No Oscars? No problem.
Although Kevin Hart stepped down as host of this past winter’s Academy Awards, he emerged commercially unscathed after an apology tour for past homophobic tweets. The comedian maintained sponsorships with brands like Mountain Dew and Chase while also releasing a Netflix special. Throw in revenue from a global stadium tour, and Hart raked in $59 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019, earning him the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ list of the highest-earning stand-up comedians for the second time.
As a group, the top-earning comics brought in $272 million, down $20 million from 2018. One factor behind that drop is that some of stand-up’s heaviest hitters have laid relatively low this year, including Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, who came in at $30 million and $35 million last year, respectively. While Netflix is still a key factor—six of the top ten comics had specials air on the platform during our timeframe—the road is the best place to cash in on comedy.
“Nothing is ever going to beat touring,” Hart told Forbes last year. “It’s an entity that I own and control,” he added, referring to his revenue streams.
Coming in at No. 2 on the list is another wildly successful live act: Jerry Seinfeld, whom Forbes has consistently ranked as the highest-paid comedian in the industry and who was out-earned by Hart only once before, in 2016. His $41 million haul is down a touch from last year’s $57.5 million as he did not deliver a special for Netflix this year. But he’ll continue to earn big paydays in the future thanks to a residency at The Beacon in Manhattan and payments from Hulu for Seinfeld streaming rights.
Jim Gaffigan rounds out the top three, having earned $30 million in the past year. While touring is still the biggest chunk of his business, he took his chances on the open streaming market with his 2018 special, Noble Ape. His newest special, Quality Time, is Amazon’s first push into original stand-up specials. Gaffigan sat down with Forbes to discuss how he plans to navigate an increasingly complex media landscape.
“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice, and it’s melting,” he said. “So you better be building a new house.”
New to the list is Daily Show host Trevor Noah, who comes in at No. 4 with $28 million. Television hosts usually appear on a separate Forbes list (see: Ellen DeGeneres, who trounced Hart and Seinfeld this year with an $80.5 million haul). Unlike Ellen, though, Noah earned the bulk of his income this year through stand-up, making him eligible for our list. Despite the demands of hosting a late-night show, Noah made more than 70 stops across the world and had his second Netflix special last fall. In addition, his 2016 book, Born a Crime, is still ranked No. 1 on the New York Times’ bestseller list for paperback nonfiction.
Amy Schumer, who last appeared in the top ten in 2017, is the only woman to make the list (again). Despite having to cut her tour short because of a pregnancy-related health issue, her tour made bank: According to data from Pollstar, her shows grossed an average of nearly half a million dollars per city. Throw in her Netflix special Growing, and Schumer brought in an estimated $21 million in the past year.
Although some things don’t change—Seinfeld’s not going anywhere—expect next year’s list to look very different. Chappelle has a Netflix special coming out next month, likely putting him back toward the top of the pack. Ali Wong, who traded stand-up for rom-com this year with her Netflix film Always Be My Maybe, is back on the road, and her tour has already raked in more than $8 million. And Hannah Gadsby is not quitting comedy after all. She’ll return to Netflix next year, and her U.S. tour this summer has brought in an average of more than $200,000 per stop.
All earnings estimates are from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Earnings estimates are based on data from Pollstar Pro as well as interviews with industry insiders.
The World’s Highest-Paid Comedians Of 2018
Earnings: $13 million
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Earnings: $22 million
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Earnings: $28 million
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Earnings: $59 million