The American Nightmare

Wednesday May 9th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   One of the most unpleasant parts of the entertainment business, and self employment in general I suppose, is the need to go after delinquent accounts for past due payment. I’ve never handled it well, and have way more experience than I’d prefer. It’s a hassle, and rarely has a happy ending.

Unfortunately, I’m going through it again. It brings back all kinds of painful memories I don’t want to drudge up, but I can’t help it. It’s a nasty part of doing business, and I know I’m not the only one. I have a friend in the electrical contractor business and he said he’s dealing with it too.

The hardest part by far is keeping personal feelings out of it. I’ve always been one to do things in good faith, and when I make a deal I consider it to be binding. I’ve gotten stiffed several times by unscrupulous slugs, and I don’t handle it well. I find it to be a major hurdle and it irritates me.

It’s especially painful in the comedy business because we’re so vulnerable. We drive across the country in blind faith with the promise of being paid by someone we’ve usually never met. There are rarely if ever any written contracts, and most outsiders would view this as complete insanity.

I’d have to say I think they’re right, but that’s how it is in comedy and has been for as long as I have been doing it. People can easily get ripped off, and quite often do. Every comedian has ugly war stories of getting stiffed, and it stinks. But, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more than it has.

What stinks even more is that most booking agents don’t go to bat for the comedians, and they freely admit it. They usually get a booking fee from the club or venue, and that’s all they tend to care about. If there’s a problem with a comedian getting paid, too bad. There are hundreds more lining up to take whatever gigs are being handed out. It’s a buyer’s market, and they know that.

I’ve had clashes with a few bookers in my day, and it was a bitter pill to swallow to learn that I was the least important ingredient in the stew. Pardon me for thinking I might be due a modicum of respect for being one of the ones who provides the service that helps them make their living.

One situation that still infuriates me is how I had to fight for a bounced check to be paid not all that long ago, and the booker knew going in that the club was bouncing checks. He wouldn’t tell the comedians, and the situation got quite nasty. I’d been a good soldier for years, but apparently that wasn’t enough. He didn’t think twice about totally sticking it in my poop shoot and it hurt.

He didn’t even pay for my bounced check fees as he said he would, and then had his moron kid fire me via email and said they ‘wouldn’t need my services any longer’. Gee, thanks for all of the warmth and humanity. What about all the times I drove in a blizzard risking my life to make it to some horrendous gig at a sports bar in North Dakota so he could score his almighty commission?

Those times are all forgotten, and now there’s a new group of fresh meat to piss on and exploit the exact same way. It’s a vicious cycle, and most people don’t see it until it’s too late. I’m upset just thinking about it, but I’m one of the few that actually says anything. Most others just take the next gig, and hope it gets better. But it never does. This is the part of the business few people see.

Thankfully, there are a few shining exceptions who are a welcome breath of fresh air in a filthy rotten cesspool of a business – or what can be. Most times things come off as they’re negotiated. When they don’t, that’s where people’s true colors show. There are good and bad, just like life.

Zanies in Chicago has always been nothing but totally professional in the way they handle their business dealings. I’ve probably worked for them more than any other single source of work, and there has never been ONE problem as far as payment goes. I’ve always gotten paid, and have not had to deal with any unpleasantness like a bounced check or late payment. I do a gig, I get paid.

That’s how it should always work in my opinion, but a lot of things in life don’t always go how I think they should. It’s funny though how Zanies and I have been able to carve out a relationship all these years without the hint of a glitch while others and I clashed. It all seems so unnecessary.

Another example of a booker that I’d drive to the North Pole and back for is Tom Sobel out of Louisville, KY. Tom has always been above board to a fault, and goes out of his way to take care of the comedians who work for him. I haven’t worked nearly as much for Tom over the years as I have for Zanies, but I’ve had the exact same results. Everything he said he would do gets done.

Why is that so damn difficult? It shouldn’t be, but apparently it is. I wish Tom had more power and clout in this business, and if he did the comedy world would be different. But he’s chosen to live his life in Louisville, and unfortunately is just trying to hack out a living like everybody else.

Tom is the one who is negotiating the settlement of the particular situation I’m dealing with, as he was the one who negotiated the original deal. I went through him knowing he was ethical, and he wrote up a contract between me and the person who intended to hire me for the engagement at issue. It ended up being canceled on extremely short notice, and took everyone by total surprise.

Thankfully, there is a contract and things were all done above board. Tom would have received a commission, and he earned every penny of it. He was thorough throughout the entire process of negotiation, and I have no problem whatsoever paying someone to do it. It’s an insurance policy.

Now we’re going through the process of collection, and it’s shaping up to be a big time pain in every orifice imaginable. The guy who booked the show has sent a few emails implying he wants to pay us out promptly, but then disappears when we try to call him on it. It’s all a stupid game.

All Tom and I would like would be for the guy to write a check and move on. I wasn’t thrilled the gig got canceled, as I was looking forward to doing it. There was a class involved, and I put a lot of work into preparing a custom session for that weekend. I did my homework and then some.

All that aside, it’s not my fault it didn’t happen. It’s not Tom’s either. We did what we said we would, and I was ready to fulfill my end of the deal and make good on the deal we booked. Now we’re both holding the same flaming bag of dead skunks, and there’s no telling how it will end.

Will we have to go to court? Maybe. Will we get a dime? Who knows? This is all part of being self employed. Everyone wants to live the American Dream, but this is the American Nightmare.

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