Akaash Singh is a nationally touring stand-up comedian who has appeared on “Wild ‘N Out,” “Joking Off” and “Guy Code” on MTV2. He also has a podcast, “Flagrant 2.”
His rise to fame hasn’t always been easy. He admits to struggling financially and almost quitting comedy forever last year. But he stuck with it. Here’s his take on what it’s like to manage money as a comedian.
Our conversation with Akaash Singh is the latest edition of Ask a Genius, our regular series of talks with brilliant people. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Did you always want to do comedy?
I was originally pre-med in college. People always used to tell me, “You’re not going to be a doctor, you’re going to be a stand up comedian.” My best friend really pushed me to it. We went to college an hour-and-a-half away from each other, and they had a comedy open mic near him. He suggested I come down and try. I wasn’t great, in retrospect, but I remember the audience responded really well. They were laughing so hard at one point I couldn’t keep going.
When did you take the leap & make comedy your career?
When I graduated college, I had a year off applying to med school. I started to consider if I should give stand-up a try. I asked my mom what she thought, and she said, “I would rather you go and find out that you can’t do it than wonder for the rest of your life.” So that was it. I moved to Los Angeles and went for it.
What was life like back then?
My day job in LA was working at Verizon Wireless, which I hated. I was a salesperson, and I was the worst they’ve ever had. But I stayed with it for some time.
I was really good at saving money in L.A. I got a two-bedroom apartment with two other people, and shared the master bedroom with another guy. So I paid like $500 a month for rent. I took my ‘93 Civic with me out there, which I owned so I didn’t have to pay anything for my car. At one point I quit Verizon but still got unemployment checks, which allowed me to do comedy full-time.
I remember thinking I’m not going to stay in LA for more than a year. I was thinking, “I didn’t come here to work at Verizon.” But luckily I got that unemployment, so I could really do comedy.
Did you face any challenges?
I was kind of lost for a couple months this past year. I didn’t work for 11 months straight. I borrowed money from my parents for four, five months. It wasn’t fun at all. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it was only a little money and I lived so cheaply that my cost of living was pretty low.
When I was at my broke-est I was looking for a new place to live because the lease was up in my apartment. I was living in New York [City] at this point. My girlfriend wanted to move out to [New] Jersey. I abhor it here. However, it has allowed me to save. I save $600 to $700 on rent each month.
What is it like to have fluctuating income?
So when I was on TV, it in general doesn’t pay a lot. They will pay a decent wage per episode only if a network wants it. So you’ll get paid for what episodes you’re on, but you won’t know when your next paycheck will be. So you try to save and say, “OK I have three to six months of savings. Now I need a year.”
Freelancing is very difficult and you really need to prepare for that gap in income. It’s a weird mentality. When there’s work, you can kind of relax but when there’s not work, you start freaking out and thinking, “I’m going to go broke. I’m never going to work again.” Sometimes you’re wrong and there’s a check around the corner. But sometimes you’re not wrong. Also, since I’m considered a freelancer, I’m trying to save as much as possible because I have no idea how much in taxes I’m going to owe.
What things have you given up?
I stopped buying clothes. People now will send me clothes, high-end designer clothes. I remember when I first started out I was spending all my money on designer shoes, and now I look back on that with regret. I still buy shoes sometimes, but I’m only spending money on things I really need and shoes that are really comfortable that I’ll rewear on stage. I just try to cut out the stupid spending.
How do you do benefits?
I don’t have health insurance. I’ve had health insurance for one year out of the 11 I’ve been eligible. I’m not super healthy. But I’ve always had a good network of friends and family that help me out if something happens.
I realized I really need to start preparing for retirement. You’re supposed to start in your 20s, but to be honest I didn’t. And now I’m 35 and I have a little money saved up but not nearly enough. And I need to start to aggressively save to be comfortable when I retire. Luckily there’s no age you have to be to retire, but still you need to be conscious about building toward retirement.
Why do you choose to be a comedian?
I love the art of comedy. I love coming up with ideas that I get to push an audience with. I can’t describe it.
Last year when I wasn’t working, I thought about maybe doing something else. I have this girl that I love and I wanted to start a family. So I wondered if there is anything else I can do. But I don’t think there is. And that doesn’t mean I don’t want to take care of my future kids, but I just need to find a way to make both things work.
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