A comedy booking agency who I happen to work for just got exposed for the way they lie to clients and manipulate comics. It made the local news. It was one of those fraud gotcha pieces. A lot of what they revealed I had known about for years and I guess by still working for them I had been complicit with the behavior. They would show clients videos of comedians. A client would pick a comic from those videos and inevitably a different comic would show up to the gig. The client would be told some tragic accident or illness had befallen the comic they though they hired. Truth was the comic on the video never had the gig or knew about the gig. Whether the comic whose video was shown ever agreed to have his videos shown by the agency I don’t know. In fact some other comic had the gig for months (often that comic was me). We were unaware of the trickery until the day of the gig when we arrived. Sometimes the client was extremely grateful that we were able to fill in for the “scheduled” comic. They would ask how the other comic was. I would say I do not know. I would try to change the subject as quickly as possible as I was uncomfortable and upset I was once again in this situation. I would tell the agency that being a comic on their roster was the most dangerous job in show business with the amount of disease and accidents that allegedly befell their comics. Sometimes the client would be upset and take it out on me. On rare occasions I would get a shitty intro such as, “We hired comedian X but he could not be here so instead we have this guy.” Ugh. Comedy death. Nothing like being brought up as a cheap back up. Often I pulled these gigs out. On occasion the ill feelings generated by the chicanery were too much to overcome. I complained to the agency about this type of crap. They said they weren’t doing that any longer. I knew otherwise.
Also, they would negotiate big contracts and then nickel and dime the talent so that we were getting 20 – 30% of the total budget. Now this was not always the case but it happened to me on several occasions. I never asked what the agency was getting paid. It was none of my business and I did not want to know. However, when the client says you are the best comic we ever paid $1000 for and you are getting $300 and the agency
would not even give you a $50 hotel room…well you get pissed. Don’t think I bit my tongue. I did not. I told them it was a bunch of bullshit. I never complained behind the back like so many cowardly comics do. I complained. They listened. I continued to take the work. If I had been a man of my convictions I would not have. I have bills to pay so I took the work. Truth is I would still take the work. I am not proud of it. Every comedian strives to be in a place where they can be more choosy about what work they accept. Most never get there.
I also knew of the many names this agent went by. Truth is I never cared. I never told anybody else either because in reality it is irrelevant what somebody calls themselves. I deal with people who go by fake names all the time. I am un-phased by it.
The good thing about this agency is they always paid what they said you would get. That sounds pretty basic but in a business where contracts are frowned upon that is a big thing. If I was told I was getting X amount I knew I was getting that amount.
This agency was one of the few in the business that would actually tell you that you did well at a gig. In my line of work many an agency thinks if comics get compliments we will ask for more money. So instead we never hear how we did unless the gig went bad. Then we hear. Many times an agency will never use you again if a gig goes bad. Even if it is not your fault. This agency never really held the occasional bad gig against you. Maybe because they understood it was live entertainment and nothing is perfect. Maybe they knew clients had unrealistic expectations of impossible situations. Maybe they didn’t care. I don’t know but I do know they were easier to talk to in this regards than most.
However, this agency was despised by many in the industry. By other agents and comics alike. That is fine. I certainly do not condone how they did things and I would never run my business like that. Often it is to my detriment but I will always be as honest to the client as possible…even if it costs me work. And it has.
So as you would imagine other agencies are rejoicing at seeing the emperor without his clothes. That is fine for the honest agencies who do right by comics and clients. The playing field may have just been a bit more leveled for them and that is a good thing. However, I am seeing agencies rejoice who I know take a fee from the client for booking the show then another commission from the talent. It is illegal. We all sit back and take it so we can work. We know it is crap. They know it is crap. Sometimes the venue knows what is going on. Sometimes they do not. As a comic we take it because we need the work. The agency who got exposed I was told stole rooms from other agencies. I have no proof of this being true or false. The thing was some of these agencies they allegedly stole rooms from were doing the same thing. I have never stolen a room nor would I but I guess for some it is fair play. Some of the agencies who are rejoicing say the exposed agency drives prices down by paying comics very low wages. Often so do the agencies who are saying this. Comedians have not gotten a raise since the 80’s. Actually in the 80’s comedians were making more. I have heard many a complaint about the exposed agency not providing hotel rooms. Unless you live in a major metropolitan area like I do comedians should each have their own hotel room. However, to complain about this practice and then perpetuate it when you are booking a venue is a bit much to take.
I see many comedians rejoicing as well. Some of these comedians are the same comedians that would not pay the $50 commission they agreed to pay. Some of these comedians who are rejoicing would cancel on an agency for $25 more the day of the gig. That wreaks havoc for an agency and a client. Some of these comedians book venues themselves and actually treat the comedians worse then the exposed agency. Some of these comedians who are publically rejoicing are or were until maybe today taking work from this exposed agency all along but were being quiet about it. Worse, they would publically ridicule the exposed agency whilst suckling at the teat of the exposed agency. Hypocrisy at its finest.
So yes this sucks. I will never feel bad for somebody being exposed for acting dishonorably but before you stand and applaud make sure you can’t be accused of the same things or even worse. I work in a very shady business. There are some honorable people in it for sure but my business is dominated by scoundrels. So perhaps a scoundrel got exposed today. If you are not part of the problem then you should rejoice. However, if you are guilty of similar crimes perhaps you should put down the stone you are about to throw and slink back under your rock and pray to the comedy gods that the local news does not do a gotcha piece on you.