Making ends meet in Los Angeles is no laughing matter.
Before taxes, a single adult needs to earn about $26,127 a year to cover typical expenses in LA, according to a 2015 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Most stand-up comedians who are starting in the business make nothing from their shows and have to supplement their income by having other jobs.
"It's really easy to look like you're doing good in comedy," said 21-year-old stand-up comedian Misha Parfenoff. "You make your little Instagram posts with your shows, but you're not getting paid for a single one of them."
The sarcastic yet sweet "typical white boy comedian" who hails from South Carolina makes most of his living by valeting part time at The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, where he makes $13.25 an hour, which amounts to roughly $17,808 to $21,624 per year depending on how many hours he gets.
Parfenoff has been pursuing his dream of being a stand-up comedian for the last seven months. The most he's made from a gig is $50. At this point, he doesn't mind working his day job.
"I wear a gray tunic and I get up at like 5 in the fucking morning and I park these wealthy people's cars. I like cars, but people treat you like garbage. I still kind of like it because I can tell people I'm doing something gritty," he said.
Parfenoff's friend and fellow stand-up comedian Jenn O'Brien recently started her career as well.
O'Brien, 23, is a special needs assistant at a local school. She makes $9,000 a year. The San Jose native, who has been doing standup for six months, has yet to make any money from her latest stand-up venture. She isn't letting the lack of payment stop her from hitting the stage at opens mic events offered by places like Grounded Cafe or Flappers Comedy Club.
The sassy blonde does nannying, catering, background work on sets, or any other job she can get to make rent.
"It gets tough," O'Brien said. "Especially during the summer when I'm not teaching I have no steady income, and so I just had to do a bunch of like background work."
Even more experienced comedians have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Brandie Posey, 32, is an eight-year veteran of the Los Angeles comedy circuit who resides in a trailer park in Eagle Rock. The pint-sized, periwinkle-haired rule breaker moved to the city from the East Coast around 10 years ago. In recent years, she has started traveling and performing at bigger festivals like the New York Comedy Festival.
"The last three or four years I've been spending half my time in town and half my time on the road," she said. "When I'm on the road I do shows every night of the week. When I'm here I'll do three or four because you don't actually get paid to do comedy in L.A."
Posey makes $13,000 a year from her various comedic ventures (which include a podcast, album, and residuals from appearing on television), $15,000 a year as a bookkeeper, and an additional $7,000 from odd jobs like being a Lyft driver for a total of $35,000 a year.
"If you're a semi-professional comedian in L.A., that means you're a Lyft driver," she said with a laugh.
With a wealth of experience under her belt, Posey knows how important it is to stay on top of finances.
"When you're a stand-up you're your own business, a lot of people don't think of it that way, but no, you have to know how to do your own taxes and all of this stuff or else you get Wesley Snipped [Snipes, a famous actor turned federal inmate who went to prison for tax evasion in 2010] down the line, and jail's not that funny," she said.
Why wouldn't a city with such a thriving comedy scene pay young comedians?
"I think the big reason is that these cities [New York and Chicago] are considered workshop cities," Posey said. "So you work on material in the big cities and once it's polished you take it on the road and that's where people pay. In L.A. there are so many comedians here the bookers know they don't have to pay."
Additional costs can add up quickly when comedians are paying for necessities such as rent, gas, parking and food. While many stand-ups, including Posey and O'Brien, take costly classes to help master their craft, Parfenoff has decided to learn on his own.
"I don't want to spend money to do this. I feel like I love it and I'm not going to stop doing it and I'm going to learn," he said. "I listen to all of the podcasts and I read all of these interviews and I listen to every special that comes out and I know that like, a language, I can learn this and I don't think I need to pay to do that."
When the harsh realities of making ends meet every month come to light, some take drastic measures to continue paying for their dream.
O'Brien was a sugar baby for a short time in order to pay her bills. She had a her male companion, whom she found on Seeking Arrangement, a dating site built to help wealthy older men find young women to date in exchange for money or gifts. He would buy her things, which she would then return for cash to make rent. O'Brien insists that she never had sex with her sugar daddy, though many sugar babies do.
"You move down here and s–t gets real. I'm trying to fund my career. I'm trying to do anything possible, and sometimes you sink into those realities where sugar babies are now a thing," she said. "At a certain point I realized this is not who I am. Everybody has this idea, like get some extra money on the side, it's not a big deal, you're young, you're free, you're independent, do what you want, but at the end of the day you don't feel too great about it."
O'Brien, Parfenoff and Posey are all passionate performers who are willing to work tirelessly to reach their goal of being top comedians.
In most cases, young stand-ups are not laughing all the way to the bank, but that is a reality that they accept in order to live in Los Angeles and be a part of its unique comedy landscape.
"I'm busy all of the time, I would love it if someone would buy something from me so I could take a nap," Posey said. "The one thing I miss is sleep more than money."
Reach Staff Reporter Heather Kemp here.