Nick Nuciforo, partner and head of Comedy Touring at United Talent Agency says resilience was probably the most obvious work-related skill he strengthened at the onset of the pandemic when comedy touring came to a screeching halt. Working with colleagues, clients, and peers, the agent witnessed the power of virtual events and helped develop new markets and educational initiatives to keep live comedy, albeit socially-distanced live comedy, rolling during a time when people needed a reason to laugh.
Fortunately, Nuciforo has continued to watch the demand for live comedy grow as well as the breadth of live comedy content thanks to YouTube creators, podcasters and other non-traditional creatives. And there’s been no sign of a downward shift in audience enthusiasm.
“People crave social interaction, people really need to laugh. And nothing at all for the artist or the fan replicates that live comedy experience,” said Nuciforo whose client roster includes Jim Gaffigan, Sebastian Maniscalco, Taylor Tomlinson, Will Ferrell, Chelsea Handler, Bert Kreischer, George Lopez, Seth Meyers, Russell Peters, and Sarah Silverman, as well as non-traditional comedy artists.
Live Comedy’s Growing Audience
Nuciforo continues to see robust demand for comedy both nationally and internationally. “There’s been a real growth that we’ve seen in comedy clubs. There’s more headlining stand-ups now—and what I mean by that is 1000 [seat] capacity all the way up to arenas [more] than ever before.”
An agent since 1996, he has watched the live comedy space exponentially expand with theaters and arenas now becoming more common landing places for stand-up. In one week in March 2022, UTA client Sebastian Maniscalco performed for sell-out crowds in four arenas, selling a total of approximately 80,000 tickets.
Finding Your Comedy Consumers
Nuciforo’s approach has made it easy for audiences to find shows. In between studying trends and the bottom line, he also pays attention to the environment. “I visually, not scientifically, keep an eye out when I travel—on the number of cranes in the sky.” Population growth means more potential comedy consumers.
“Where are the people? You take the comedy to the people, instead of forcing the people to the comedy,” said Nuciforo.
Income Increases For Top Touring Comedians
Huge financial payoffs in stand-up aren’t typical for the majority of comedians. But more stages mean more touring comedians and top performers are cashing in and giving comedy the shout-out that has the potential to benefit all comedians and venues. Great comedy performances can lead to increases in comedy consumption.
“Our clients are earning more income than ever. Client income is up, year over year… And I think that’s a result of ticket sales and grosses and number of tickets sold in any of these markets. I think that tickets are still under-priced for comedy, compared to sports, [and] concerts in theaters. So there’s a lot of room for growth there. There’s more comedians in the Top 100 touring artists,” said Nuciforo.
Comedy Touring Opens Doors
Comedy touring popularity and success doesn’t have to stop there for an artist. A great touring career can help build a film career or open the door to creative opportunities beyond the road. “Everything is interconnected in how we leverage and grow somebody’s career,” explained Nuciforo.
“For example, Sebastian Maniscalco was able to do a movie about his life called About My Father. Artists like Taylor Tomlinson were able to, through us being able to tell the story of touring success, enter a film development deal. Bert Kreischer ended up shooting a special about his life called The Machine. So we’re able to build a story, which helps accelerate and create opportunity in other parts of their career. Similarly, it happens in reverse— a hit book for a client like Chelsea Handler can help kick off a really successful tour or a best-selling book for an author like Jim Gaffigan, helps broaden his audience and bring in new people for their [publishing/readership] audience.”
International Comedy Trends
These days, comedy opportunities are growing beyond the U.S. with many comedians, including UTA clients performing overseas or preparing to do so. UTA is closely watching those trends.
“We are the only agency that has a full-time dedicated comedy agent in our London office. And for us, it’s a big investment. We see this as a large growth area and something that’s very important to us,” explained Nuciforo. UTA has been working with foreign language comedians like Brazilian comedian Whindersson Nunes in their native language countries and developing their tours and targeting their fan bases in the United States.
Future Predictions For Live Touring
Nuciforo isn’t fearful of a comedy bust like that seen in the ’90s after the ’80s boom. “I think there’s plenty of room for growth into the future,” said Nuciforo. “I think that the conditions now are very different than the conditions were at that point in time. And I think that the bust, while I wasn’t present there…from what I understand those conditions are not the same today. But we see a lot of runway ahead of us in terms of distribution of content. And the distribution of content is the number one thing that I think buoys our market. The ability to perform—there’s more venues than ever before and more venues and opportunities opening every year. So that’s positive. And more opportunity in the global marketplace. I mean, this is now a global industry.”