Do I know the path of your typical stand up? Sadly not, but here's my guess as to how comedians progress in their careers:
Open mic/ new act comedy nights
Listed set nights
Opening slot/ mid slot in line ups
MC work/ support act
Festival run/named show
Show tour (regional then national)
Television work/ arena tours/ DVD releases/ world domination
I haven't done any research into this, it's just how I imagine the progression of a stand up using my knowledge of existing stand up acts and comedy shows. A lot of those things might happen out of order and I'm sure there are lots of things I've missed out, like corporate gigs for example.
The big question is where in all that do people start paying you? I think it's most likely around the MC/ support act point, but maybe before if people think your good enough to be part of a payed line up. What's the pay like? The general consensus is that you start off on very little, but when you are more established it can be anything from £100- £500 a show. Then the figures go crazy if you make the big time. To me stand up comedy has good job prospects, but like any job you have to work hard and of course be good at it. Only time will tell.
The more successful you get the more time you spend on the road. To make a living I imagine it involves an extensive amount of travelling up and down the country, to the point you spend the hours of a typical working day travelling. In my head stand up offers a way to make a living, with good prospects like any other job. But unlike most jobs you're not selling a product, you're selling yourself, I mean to say you are the product. There is probably a better way to phrase that.
I feel I can make something out of comedy, not just because I think I'm funny but because I am good at all the other things that need to go with it: publicity and marketing, web design, networking, video editing and publishing to name a few. I strongly believe I have what it takes to sell my product, but at the same time I need to keep realistic. It's all very well having these hopes and dreams but I understand at the same time that turning something that can be classed as a hobby (entertaining people) into something that can sustain you and allow you to do it more takes a lot of effort. It's just the same as my fellow fine artists leaving university and saying; 'right, now to make a living off all of this', it isn't going to happen overnight. Actors love to act but they don't all make money straightaway, musicians love to make music but it can take years to make a living off of it once you start. Like these other art forms comedy takes time, effort, a bucket load of enthusiasm and a bath full of belief. Of course this is all informed speculation, lets see what I'm saying in a months time!