The Vast Wealth Inequality of Late Night

Should Seth Meyers step up to pay his fired band?
The Vast Wealth Inequality of Late Night

In Gary Gulman’s latest stand-up special, Born on Third Base, he rants about cartoonish income inequality, even within stand-up comedy. “Do you remember the guy who played Jerry on Seinfeld?” he jokes. “He’s in the same business, ostensibly, as I am, but he is worth over $1 billion.” 

Seinfeld might be a better comedian, Gulman says. But “is he $999,911,000 better than me? And now, you know my net worth. About $89,000, if you consider my security deposit to be an asset.” 

The subject of income inequality in comedy came up again this week when NBC announced it was cutting costs by firing the 8G Band from Late Night with Seth Meyers. It’s hard to say how much money the band made — I’m guessing less than the reported $1 million for the Roots on The Tonight Show — but given late-night hosts’ traditional hefty salaries, one inevitable question has to be asked: Couldn’t Seth Meyers give up one of his millions to help out his pals?

There’s a big disparity between what late-night hosts earn compared to their staffs. Glassdoor estimates that the average production staffer on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon makes about $61,000 a year. Fallon’s salary is about $16 million, enough to pay approximately 262 of the staffers that make his show possible.

Of all the late-night hosts, or at least the ones in Strike Force Five, Meyers earns by far the least. His reported $5 million a year lags way behind the estimated $15-16 million salaries for Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert. And it’s not within shouting distance of the $30 million deal John Oliver has at HBO.

But still. Five million is five million. It’s more than you (probably) or I make. Why can’t Meyers just make up the shortfall?

There are a few reasons. For one, few viewers tune in to Late Night to watch Syd Butler thump that bass in the 8G Band. That’s not to devalue Butler’s musical prowess, but Meyers deserves more money because he’s the reason people watch. Does Meyers merit 10 times the money? One hundred times the money? Now we’re in tricky territory.

Consider this, though: If the Los Angeles Dodgers decide to lay off 10 groundskeepers, should Shohei Ohtani, he of the 10-year, $700 million contract, step in and pay the guys who groom the infield? He can certainly afford it — the disparity between what Ohtani makes and what groundskeepers make is much wider than the gap between Meyers and the 8G Band.

But the people who should actually pay the hypothetical groundskeepers are the freaking Dodgers. The organization’s 2023 revenue was $581 million. The team is valued at $4.1 billion. Ohtani steps in to pay the laid-off workers? The Dodgers would love it — more money for them!  

So back to Seth Meyers. Who should pay the band — Meyers giving up some of his $5 million take, or NBCUniversal, which last year hauled in “approximately 8.6 billion U.S. dollars in domestic advertising revenue,” according to Statista? Note that that figure doesn’t include global ad dollars, fees for licensing content to streamers, branded merchandise and all the other ways NBCUniversal makes cash. Now we’re talking real income inequality, with ad profits that could purchase 1,720 Seth Meyers clones.

Meyers seems like an okay guy; I wouldn’t put it past him to take a pay cut to save his friends on the show. But something tells me NBCUniversal would just pocket his giveback and tell the band to take a walk anyway.


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