Business 101 for Comedians: Door Sales & Merchandise

Posted on 29 August 2011

When putting on a show you can either take a percentage of the venue’s ticket office takings, or rent the venue and manage ticket sales yourself. Personally, I prefer taking care of sales myself. The relationship between you and the venue owner is more straightforward and the contract less complex.

If you plan to do the ticketing yourself, here are some tips on how to do so.

A Proper Strong Box

You don’t really get a strong box to prevent anyone from stealing your money. Most of them are made of cheap aluminium and are easily smashed open. You get a proper strong box because it makes it easy to sort money and make change.

Make sure you have one with sections for all the major denominations of bills and sections for change. It’s all too easy to return incorrect change when you have dozens of impatient people lined up to get into the show. It will also make things easier when you count your earnings at the end of the show.

Closing and locking the strong box is also a definitive way to signal that no more tickets are being sold, so don’t ask. You can then store the box somewhere safe, until it is time to sell merchandise after the show.

The Float

You must turn up to your venue with enough money to make change. Inevitably the first people who buy tickets will give you bills larger than the cost of the ticket. Also, certain prices ensure you must have a large stock of certain denominations, because they will be used up. A charge of $14 for your show will lead to people paying you $15 in bills and your having to cough up stacks of one dollar coins. Be prepared or face the wrath of your audience.

It’s good to have a spread of at least one $50 bill, several $20s, $10s, and $5s, plenty of $2s and $1s and a scattering of coins for those scraping the bottom of their wallet shaped barrels.

Count your float at the beginning of every show, keeping track by denomination. for instance:

1 X $50      10 X $2
3 X $20      10 X $1
4 X $10      5 X $0.20
5 X $5      5 X $0.10

Total: $216.50

You will then subtract this amount from the sum total of money in your box at the end of the show, in order to account for the takings. Be sure to leave a similar amount for your next show when you remove the takings from your box.


An important way to make a living as a comedian is to have merchandise. The most important merchandise you can sell is CDs and DVDs of past shows. Not only do you make money on the sales, people will share these items and give them as gifts, creating more audience. Also helpful is any merchandise that advertises you and your show, such as t-shirts and caps. At festival shows you won’t have a lot of time to make sales, so you will want to keep the merchandise to a minimum.

Before every show take stock of your inventory. Ensure that everything is in good repair and count how many of each item you have brought with you today. Write this down.

You often only have a 15 minute bump-in and bump-out for your show and people will want to buy items fast and move on. So have a piece of paper with a list of the items for sale and quickly mark a tick beside each one as items are purchased. This may not tally with the inventory count you will need to take AGAIN at the end of the show, but do your best, since it is helpful to make sure that everyone is being honest and no items have been stolen.

Other important aspects of the after show inventory is knowing which items you will need to replace for the next show and knowing which items are the most popular.


1) Pricing

Newcomers tend to believe that they can garner more audience by underpricing themselves. They feel that people might be more willing to give them a chance. The reality is that they become concerned you may be a waste of their time. Go with the most standard price other comedians are charging. Then make sure you give your audience their money’s worth.

Of course if your show involves a number of performers, props, sets, costumes, sound, lighting, loads of marketing, and an expensive venue, then charge what you need to break even. The break even point is determined by whether you will make your money back if you fill half your venue every night of your show.

There’s no sense in being out of pocket. Particularly if it means you will be unable to put up another show until such time as you pay off the short fall.

Another pricing consideration is concessions. It’s up to you whether you offer concessions, and what sort are available. Student concessions are worth their while because you are building a loyal audience who may continue to frequent your shows once they have to pay full. I warn you, people will argue with whoever is selling tickets that they should have this or that discount, whether or not you offer it. ALWAYS have a sign at the door that clearly states your prices and what is required to claim a concession, such as a student or senior card. RESIST the urge to be the nice guy when people say they left their cards at home or could you let their friends in at the same price. That is a very slippery slope.

For people who have complimentary tickets and need to pick them up at the door, make sure they are ready in envelopes with a name written on the front, or at least have a list that can be checked. You will need to keep track of these numbers as well, even if the people didn’t make you any money.

2) Taking tickets

Some of you may choose to use the services of Ticketmaster, Ticketek, and/or Halftix. They will take a percentage, but you then have pre-show sales. You will want to tear these tickets in half as people come in, so they don’t become re-used. You can also choose to retain half in order to keep track of how many people used the service and compare it with the ticketing agency’s accounting.

3) Selling tickets

For ticketing at the door, it’s useful to buy check tickets. At the beginning of each show write down the number of the first ticket that will be sold. Tear out tickets and give them to people as they are purchased. You will be left with a numbered stub. At the end of the show write down the number on the stub of the last ticket sold. You can then easily calculate how many tickets were sold and reconcile it with your takings.

If you are offering concessions, you may want to buy different coloured check tickets for each concession. You can then keep track of who’s buying tickets and in what quantities, as well as making accounting easier at the end of the day.

The Paperwork

Here is the bookkeeping form I used for my own show Strange Blessings. I have seen more complex systems, but this pretty much took care of all the information I needed.

Show Accounting

I also have an inventory form I used when I helped at the door for a friend’s show.

Merchandise Accounting

Put down all numbers as you find them, even if they don’t reconcile. Later check through your notes to figure out where the slip up occurred, then amend your accounting. It may be a t-shirt was misplaced, or a sale was made but a check ticket wasn’t handed out. If you can’t discover where the problem lay, leave things as they are for your records.

The information from this paperwork is vital. It will tell you which were your most successful venues, most successful nights, and most successful products. It will tell you whether or not your pricing is working. It can tell you a little about your audience. It will provide you with the information you will need to present to either your accountant or the dole office.

You have to treat comedy as a job, if you want to make it a job. I trust this will help you.

Peace and kindess,


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