© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kevin Hart And Amy Schumer: The New King And Queen Of Comedy

Kevin Hart was the most successful comedian last year. He's seen here speaking at the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners in Las Vegas.
Alberto E. Rodriguez
Getty Images for CinemaCon
Kevin Hart was the most successful comedian last year. He's seen here speaking at the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners in Las Vegas.

There are two "firsts" in the list of highest-paid comedians that was put out by Forbes on Tuesday: For the first time in a decade, someone other than Jerry Seinfeld tops the rankings; and a woman is in the top 10 for the first time, according to Forbes' tally.

Kevin Hart ended Seinfeld's decade of dominating the list of highest-paid comedians in decisive fashion, using his tour of huge venues to earn $87.5 million — roughly double the $43.5 million that Seinfeld, the next-most successful comedian on the list, made in the same period from June 2015 to June 2016, Forbes reports.

Amy Schumer is the first woman to break into the list of comedy's top earners, with $17 million netting her the fourth spot in the rankings. And like Hart — who says on his Twitter bio, "My name is Kevin Hart and I WORK HARD!!" — Schumer is building on her recent success.

Schumer, 35, is on a world tour that will send her to Australia later this year; like Hart, she's currently playing U.S. venues that normally host NBA games. Her book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, earned Schumer a $9 million advance last September and has become a best-seller since its release in August.

Hart, 37, is widening his exposure even more: He just launched a batch of for-pay "Kevmojis" that use his expressions to liven up smartphone texts, and his concert/action film What Now? will hit theaters on Oct. 14.

The earnings shuffle comes after years in which the path to comedy super-stardom followed a familiar pattern: Comedians make a career on the road, get a solid radio or TV break, and then maybe they parlay TV into the movies. The pattern worked for comedians from Milton Berle to Joan Rivers; from Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy to Jerry Seinfeld.

Although he's a star, Hart doesn't headline a TV show, and while ubiquitous in film, he's shy of being a matinee idol. Comedians like Hart and Schumer and others have broken the mold by using social media, merchandising and the Web to speak — and sell — directly to fans.

For Hart, here's how Forbes' Madeline Berg explains his huge year:

"In the 12 month period, Hart played over 100 shows with an average gross of over $1 million at each stop. And these shows aren't at dingy comedy clubs; Hart played stadiums and arenas, including Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center. Because the stand-up comedian's set requires little more than a stool, water bottle and microphone, he takes home a larger cut of that gross than most rock stars would."

Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade publication Pollstar, tells Berg, "Only a few comedians [are] capable of playing sports arenas the way that Kevin Hart does."

The short list of comedians who can fill an arena now includes Schumer — whose show at Washington, D.C.'s Verizon Center was recently reviewed by The New York Times.

"It's been an insane year," Schumer is quoted as saying onstage. "I've gotten very rich, famous and humble."

Forbes' rankings require concert sales to account for most of the stars' revenue from one summer to the next. But both Schumer and Hart are also cashing checks from Comedy Central — in her case for Inside Amy Schumer, which will see its fifth season next year, and in his case for Hart of the City, a new show about comedy on the road that's set to debut Sunday.

With Seinfeld in the second spot, the Forbes top five also includes Terry Fator at No. 3 with $21 million — due to his successful career in Las Vegas — followed by Schumer. At No. 5 is Jeff Dunham, with $13.5 million.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.