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February 1, 2013 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Last week a debate erupted in the US comedy community between stand-up comedians (like Kurt Metzger and Mike Lawrence) and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater about the fact that at none of their three theaters pay any of their performers (including UCBEast in New York, which often has Saturday Night Stand-up shows). Other comics such as Chris Gethard eloquently came to their defense. This week two of the founders Matt Besser and Matt Walsh released an episode of Besser's pocast Improv for Humans that goes into details about the club's philosophy, including why they have never taken any money from founding and running the theater.

Another good round-up of the intricacies of the issue: on Laughspin.
posted by Potomac Avenue (68 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
If nothing else, this has taught me that people can make anything into a "controversy."
posted by dogwalker at 10:18 AM on February 1, 2013


Over the phone, Besser said that maybe a weekend stand-up show unfairly competes with a venue like a comedy club — which the UCB is not. “We are considering moving it off the weekend or making it $5 or free instead of $10,” he said.
Sounds like a performer made a valid complaint and UCB is taking action on that complaint. Not everything has to be a controversy.
posted by muddgirl at 10:19 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always assumed the nominal $5 or $10 (or free) admission just covered the cost of the venue. Did people think that money went to the performers?
posted by smackfu at 10:20 AM on February 1, 2013


I always assumed the nominal $5 or $10 (or free) admission just covered the cost of the venue. Did people think that money went to the performers?

$10 times a couple hundred people twice a night a few times a week = a lot of money
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up in LA, and spent many weekends going to the UCB theater in LA. The only reason I was able to afford going to often was due to the dirt cheap prices.

Not only did the prices allow me to experience ANY comedy, but it also let me experience a wide range of shows and performers. Because the shows were so cheap, I was comfortable sitting through a show that wasn't what I was used to, or what I was expecting, (or wasn't good, for that matter.)

I'm really thankful for the UCB for allowing me to enter into that world. I support them in what little way I can - by consistently buying and losing a UCB sweatshirt every year or so.
posted by justalisteningman at 10:25 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Whatever. Punk rock clubs charged $5 growing up, bands always got paid, even without alcohol sales. I find it hard to believe a successful standup club couldn't pay their performers...
posted by ph00dz at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If nothing else, this has taught me that people can make anything into a "controversy"

Bosses not paying their workers is a thing these days, they're supposed to be grateful for the "opportunity" or "experience" or "contacts." Expecting that employers would provide you with such valuable services for free as part of your employment is old-fashioned thinking. Get used to it, get with the times, your turn is coming soon.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


$10 to see Tina Fey? Wow.
posted by boo_radley at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2013


They don't have to pay to perform? For a musician in Los Angeles, it sounds like a bargain.
posted by malocchio at 10:33 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


UCB should expand into music and have Amanda Palmer perform.
posted by zippy at 10:34 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


How expensive is their rent? NYC isn't cheap, right?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:35 AM on February 1, 2013


$10 times a couple hundred people twice a night a few times a week = a lot of money

Rent in a place like New York or LA = a lot of money

On edit looks like Blazecock was on the same track!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:35 AM on February 1, 2013


Bosses not paying their workers is a thing these days, they're supposed to be grateful for the "opportunity" or "experience" or "contacts." Expecting that employers would provide you with such valuable services for free as part of your employment is old-fashioned thinking. Get used to it, get with the times, your turn is coming soon.

They should just scrap the whole fucking thing. If society doesn't want to pay for amateur comedic performance then fuck society, right? Should I insist on a union contract if I play the clown at my niece's birthday party too?

It's a bunch of people trying to keep a bunch of less than stellar theatres from falling apart so that they can promote their craft and make it more accessible. Not everyone is a capitalist dog out to exploit the proletariat.
posted by Talez at 10:36 AM on February 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bosses not paying their workers is a thing these days, they're supposed to be grateful for the "opportunity" or "experience" or "contacts."

I don't see how this translates to the UCB. The standups aren't employed by the theater. The theater owners are not personally profiting from the shows (as discussed in the podcast linked). They aren't the comics' "bosses."

The standups don't like that the theater doesn't pay them? Fine. Nothing requires them to perform there, and there are many other venues.

I wish comics would take such a hard stance against bringer shows.
posted by dogwalker at 10:36 AM on February 1, 2013


NYC isn't cheap, right?

In the podcast they mention that it took two years and total of 1 million dollars expended in rent and other fees in order to open this third theater. 1 million before the theater even opened. Damn.

The standups aren't employed by the theater.

There are many people employed by the theater though in admin positions, and according to the podcast they all get full benefits and retirement programs.

The standups don't like that the theater doesn't pay them? Fine. Nothing requires them to perform there, and there are many other venues.

This is the rub though--when UCB was tiny it didn't matter but when they have a packed house of people going to see great standup comics on Saturday night for $10 when Gotham comedy club pays well but charges $25 in order to pay, the traditional comedy venues are going to suffer. What a single club does affects what other clubs do and pay for, especially as UCB becomes more and more popular as a tourist attraction to folks exposed to the name through podcasts and online sources. It's a real problem! Besser recognizes that on the podcast.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:43 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is the rub though--when UCB was tiny it didn't matter but when they have a packed house of people going to see great standup comics on Saturday night for $10 when Gotham comedy club pays well but charges $25 in order to pay, the traditional comedy venues are going to suffer. What a single club does affects what other clubs do and pay for, especially as UCB becomes more and more popular as a tourist attraction to folks exposed to the name through podcasts and online sources. It's a real problem! Besser recognizes that on the podcast.

Gotham's going to be super pissed when they find out professional comics are available on-demand and for free on Netflix.
posted by Talez at 10:56 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Joker sets are killer.
posted by kmz at 10:58 AM on February 1, 2013


Will Franken tried passing the hat after a performance at Upright Citizens Brigade in 2008. Critic Chloe Veltman commented "I think UCB should make its non-payment policy plainer to its clientele. One solution could be for club to be upfront on its publicity materials and programs that prices are low in order to provide a platform for artists and enable audiences to experience great performances for very little money. If audiences are clear as to why they're only paying $8 for a ticket, then it wouldn't be such a bad thing for the venue to place a collection box on stage or by the door on the way out."

While UCB's Anthony King claimed (in a comment on the first link) Will had not been banned, I don't know that he's performed there since.
posted by larrybob at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are many people employed by the theater though in admin positions, and according to the podcast they all get full benefits and retirement programs.

Right. Are those people complaining?
posted by dogwalker at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2013


They are not? Unsure of what your question means... I was furthering the distinction between "performers" and "employees" that the club and some folks here were making.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:06 AM on February 1, 2013


It's a bunch of people trying to keep a bunch of less than stellar theatres from falling apart so that they can promote their craft and make it more accessible. Not everyone is a capitalist dog out to exploit the proletariat.

I once got paid $50 for coming in second in a Poetry Slam. Headliner slam poets make from a couple dozen to a couple hundred bucks, taken from the door, as well as what merch they can sell. The venue makes money from either a take of the door, selling drinks, or they're a donor-supported non-profit.

If a poetry reading pays more than a sold-out standup gig, you better believe the fix is in.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:07 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was furthering the distinction between "performers" and "employees" that the club and some folks here were making.

Sorry, I thought you were correcting me.
posted by dogwalker at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2013


From what I recall, the UCB in NY didn't have a bar...just sodas. I assume a liquor license would be costly, on top of NY rent. And as for "bands always get paid" HAHAHAHA oh man.... (wipes tears from eyes). No, no they very often aren't when the door doesn't cover it/the bar owner is a sleaze. As so many are. And when you are paid, it's about two beers' worth.

I don't know what is most fair to do, honestly.
posted by emjaybee at 11:18 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well if you had read some of the links Slap*Happy they mention that the money that the theater gets on sold out weekend nights goes back into the operation of the club on other nights when 4 people show up.

Also your slam poetry night was in a bar: bars make money on high-priced drinks, not tickets, so they are willing to pay for a crowd (generated by promising winners of a competition money). (Also wait, did everyone at the gig come in second? Didn't everyone else at the competition not get paid?)

Instead of selling drinks and food in order to turn a profit overall, (though they do have cheap cans of beer that Besser does mention they could start providing weekend performers for free) the UCB puts all money it makes into letting artists develop their art for free (and at free or super cheap shows) when they are starting. It's similar to being a donor sponsored non-profit, except nobody wants to donate to a comedy theater (yet). Some of those artists become successful on weeknights and start to draw a crowd so they move to weekends and make those nights profitable. The total freedom (and free coaching) makes the high quality shows attractive to talent agents who come in and hire the talented people developed by the theater. Once those people become well known professionals, they drop in the club every now and then and talk about it, causing more people go to the theater as they hear about it.

The UCB could be seen as the success of a socialist economic model. Not sure it's entirely fair, but so far it has worked, and all the best non-standup comedy I have ever seen has been at the club (or several of the other clubs that have sprung up in the same area of Midtown.)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:21 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


(Full disclosure, I have a couple of friends involved in UCB, but I don't have a stake in this argument)

I think the goal of UCB is laudable, and it does foster an excellent creative environment. The only thing that would trouble me here is if Metzger didn't know that he wouldn't be paid. I gave the links a second review to be sure, but couldn't find mention of whether this was explicit in advance. (If I missed it, apologies). If he expected to be paid, and then wasn't, that's not cool. Even if he "should have known", per the culture of UCB, I think it's reasonable to expect them to be explicit (particularly since they are out of market).
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 11:22 AM on February 1, 2013


I think this is an interns built the pyramids situation where people who are financially secure don't have a problem with doing comedy as a hobby, but those who are actually trying to make a living doing comedy or who don't have the privilege of some other financial foundation are economically excluded.
posted by larrybob at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's similar to being a donor sponsored non-profit

Then they need to be a donor sponsored non-profit. The whole deal doesn't pass the smell test.

I've slammed at small art spaces and community theaters as well as boozy dives. The $50 prize I mentioned was for a slam hosted in a converted barn in a rural New England town - both the organizers and the venue were non-profit orgs. But this group, who runs standup venues in major cities, is not.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's part of a larger... I don't want to say 'feud', but culture clash... between stand-up culture and improv culture. I think that UCB thought they could bring their model to stand-up, but stand-up comedians usually don't go through the same collaborative training that improv comics do. The idea that more-successful shows will fund less-successful shows is sort of backwards from how stand-up comics have traditionally made money, where getting on stage is often a function of how many literal seats you can fill with friends/family/coworkers/acquaintances.
posted by muddgirl at 11:42 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


bands always got paid

this is so untrue that i would almost think you were purposefully joking. bands are often promised payment, but that number has a way of dwindling to nothing until you're successful enough to be picky about venues and refuse to play places where you are stiffed.

UCB should expand into music and have Amanda Palmer perform.

in case anyone missed it, amanda palmer paid all of her musicians for the theatre is evil tour. here's a good writeup by her bass player/orchestral arranger/opening act, the awesome jherek bischoff, on how it all went down.
posted by nadawi at 11:57 AM on February 1, 2013


Listening to the podcast now. Improv4Humans fell off my pod feed awhile back due to me not having enough hours in the day.

Some enterprising grad student could plumb podcasts like this for a pretty interesting "History of American Comedy post-1990" thesis.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2013


But this group, who runs standup venues in major cities, is not.

This is maybe neither here nor there, but the UCBs are not "stand up venues," they are almost uniformly venues for long-form improv comedy. UCBeast has a regular stand-up show once a week. This is similar to, but not the same as, the whole brouhaha over Mitzy Shore and the Comedy Store in the 1970's, except in minature.
posted by Falconetti at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2013


Thanks for bringing that up Faconetti! I don't know much about that labor dispute. Here's an excerpt from a book about it that I'm interested to check out.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:28 PM on February 1, 2013


(Also, the other person on the pod with Matt Besser is Ian Roberts, not Matt Walsh.)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been involved in community theatre and improv for decades.

Performers in both areas buy into the "we get paid in applause" concept. Speaking only of these two areas, the people who generally get paid a living wage are all behind-the-scenes people: box office employees, technicians, managers, publicity people and the like. People who get paid a decent stipend (but hardly a living wage) usually include designers, musicians, choreographers and directors. People who either don't get paid at all or get a small "respect" stipend are performers.

That's the community theatre business model for the most part. The people who are actually in front of the audience providing the actual entertainment don't get paid (or get like $100-$200 for a 16-24 performance run, plus 6-8 weeks of rehearsal). The people doing the invisible creative work (designers, directors, choreographers) get paid a bit (the last show I worked on, the set designer, for example, was paid $900 to design and build a small but professional black box set). The people doing the arguably-thankless tasks of ticket reservations, management, etc get paid a living wage with benefits.

In improv, its unusual for anyone other than a box office employee or a designer to get paid at all. Most money does go to paying rent or paying for the next show.

This is mostly true in our local stand-up community, too.

The time I got paid most for improv work was when I was with a "socialist" group that had no overhead. For like fifteen years, we split the door at every show (with a portion going back to the group so we could travel or buy matching t-shirts) and we all made beer and pizza money every time we performed. The venue we worked at took a very small cut because their philosophy was that the performers should take home the bulk of the money. They had a volunteer box office person (the owner of the venue) but weren't counting on us to keep them in business (the owner was wealthy - so basically this was like a patron system - so much for socialism). Oh, and our ticket price policy was always "pay what you want" so we could be accessible to as many people as possible.

That said, if there is rent, it has to be paid or bye bye venue. Keeping ticket prices low means that you can let more of the community in to see the show. You could possibly kick some money to the performers if you eliminated your staff and found volunteers - something many theatres do (and still usually don't pay the performers either).

Anyhow, long story short, not paying performers is sort of a backwards-ass way of doing things, since the performers in improv or stand-up *are* the people the audience is paying to see. As long as the bulk of performers believe "its an honor just to have the chance to be in front of an audience," they're not going to be getting paid in love dollars. To some extent, that gratifying ego burst that performers sometimes feel when they get a laugh or get applause trumps the need to, you know, quit the day job (or just to not have to pay for their own beer).
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:37 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to defend this business model, by the way. Its not unlike the American "waitresses need tips to survive" business model. Until the performers feel (recognize?) that they are being exploited, they have no reason to work to change the system. Performers think they're going to be discovered by Guffman and getting to leave Blaine. People also think they're one lottery ticket away from retirement. Delusion runs rampant in the human psyche.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:41 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


this group, who runs standup venues in major cities, is not.

FYI - I just checked the NY Department of State Website and looks like you're right:

Selected Entity Name: UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE LLC
Selected Entity Status Information
Current Entity Name: UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE LLC
DOS ID #: 2291531
Initial DOS Filing Date: AUGUST 24, 1998
County: NEW YORK
Jurisdiction: NEW YORK
Entity Type: DOMESTIC LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY
Current Entity Status: ACTIVE

Selected Entity Address Information
DOS Process (Address to which DOS will mail process if accepted on behalf of the entity)
UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE LLC
ATTN: ALEX SIDTIS
145 WEST 30TH STREET 4TH LR
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10001
Registered Agent
NONE
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:48 PM on February 1, 2013


(Also, the other person on the pod with Matt Besser is Ian Roberts, not Matt Walsh.)

Doh. I get them mixed up all the time actually.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:00 PM on February 1, 2013


Vaguely recall maybe Tina Fey's book that talked about how the improv theaters were mainly incubation for the traveling show, with lots of trying out iffy new material, and then once a show was good, they used it as a traveling show that did make a decent income because it was colleges and such paying the bill. Ring a bell?
posted by smackfu at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2013


Performers in both areas buy into the "we get paid in applause" concept. Speaking only of these two areas, the people who generally get paid a living wage are all behind-the-scenes people: box office employees, technicians, managers, publicity people and the like. People who get paid a decent stipend (but hardly a living wage) usually include designers, musicians, choreographers and directors. People who either don't get paid at all or get a small "respect" stipend are performers.


I'm pretty lapsed right now, but I spent something like a decade doing community theatre at the lowest levels. Which, to be clear, is not the UCB level. But when we were doing it, we flat out couldn't pay the performers, designers, director, tech or box office (the theatre we mostly used had a paid tech to supervise and paid management). All we managed to afford was pizza for the load in and a cast party after the run. After the first group split up after five years of shows, we had something less than $1000 in our bank account and just donated it to the theatre we performed in.

At that level, my thought process was always less that we were doing jobs for free, and more that we were doing a hobby, and were lucky/good enough to have random strangers come by and subsidize us. In my years of bike riding and book reading and taking language courses and cooking and everything else I did for enjoyment and personal growth, I never had somebody come by and offer to purchase me a new bike, just so they could watch me ride, or pay $10 towards my Spanish lessons so they could enjoy my conjugation of the irregular verbs.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:05 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


smackfu: That is the Second City Chicago business model, I believe.

Homeboy Trouble: That's because your speaking Spanish and riding a bike don't produce a thing people pay money for. Presumably, your theatre was providing entertainment to people that they were willing to pay for, hobby or no. I have a friend whose hobby is knitting. She sells her stuff online because that hobby produces a product that she can sell. Her sales pay for more yarn, just like your ticket sales paid for you to do more theatre. Different kinds of hobbies.

Obviously, YMMV in community theatre. My description reflects my experience.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:09 PM on February 1, 2013


Basically, all creative people are expected to do their thing for free now, and sell t-shirts to pay the bills. The future's so bright...
posted by Thorzdad at 2:09 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


YMMV, but in my limited experience our community theaters were all set up as non-profit organizations.
posted by muddgirl at 2:10 PM on February 1, 2013


Basically, all creative people are expected to do their thing for free now, and sell t-shirts to pay the bills. The future's so bright...

If we're going to false dichotomy and slipping slope logical fallacies can I point out the opposite alternative is to charge everybody royalties no matter your skill and professionalism?
posted by Talez at 2:14 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ours are non-profits, too, FWIW.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:14 PM on February 1, 2013


I personally think that if the improv shows are generating the kind of cash that's being suggested, the players ought be getting something. But as long as the pay arrangements are transparent to all parties, sit actor cavete, which Google Translate tells me is Latin for "Let the actor beware."

Also, there's a difference between community theater, which as several people have noted is basically a hobby or recreational activity for those involved and usually run as a not-for-profit, and a company or performance space run by a corporation, even if that corporate entity is small, artist-run, and well-intentioned.

A more apt comparison might be with small professional theaters that operate under specific arrangements with Actor's Equity. (These used to be called SPT agreements, but I don't know if that term is still in use.) Everybody involved with putting up the show gets paid something, but the actors' salaries are small, like maybe the rough equivalent of bar-band musicians' wages or maybe a little less.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 2:38 PM on February 1, 2013


Also, there's a difference between community theater, which as several people have noted is basically a hobby or recreational activity for those involved and usually run as a not-for-profit, and a company or performance space run by a corporation, even if that corporate entity is small, artist-run, and well-intentioned.

Yeah, the difference is that a for-profit corporation is, well, trying to make a profit apparently off the backs of free labor, while the non-profit isn't. I think it's less justifiable for UCB to try to distribute profit and expenses among shows than if they were a non-profit.

It's hard to argue that the UCB is a 'small professional theater.'
posted by muddgirl at 2:45 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


muddgirl, I should clarify - the theaters that I knew of with SPT contracts actually were set up as not-for-profit 501c3-type organizations, with the ability to accept tax-deductible contributions and so on. They were "professional" in the sense that people got paid, albeit a lot less than they would have if they were doing similar work for a larger theater company, whether for- or not-for-profit.

Still, I'm not sure what you mean by "it's less justifiable for UCB to try to distribute profit and expenses among shows than if they were a non-profit." Does that mean you think UCB should, or shouldn't, be paying their performers something? Not snarking here, I'm genuinely having trouble parsing your meaning.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 2:56 PM on February 1, 2013


Organizations like the UCB don't opt for non-profit status in large part because non-profit status is a huge pain in the neck. The only reason you would do it is if you would expect to get large contributions and want your contributors to get a tax deduction.

If donations aren't in the picture, it's pretty much all downside. Few goods or services are available to you at a discount, and some actually cost more. Especially in New York, governance requirements are burdensome -- to the point of threatening the founders ability to control the company if their required independent directors dissent -- and record keeping and reporting is a big hassle. Increasingly, the disclosures you make are public, while for-profit business records are private unless you're an SEC reporter. There's no tax deduction available to people who buy tickets -- and if you're running at a professional level (as UCB certainly aspired, and always has for its prime-night shows) in an industry where shows are usually for profit (certainly the case for comedy) you can get into UBTI, where the IRS treats you as taxable in any event
posted by MattD at 3:38 PM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having to answer to a Board of Directors alone is a reason to never, ever go non-profit if you're an arts organization. Its a nightmare.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:27 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hear ya, Joey Michaels. A not-for-profit board member horror story/cautionary tale: I know of a small not-for-profit theater company that, after ten years of operations, ran modest operating deficits of a few thousand dollars/year for a couple of years. (This is on a budget in the low six figures.) The company manager and artistic director were aware of the shortfall, but were repeatedly assured by the board that they'd put on a fund-raising event(s) to erase it.

Instead, when the time came to put up or shut up, the board members decided they just couldn't be bothered to follow through on their promise. They then basically used the debt as the pretext for pulling the plug on the whole organization, killing it over an amount that could have been raised pretty easily with one, or maybe two, reasonably successful events. A real screw-job, it was.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 7:33 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


i listened to the podcast. what i took away was that the UCB theater is kind of like insurance. they talked about how when they first got to new york it was very risky to put on a show. they would often loose money. many comedians could be in that situation. if you don't have the wealth to take kind of risk it would be a big deterrent to ever trying to be a full time comedian.

so, what the theater does is it gives you a low risk way to perform. you don't get paid, but you also won't loose thousands of dollars if no one shows up. you also get coaching, a professional staff, and a million other things you wouldn't think of.

near the end of the podcast they make the point that if that's not the type of thing you need in your career then you should probably perform at other places. if you can make a lot more money at another club, please do, and best of luck.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:16 PM on February 2, 2013


cost them a million dollars before they even opened the door

They're building up significant equity that's in their personal possession. It's a successful, name theater with a strong infrastructure, equipment, etc. that could sell for a lot. So it's disingenuous to say they're not taking money out of ticket sales.

they make the point that if that's not the type of thing you need in your career then you should probably perform at other places.

Just like any asshole boss saying, if you don't want 5 dollars a day for this dangerous, dirty work, just keep walking down the road cause there's plenty of others who'd be happy to have it.

Here in Portland, where there's a lot less money than NYC obviously, most comedy showcases pay you $10 or $20 for a gig ( about a dollar a minute, usually). If nothing else, it covers gas and a beer. They're taking in a lot less money than UCB, but they're run by other comics. There's no reason UCB couldn't do the same. It's amazing what a psychological and power-balance difference that pin money makes.
posted by msalt at 9:48 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here in Portland, where there's a lot less money than NYC obviously, most comedy showcases pay you $10 or $20 for a gig ( about a dollar a minute, usually).

That's the point. There's plenty of shows like that outside of Portland in places like LA and NY.

Why can't those shows do their thing and the UCB does their own thing? If you wanna do the paying shows, do them by their terms. If you wanna do a show at the UCB, then do a show on UCB terms. I don't get why that presents a problem.
posted by dogwalker at 2:11 AM on February 3, 2013


Because price gouging and taking advantage of workers is bad?
posted by msalt at 1:17 PM on February 3, 2013


But there's no price gouging involved. Their ticket prices are LOWER than everyone else. Some shows are free.

And their full time employees are not being taken advantage of.
posted by dogwalker at 8:54 PM on February 3, 2013


Point taken. I meant wage gouging. Same effect -- if you have an unnatural market advantage, you have the power to abuse people. Saying "go somewhere else if you don't like it" is not a good rationalization.
posted by msalt at 8:13 PM on February 4, 2013


Saying "go somewhere else if you don't like it" is not a good rationalization.

i don't see why not. if there are other shows you can perform at and get paid more then you'd be crazy to not do that. if you can't get an equivalent show at another place, then the UCB theater is giving you something you can't get anywhere else, and that something else has a price. you pay it though not being paid for a show. maybe you don't like the price, but that's a different issue.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:00 AM on February 5, 2013


How is that different from an abusive coal mine owner who is the largest employer in his Appalachian town? He's offering jobs that residents can't get anywhere else, too. Does that make it OK to pay too little, or allow dangerous conditions?
posted by msalt at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2013


Honestly, the coal mine thing seems like you're stretching.

I believe you know very well that there are legitimate differences between coal mining and performing comedy.
posted by dogwalker at 12:09 AM on February 8, 2013


The general principle is the same; an employer can have unbalanced power in a market. I was objecting to the statement, "If people don't like it, they can look for work elsewhere." That doesn't work because of power imbalance, as the history of capitalism has repeatedly shown.
posted by msalt at 12:11 PM on February 8, 2013


Are you saying that they have a monopoly on the comedy scene in New York and LA and that improv is a dangerous work environment?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:17 PM on February 8, 2013


it's different from coal mining because, hypothetically, a person who could maybe make money doing a show at another venue was subsidized in their early years by the people who came before them. they were able to put on a show without putting up a bunch of money up front, which they presumably wouldn't have been able to do without the UCB. they were in a sense over paid during this time because to do the same kind of show somewhere else they would have lost money. but, they were able to get better because they were able to put on the shows, so later on they could draw a crowed. the extra revenue they make pays for the up and comers who put on their own shitty shows.

so, it's essentially risk sharing over time. wit auto insurance you're sharing risk at the same time. the only difference between the UCB and your auto or home owners policy is that it's stretched over a longer period of time. a good analogy would be social security or medicare in the US. the people paying in now pay for the benefits of the people taking benefits now. it's a bit reversed with the UCB compared to social security because you receive benefits before you start paying for them. with social security you pay first and receive benefits later. a completely rational person would leave the UCB when they could make more money else where. So the people who stay either get some material benefit from staying on past the time when they are subsidized, or there is some emotional connection they fulfill by performing there even though they could make more money elsewhere.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:54 PM on February 14, 2013


Are you saying that no one would ever have made money in comedy in NYC without the UCB?
posted by msalt at 9:00 AM on February 16, 2013


no. i'm saying that for many people it would have been too risky to even try comedy seriously, or impossible to find a place to try *their* comedy. they spell it out pretty clearly if you actually listen to the podcast.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:59 PM on February 16, 2013


A nicely nuanced article in the New York Times on this today.

Matt Besser: "I don’t see what they [comics] do as labor. I see guys onstage having fun. It’s not a job.” What a douche. Prostitutes too, right Matt?
posted by msalt at 10:47 PM on February 19, 2013


I'm surprised you're still commenting here since metafilter isn't paying you to write.
posted by dogwalker at 6:37 PM on February 20, 2013


msalt, i don't really understand how you go from improv comedy to prostitution, could you explain?
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:37 PM on February 20, 2013


What one occupation does for a living other people consider a diversion. Comics, prostitutes, athletes, librarians, fisherfolk, chocolate testers, gold farmer, you name it.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:41 AM on February 21, 2013


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