Bill Stiteler Made About $70 Last Year and He’s Thrilled

by Sarah Salovaara

Bill Stiteler is a comedian living in Queens. So many people move here to try their hand at that starving artist bit, but only a select few persevere. Bill is one of those few. Sarah Salovaara talked to him about how he does money.

Sarah: Hi, Bill Stiteler, please tell us about yourself.

Bill: 99/?/Mars

Sarah: Stop.

Bill: Okay. I’m a 24-year-old male, comedian, living in Queens.

Sarah: How much money do you make from your stand-up work?

Bill: Currently $30-$100…a year.

Sarah: And how many shows do you average a week?

Bill: 5–10.

Sarah: Are you pleased with your earnings?

Bill: From stand-up? Yes.

Sarah: So, when there is a cover charge for a show, where does all that money go? Straight to the club?

Bill: In New York, you sacrifice making money for stage time. Most of the shows I do are free, and not at comedy clubs. The compensation is an audience of actual people. It’s not all without reward, though. I get paid in things like drink tickets and cookies.

Sarah: On what occasions do you make money from stand-up?

Bill: The occasional NYC bar show will charge a cover and give you a little piece of the door ($10–20.) If you’re working comedy clubs in Manhattan, you’ll get paid for a spot, but those gigs go to pro comics. The real money in stand-up is not in NYC, but on the road. I’m doing my first big road gig this Saturday in Philadelphia at Connie’s Ric Rac. I’ll take a percentage of what they make off the door, then split it up between the other comics I’m bringing.

Sarah: So when you do a show out of town, are you expected to pay your way there?

Bill: It all depends on the venue. The clubs are more likely to pay for your lodging and travel, whereas bars will just give you a percentage of the ticket sales. But Connie’s found us a place to sleep, so our only expenses will be food and gas.

Sarah: Why do you live in New York if the money isn’t here?

Bill: This is where stage time is. At my level — two years in — that’s a gazillion times more valuable than money. I’m surrounded by the future of stand-up comedy, and that pushes me to be better/funnier every day.

Sarah: When you moved here in 2011, how did you make a living?

Bill: I had just dropped out of college and got the first job I could find at The Paris Theater. I made $7.50 an hour, working 35–40 hours a week, and lived off that for a year.

Sarah: What did you do at the Paris?

Bill: Usher, concession, box office.

Sarah: How did you budget? What were your day-to-day expenditures?

Bill: My rent was $550 and the unlimited MetroCard was $96. I worked it out so I could spend $7–10 a day, because my only expense at the time was food. I’d make two terrible meals a day at home with items I could buy in bulk. Usually oatmeal with LOTS of peanut butter for breakfast, and whole-wheat pasta with zucchini for dinner. I’d eat one cheap meal out a day for lunch. Typically, a $5 item from a halal cart, or a $5 Subway sandwich.

Sarah: And you didn’t have any loans to pay off, correct?

Bill: Right. My mom was paying for my tuition up to that point. (I love you, mom.)

Sarah: Did you ever splurge on something, or is your self-control that impressive?

Bill: I couldn’t splurge, I would’ve starved! (Not really, my parents would’ve helped me out a little.) I remember I broke my budget one week to buy a $20 subscription to a paid podcast called “Never Not Funny.” But I did the first year here without things like A/C and new clothes, I was living out of suitcase and had a burner cell phone.

Sarah: A burner cellphone?


Sarah: What was your financial situation growing up? Was this lifestyle a huge change for you?

Bill: I grew up lower-middle class in a tiny house in the South Side Flats of Pittsburgh. I had a small room so lack of space doesn’t bother me. If I was making what I make now back home, I’d be very comfortable. $7.50 an hour back in Pittsburgh is fine. The cost of living in New York is insanity, but if you’re in comedy you have to be here.

Sarah: You weren’t running around with mom’s credit card at the mall.

Bill: Good God no. I’d get new clothes at Christmas and Back to School shopping.

Sarah: After a year at the Paris, you got a new job. What was it?

Bill: I got a job as the scoreboard operator for The Newlywed Game.

Sarah: And how much were you making then?

Bill: $125 a day, at 4 days a week.

Sarah: How did your spending patterns change? Were you still as thrifty?

Bill: After the first paycheck came, I immediately went to the movies and bought a FULL PRICE ticket for Moneyball. I almost cried. The Newlywed Game job was only for 2 1/2 months, so I knew the money would eventually run out. I tried to save as much as possible, but I have to admit to getting a new pair of shoes and a new pair of black jeans. Crazy, right??

Sarah: Did you do laundry when you worked at the Paris? Be honest.

Bill: I 100 percent did. I got my laundry costs down to $4.50, I had a system. I’d load up two washers with whites/colors $1.75 each. Then put everything together in the same dryer with a dollar’s worth of time. HIGH heat.

Sarah: Where are you working now?

Bill: I work for a company that lights television shows. It’s a great job, 9–5, salary, benefits, free MetroCard, vacation days.

Sarah: So you have a savings account now?

Bill: No, I still do it all in checking. I now budget my life to $10–20 a day on food, and I have someone wash my laundry. High life.

Sarah: Are you happy with your standing? Do you think your path would be different if you stayed in school?

Bill: 100 percent happy, I’m completely on the right path. If you want to do comedy, I believe you have to have an “all in” attitude; I have given myself no choice but to succeed at it. I have no other options, no other marketable skills. You’re not going to learn to be funny in school: you’re either are or you aren’t. And if you are, you have to come to New York and prove yourself night after night after night.

Sarah: So, for you, it’s better than working a more traditional, high paying 9-to-5, while still devoting nights to stand-up?

Bill: Right. If I leave work, and the focus is still on my job, and not 100 percent on comedy, that’s a loss. More money = more responsibility. Right now, I’m at the very bottom of a company, basically a messenger, and it’s BLISSFUL. It pays for all my expenses, and I get to do the thing I love.

Sarah: Where do you see yourself in five, 10 years? Are you willing to live like this for as long as it takes to get your break?

Bill: In 5–10 years, I see myself making a living creating comedy. Whether it be as a stand-up on the road, or an actor, or working for a company that produces comedy. It takes years and years to develop your craft. Most comedians break in their late 20s, early 30s. It’s just soooo sooo hard, and takes a lifetime of effort. My hard work is already slowly starting to pay off, so I’m excited about the future!

Sarah Salovaara lives in New York.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.