How Dressing Up in a Funny Costume Could Earn You Money

Image: Costume Busking
Matt Neale under Creative Commons

Every part of him was painted silver, including his eyelids. A crowd gathered around him on a street corner in Baños, Ecuador. I dropped a coin in the slotted box at his feet and he jerked into motion, doing a robotic performance for a minute before freezing in some new position, waiting for the next coin.

It was a great show, but the guy worked way too hard for the few coins he made. And although the jugglers and guitar players we later saw in the streets of Boulder, Colorado made a lot more money, they must have practiced for years. Then a busker in San Francisco made it clear that you can make money as a street performer without hard work or skills.

Ironically, he was another tall robot, but in a more complete costume, so he didn’t need to paint his skin. All he had to do to was put on his glitter-covered, seven-foot-tall, purple alien robot suit.

He didn’t even perform in a traditional sense — he just walked up and down the sidewalks at Fisherman’s Wharf and attracted attention. People asked to have their pictures taken with him, and usually gave him a couple dollars as a tip (we did). I figure he made at least $20 per hour if he just worked the busy times at the wharf.

Is This the Easiest Busking?

Busking is performing in the street for tips, and includes playing musical instruments, doing magic tricks, singing, swallowing swords and so on.

I wouldn’t want to swallow a sword, and I can’t sing or play guitar. In fact, I hate the idea of putting on a show for people. So after years of enjoying street performances at home and overseas, I had never once thought about becoming a busker… until that day in San Francisco. The simplicity, total non-necessity of skill, and pockets full of currency immediately appealed to me.

How to Get Started

You’ll only need two things. The first is a good, attention-getting costume. You can probably buy one at a local costume store, or find one online. You can make one too, although just modifying an existing one to make it better is probably much easier.

Here are some possibilities for costumes that will attract attention and make people want to have their photo taken with you:

  • Robot
  • Zombie
  • Alien
  • Giant frog
  • Werewolf
  • Shark
  • Celebrity
  • President
  • Chimpanzee
  • Anything that’s related to your area — perhaps a giant ear of corn in a farming community, or an abominable snowman in a ski town

Of course, how much you can make depends on where you work. Join an online busking forum and you’ll find good advice on where to perform and how to deal with cities that regulate buskers. If people don’t get the idea, put a sign on your back that says “Have your photo taken with me; tips appreciated.”

Even if you live in a small town that isn’t very busy, you might still do this during festivals and other times when the streets are full. Or maybe you’re a bit too shy to perform where you live. In that case, drive to the nearest city that has streets full of tourists and start walking among them. Good luck!

Your Turn: Would you consider dressing up in a costume and having your photo taken with people for tips?