make a living as a comedian, I like to show other comics what I’m earning. It feels useful. When I perform, I have an opening act, my dear friend Jackie Kashian. I pay her a third of what I net for every job, since she does a third of the time on stage. There’s often a middle-act comic—usually someone who’s just starting out. I pay them between $600 and $1,000. I also tell them what I’m earning. I show them what a contract looks like, what my manager and agent take out of my fee. I want them to have an idea of what it all looks like—it’s really important not to be ignorant about this stuff. It’s empowerment.”
The morals of the story? For one, sometimes you need a day job in order to chase your dreams and survive. Two, sometimes you have to take jobs you may not necessarily enjoy to be solvent. And three, empowering others is empowering to yourself. Lift your ladies up!