Funding a Comedy Show
Part 1: State & Federal Funding

Posted on 03 January 2012

Perhaps one of the most difficult things a new comedian has to face is funding their first shows. If you are planning on having a show in the Melbourne Fringe Festival, you would do well to have at least $2000 to spend on participation fee, room booking, equipment, and marketing. If you plan on having a show in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival you must have at least $5000 to get yourself off the ground.

Going to smaller festivals and making a name for yourself is a good way to potentially garner a financial producer who will back your entry into the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Before that point you will have to find the money yourself.

I will be publishing a series of articles about the different ways in which you can put together the money you need to produce a show. Financial sources include:

I would strongly recommend using several of these sources for any show. Rarely do you get sufficient funds from a single funding body to make it realistic to put all your eggs in that basket. I have to admit I have used most of these sources, not all. For some I am as eager as you to learn more, hence doing the research and writing these articles. Please let everyone know of your experiences and understandings of these bodies in the comments. We can learn from one another.

State Funding

Artists within each state of Australia have access to both state and federal grants. You may not be Leonardo da Vinci or Dame Joan Sutherland, but to get money from these sources you need to accept the title of comedy artist. I am not familiar with the funding bodies in states other than Victoria, but I’m pretty sure the funding dynamic is similar, if not the same. So, I will be writing from a Victorian perspective.

State funding is a notoriously slow process. In my state each funding category has only two application dates a year. If your application is successful, you will then have to wait for a number of months before the money arrives. So, if you decide in October you are going to run a show at the comedy festival, you will have missed the August application for funding in January. If you were then to try the February application date, you wouldn’t receive funding until July…too late for the April festival. Careful advance planning is a necessity.

Certain aspects of state funding seem to be easier for comedians than others. First you are asked to have at least three years of experience doing the thing for which you are asking funding. This seems like putting the cart before the horse, but there may be ways around this. If you are willing to volunteer on other people’s shows, such as being one of a group of comedians performing at a festival or event and continue to do so for three years, you will have the experience without needing a bazillion dollars up front. In fact being a part of an ensemble makes you attractive to funding bodies who want to effectively support a variety of artists.

Project grants seem a little out of reach for comedy. Checking through Arts Victoria funding records, not many comedies have achieved a funding award. My experience of arts bodies is that they want material that embodies a sense of significance, timeliness, and timelessness, and are often interested in the socially, politically, and aesthetically challenging. Now comedy can achieve all these things, but most comedians don’t think in those terms and so may not be representing themselves well. This year Tom Cho received funding to write this book: The Meaning of Life and Other Fictions, a collection of short stories that blend critical enquiry and comedy to explore the meaning of life. Can you see how he presented his comedy in a way that would feel appealing to the arts board?

Touring grants are where comedians excel. Touring is essential to comedians building up their audiences and establishing a career. Comedy tours are also well received by people outside of cities and in other countries. It may also be where we feel confident enough to ask in the right way, such that Arts Victoria more regularly gives the nod. Comedians who have recently received funding include Stephen Teakle, famous for his Barry Morgan’s World of Organs show, for touring within Victoria and Clare Bartholomew for touring Die Roten Punkte within Canada.

Federal Funding

Federal funding also accepts submissions only twice a year. Please note: Australia Council for the Arts is usually more focussed on large arts organisations with a few exceptions.

One improvement over the states is they do have funding for first time artists through ArtStart. This was created specifically for people who have recently completed an arts degree. Other available emerging artist funds include JUMP which provides funding for mentorship and development. If you are an established comedian, you might want to apply for a Creative Australia Fellowship. Australia Council also have a number of touring grants.

If your comedy show has a national vision, do spend some time crawling through the Australia Council’s grants search page and see what might suit you.

For both state and federal funding once you are past your early adult years, government support becomes thin for emerging artists. This is a problem for comedians, and in particular female comedians who have traditionally not started their careers until after their children reach a certain age. This is an area we should probably address as comedians. To represent ourselves to government and take care of other pressing concerns, we desperately need to form a support organisation or union. Email me if this interests you.

I’m as interested as anyone to know about people’s experience in achieving funding. So, I look forward to people chiming in with their stories.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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Part 1: State & Federal Funding

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