Asking for what we're worth

Improvisers, as a rule, don’t like to ask for money. It’s one of the hardest things for us to do because we come from the land of “yes and,” from the planet of “make your partner look good.” Most of us have performed for years where we got paid in stage time, and if we were lucky, maybe a free drink at the bar. And there is a culture in improv that you’re supposed to do it because you love it, not because of the money.

In a lot of ways, we are beaten down by that, so when an opportunity comes along where we could actually use our comedy skills to earn money, we are so used to eating crumbs off the table that all we are willing to ask for is crumbs.

But if we start taking care of ourselves and asking for what we’re worth, we will make the whole improv community that much stronger.

This is something I need to keep re-learning. Whenever I’ve run into problems with people over money, such as the theaters I have taught for or performed at, it’s always the same thing: I have looked to them to take care of me, thinking they owe me something. But really, I had it backwards. We cannot look to others to take care of us. We are adults, and it’s time to stop looking for others to take care of us and instead for us to take care of ourselves by asking for what we want. If we do that, we all win.

I was once cast in live industrial show — an acting job for a corporate client — where four of us had to play the guys from the SNL’s Da Bears sketch. I had auditioned for it, and it went extremely well. That afternoon, my agent told me she was going to ask for $1,000 for me. As I hung up the phone, I immediately felt anxiety and fear because I did not ask for what I wanted. I was hoping the agent was magically going to take care of me. I was setting myself up for a resentment.

So I called a friend who suggested I call her back and tell her what I would like to be paid. I was scared shitless, but I did it. As my voice trembled, I said, “I would like to be paid $2,500.”

My agent seemed stunned, and balked a little at it. The next day, she called me back. Her voice seemed somewhat flat and professional, and she wanted to let me know that the client had agreed to the price.

My agent was also representing another actor who was kind enough to give me a ride to the gig, which was out by the airport. On the ride back to the city, we started to discuss what we were getting paid, and she said when our agent had originally called, she said the job was only paying $1,000, and then the next day she called and said it was $2,500. It never dawned on me that by me asking for more money that I would be helping my other cast members to get paid more as well.

Recently, it’s been all over the news that some of the cast members from The Big Bang Theory have renegotiated their contracts with Warner Brothers Television and are now going to be getting more than $1 million per episode for the next three years. And not only have the three lead actors gotten a raise, but all of the rest of the cast members on the show have gotten a raise as well.

I used to be one of those people who would be bitter and jealous that they are getting way too much. But today, I am happy for them. God bless them, because I am nowhere near that stratosphere, and those actors have raised the hopes and the bar for everyone in the comedy-acting-improv community. By them asking for more, it paves the way for the rest of us who come along after to make better money as well.

Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting get it. They have put self-worth on what they are doing, and for that, I applaud them, even if we still struggle to do it ourselves.

Good news! Jimmy has two levels of Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy starting this fall: Mondays from 6:30-8:30 p.m. starting Sept. 8, or Saturdays from 12-2 p.m. starting Sept. 13. Only $249 if you register before Aug. 25. Sign up today!