Smart Money Moves for a Stand-Up Comic
How spending cautiously, plus a little help from Mom and Dad, paid off in the long run.
In 2009, Nora Nolan (pictured at left), then 26, was preparing to leave her job as an accountant in Washington, D.C., to pursue a career as a stand-up comic in New York City. Before making the leap, she asked Kiplinger’s for advice on how to manage her finances in the unpredictable world of stand-up. Our advice: Crash at Mom and Dad’s Manhattan apartment until you get on your feet, spend cautiously, and don’t forgo health insurance.
Seven years later, Nolan has a promising career as a comedy writer in Los Angeles, with TV sitcom pilots and numerous web-series episodes to her credit. Recently, she was one of 75 writers to make the first cut in a pilot-writing competition that attracted 1,600 submissions.
Nolan took our advice when she arrived in the Big Apple. She crashed at her parents’ place for several months, and she purchased health insurance—despite the high price of individual coverage in New York (in her case, $500 a month). Eventually, she got a job at Lambda Legal, a nonprofit that advocates for gay and transgender people. The job provided generous health coverage on top of a steady paycheck, and the 9-to-5 hours meant she could still do stand-up at night.
Nolan branched out into comedy writing after taking a class in television writing at New York University. Part of the decision was pragmatic: “Comedy writing for TV is much more stable than stand-up, and you can make a lot more money,” she says. She left her job at Lambda Legal and did freelance work as an accountant, but she continued her health insurance under COBRA, the federal law that allows former employees to extend group coverage for up to 18 months. Under COBRA, she paid the full premiums, which ran her a steep $1,200 a month.
Nolan headed to L.A. in 2013, after being persuaded by her writing teacher that she couldn’t make a living as a comedy writer in New York unless her name was Tina Fey. She found her first gig through a friend of a friend, writing web videos for a production company. That job led to others, including collaborating on Written Off, a TV pilot currently available on Amazon Prime.
Nolan still does stand-up and takes writing classes, and she has joined an improv group. “The culture out here is to meet as many people as you can and be in the right place at the right time as often as possible,” she says. Another secret to making it as a comedy writer? Being an accountant. That job provides about 75% of Nora’s income; comedy writing makes up the rest. As for health insurance, she found affordable coverage when she married Hilary Meyer and got on her wife’s plan.