The Richest Comedians In The World

When Forbes listed the highest paid entertainers of 2022, only a minority came from the world of comedy. Previous lists of celebrity earnings showed similar trends, with the majority of individuals coming from film, music, television and sports.

However, comedy has long proved to be an enormous earner for those at the top. Over the last 40 years of so, comedians from Jay Leno and David Letterman to Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres have earned hundreds of millions of dollars through numerous comedic endeavors. Stand-up tours can see very handsome revenues, but it is TV syndication that typically generates the largest sums of money, often for years after a TV show has ended, providing entertainers with huge passive incomes. Also, several big names in comedy have made lucrative moves into digital broadcasting, signing multi-million dollar contracts with streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Here are the richest comedians in the world.

Seth MacFarlane: $300 million

Seth MacFarlane was 5 years old when he decided to become an animator (via Celebrity Net Worth). He published his first comic in the Kent Good Times Dispatch just four years later, earning himself a weekly $5 wage. By his mid-20s, after numerous creative projects and attendance at the Rhode Island School of Design, Fox gave MacFarlane $50,000 to produce an animated feature. Over the next six months, MacFarlane created a threadbare version of "Family Guy," and Fox executives were impressed. 

"Family Guy" premiered on January 31, 1999, and enjoyed good ratings, securing a second season. However, when ratings slumped, Fox cancelled the show in the summer of 2002. Cartoon Network soon took the baton, showing reruns that attracted a substantial following. DVD sales were very strong, too. Consequently, Fox invited MacFarlane to create a fourth season, which premiered in May 2005. Since then, "Family Guy" has gone from strength to strength, earning MacFarlane lucrative deals including a $100 million contract in 2009 and a $200 million agreement in 2020, according to Digital Spy.

MacFarlane has also directed films such as "Ted," "Ted 2," and "A Million Ways to Die in the West," which earned approximately $500 million, $200 million, and $80 million, respectively. In 2008, with "Family Guy" secure, MacFarlane bought a $13.5 million mansion in Beverly Hills. Years later, in 2019, he spent a further $15.7 million on a property in Malibu. Also, Digital Spy reported that MacFarlane had bought an exact replica of a DeLorean, the famous sports car featured in "Back to the Future." 

David Letterman: $400 million

A TV fixture for over 40 years, David Letterman has a net worth of approximately $400 million (via Celebrity Net Worth). Before "Late Night with David Letterman" and the "Late Show," Letterman got his break on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," according to Biography.

Letterman's brand of quirky self-depreciation and cynical wit proved to be a good match with Carson, who was loved for his quick humor as well as his affable nature. After several years as Carson's co-host, Letterman was offered the "David Letterman Show," which occupied the morning slot. The success of this show led to NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman," which premiered on February 1, 1982.

After 10 years of "Late Night," Letterman expected to replace Carson when he retired on May 22, 1992. However, Letterman was outmaneuvered by Jay Leno, who took the reins of the "Tonight Show" for over 20 years. According to Peter Lassally, "Dave really was very naïve about showbusiness ... he hated showbusiness people therefore he made the mistake of not having an agent." Leno, on the other hand, was a typical people pleaser who did all the right things to ingratiate himself with NBC management.

Despite his disappointment, Letterman would still do very well for himself. He moved to CBS in 1993, hosting the "Late Show with David Letterman" on August 30 of that year until the final episode on May 20, 2015 (via New York Times). The new show with CBS was a huge deal, doubling his salary to a reported $14 million per year contract.

Bill Cosby: $400 million

It is highly unlikely that the disgraced comedian will ever work again – but he doesn't have to. Bill Cosby is said to be worth an estimated $400 million, with much of this wealth generated by "The Cosby Show," which ran for 197 episodes from 1984 until 1992. The show had one of the biggest audiences in American television history. According to Forbes, the 1992 finale was watched by 44.4 million people, which was roughly 18% of the U.S. population at the time, which stood at around 250 million (via ThoughtCo). 

This immense popularity commanded a very high salary. In fact, at the height of his career, Cosby was the highest paid TV actor in the world, earning a base salary of $1 million and a further $3 million when his producer, creator, and syndication royalties were accounted for (via Celebrity Net Worth). Cosby invested his earnings wisely, building an art and real estate portfolio worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cosby's reputation was all but ruined when dozens of women came forward in 2014 and 2015, accusing the comedian of groping, sexual assault, and rape (via NBC). Convicted in 2018, CNN reported that Cosby would be locked up for three to 10 years. However, Cosby was released two years later after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction, according to CNBC.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Adam Sandler: $420 million

Adam Sandler's career has been a very mixed bag. After making his bones on "Saturday Night Live," Sandler became the proverbial mainstream comic actor with films such as "Billy Madison," "Happy Gilmore," and "Click." Sandler's Rotten Tomatoes page will show you that critics have not been kind to those films and many others, though. For example, Sandra Hall of Sydney Morning Herald wrote that Sandler was, "afflicted with the belief that we can't get enough of him." And in a damning assessment of "Jack and Jill," the consensus writer at Rotten Tomatoes opined that it was "impossible to recommend on any level whatsoever." However, no amount of critical scorn has stemmed the gushing flow of cash into Sandler's pockets.

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Sandler has earned regular $20 million pay checks. Even films that did not do good business, such as "Jack and Jill" and "That's My Boy," didn't Sandler all too badly, causing Forbes to list him as one of the most overpaid actors in the world.

In the last 10 years, Sandler has signed very lucrative deals with Netflix. His first was a four-film, $250-million contract in 2014, which he renewed in 2017. Critics savaged much of this output, but audiences flocked to it, streaming his content for some 500 million hours. Sandler has also bought property in Pacific Palisades, Malibu, Hawaii, New York City, Long Island, and New Hampshire.

Jay Leno: $450 million

Jay Leno has earned a fortune since he replaced Johnny Carson back in 1992. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Leno had earned a pre-tax salary of $320 million by 2009 from his eponymous TV show. He also earned a considerable stand-up wage during this period, which covered most of his expenses. In 2016, Leno told CNBC that his spending philosophy has "always been really conservative," adding that he "barely" uses credit cards and doesn't carry any debt: "I don't write checks at the end of the month for anything."

However, that hasn't stopped Leno from indulging. In addition to Seafair, a sprawling estate on the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, Leno owns an immense car collection that has been valued at around $100 million. The collection ranges from antique classics to modern marvels of engineering. Apparently, Leno's most prized automobiles include a 1963 Jaguar XK-E, 1968 Lamborghini Countach, 1955 Buick Roadmaster, and a 1994 McLaren F1, which has become a highly sought-after classic (via Hot Cars). After all, on August 14, 2021, CNBC reported that a McLaren F1 sold at a Pebble Beach auction for $20.5 million, which is among the highest prices ever paid for a car.

Byron Allen: $450 million

Like other American comedians, Byron Allen got a big break on the "Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," on which Allen featured at the age of just 18 (via Michigan Chronicle). Affable, easy going, and with a "clean" act, Allen was a hit. The precocious performer soon had a co-host gig on "Real People," a reality show that ran from 1979 to 1983. Allen also performed stand up during this period.

However, Allen's net worth was not built in front of an audience. Rather, it was created by a canny production career. Allen founded Entertainment Studios in 1993 and familiarized himself with the media landscape, interviewing entertainment figures on his show, "Entertainers With Byron Allen." Since then, Entertainment Studios has distributed numerous shows such as "Comics Unleashed," "The First Family," "Cars.TV," and "America's Court With Judge Ross." Change came in the 2010s, when Allen's company acquired The Weather Channel and Freestyle Releasing, the latter of which is a film distribution company with ties to Netflix (via Deadline).

Not everything has been smooth sailing, though. In December 2021, a U.S. judge dismissed a $10 billion lawsuit Allen had filed against McDonald's. Allen had accused the fast food chain of discriminating against African American media. U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin, however, ruled Allen had failed to prove intentional and purposeful discrimination (via Reuters).

Ellen DeGeneres: $500 million

Once dubbed the "female Seinfeld," Ellen DeGeneres rose through stand-up gigs, sitcoms, and a syndicated chat show to become a leading American comedian (via The Guardian). Her sitcom "Ellen," which followed an anxious LA book store owner, was admired by audiences and critics alike.

No doubt a wealthy woman by the end of the 1990s, DeGeneres would become truly rich with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," a syndicated chat show that ran from 2003 until 2021 (via Celebrity Net Worth). At the show's peak, DeGeneres was earning $50 million a year, which worked out at roughly ​​$287,356 per episode, according to Parade. In 2018, Forbes reported her income as $84 million, boosted by other revenues streams such as a $20 million Netflix special.

DeGeneres and her wife Portia De Rossi have a flair for buying (and flipping) property. Since 2007, the couple have spent tens of millions of dollars on houses in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and especially Montecito, an area in which DeGeneres and De Rossi own numerous luxury properties.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone: $500 to 700 million

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have respective net worths of $500 million and $700 million (via International Business Times). Few could have anticipated such fortune 30 years ago when Parker and Stone met at the University of Colorado at Boulder. According to Cheatsheat, the pair spent much of their time making jokes and mischief together, often annoying others with their in-jokes.

They channeled their humorous chemistry into creative projects such as "Cannibal! The Musical," "Orgazmo," and "BASEketball." It was "South Park," however, that would see their careers take off. It began with "Jesus vs. Santa," a pilot episode featuring the lead characters Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick. The five-minute short impressed Comedy Central executives, who commissioned further work from Parker and Stone.

Since its debut on August 13, 1997, "South Park" has run for over 300 episodes. This longevity has proved immensely lucrative for Parker and Stone because of a prescient clause in their contract. Celebrity Net Worth reported that back in 1997, Parker and Stone's lawyer wrote a clause that the creators would get a 50% cut of all revenue generated outside of television broadcast. This, of course, was perfect for digital streaming, which has earned Parker and Stone millions of dollars in advertising revenue. Their well was compounded further in August 2021, when the pair signed a $900 million deal with Viacom, which secured the show through to 2027 along with 14 "South Park" spinoff movies (via Indiewire).

Matt Groening: $600 million

As Matt Groening worked menial jobs across Los Angeles, he worked on a comic strip called "Life In Hell," which become a something of an underground hit in the city (via AV Club). The buzz around "Life In Hell" grew until it reached film and TV producer James L. Brooks, who commissioned Groening to make shorts for "The Tracey Ullman Show." This assignment led to the creation of the Simpson family, whom Groening drew in just 15 minutes, albeit in an odd, primitive form. This new yellow family got their own half-hour spin-off in 1989, beginning a pop culture icon that continues to this day. "The Simpsons" has enjoyed an almost omnipresent popularity. There has been a Simpsons movie, Simpsons comic books, Simpsons video games, a Simpsons theme park ride, and countless varieties of Simpsons merchandise, generating billions of dollars of revenue, according to Time.

Celebrity Net Worth reported that Groening owns several luxury properties in southern California, including a compound in Santa Monica. Initially, the estate was two separate properties, the first of which Groening bought for $11.65 million in 2011. Eight years later, in May 2019, the cartoonist spent another $11.9 million on the property next door. 

Larry David: $800 million

Perhaps best known for "Curb Your Enthusiasm," comedian Larry David also served as head writer and executive producer of "Seinfeld," a show that has generated dizzying amounts of money (via The Richest). According to Vulture writer Matt Giles, who described "Seinfeld" as having its own "multi-billion dollar economy," Larry David and his colleague Jerry Seinfeld can earn up to $400 million dollars from the sitcom's latest syndication cycles.

Among David's assets is an 11,000-square foot mansion in Pacific Palisades, which he shared with his ex-wife Laurie David. However, during a conversation about his divorce with Laurie, who took half his net worth in the settlement, David told Charlie Rose that estimates of his net worth were "ridiculous," adding, "it's absurd ... it's unseemly, I don't have that kind of money!" (via Business Insider). Still, even if the estimates are exaggerated, Larry David is unquestionably a very wealthy man. 

His wealth doesn't solve all of his problems, though: "I still, to this day, couldn't walk up to a woman at a bar and say hello." Despite his awkwardness, David married Ashley Underwood in October 2020. The couple had met through Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher, according to People

Jerry Seinfeld: $950 million

The sitcom "Seinfeld" generated vast sums of money, and the lion's share of it was taken by its creator, Jerry Seinfeld. As the show neared its end in the late 1990s, Seinfeld was earning $1 million per episode, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Most of his wealth, however, has accrued thanks to his 15% stake in the sitcom's syndication royalties. Before the $20 million comedy tours and $500 million deals with Netflix, Seinfeld spent 15 years working the stand-up circuit. Again, Johnny Carson played an instrumental part in his career when the chat-show host invited him to perform in May 1981, opening a floodgate of opportunities.

The enormous financial windfall that has followed "Seinfeld" has allowed Jerry and his wife Jessica to buy numerous properties across the United States, including a $32 million estate in East Hampton, New York. Other properties include a $4 million townhouse in New York City, a $7.5 million estate in Telluride, Colorado, and a $4.5 million warehouse at Santa Monica Airport, which houses part of Seinfeld's multi-million dollar car collection.

"I like money," Seinfeld told the New York Times, "but it's never been about the money." Instead, Seinfeld says he lives for consistent creativity: "I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That's it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it."