Late Night Hosts Feast on Sweat of Poor Comedy Drones

Oh, to write jokes for one of those late night TV shows! Seriously, please, let me do that. Those staff writers get paid. But the freelancers get totally screwed!

See, you can't expect the combined efforts of a highly paid writing staff and a ridiculously highly paid star comedian TV host to be enough to come up with five minutes of jokey monologues every night. So most big time late night shows—from Leno and Letterman to SNL—buy jokes from freelancers, for pennies.

Johnson says he has gotten more than 160 of his jokes on the "Late Show With David Letterman" and, before that, "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

The 39-year-old is part of an underground network of comedy writers who supply the late-night programs with a constant stream of material. If one of their jokes gets on the air, they get a check for $75 or $100. What they don't get is any credit or union pay.

This pisses off the writers guild, but they can't do too much about it, because the shows don't mind it, and the writers are so dazzled to get their material on air they don't complain. But here's the benefit of union membership:

While the guild's contract permits the hiring of freelancers, it requires that they be paid union minimums — $3,215 for a comedy sketch under 10 minutes — if they are employed as professional writers on a guild-covered show.

$3200 for one little sketch. Good money, right? (PAUSE) Yea, or as Bill Gates calls it, "Pocket Lint."
(PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER).
Call me, Jay!
(PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER).
[LAT]