Anyone that follows Cringe Humor favorite Kurt Metzger knows that his Facebook account is full of his hilarious rants & observations. Last month, after performing for a sold out crowd on a Friday night at UCB East, Metzger posted this beauty of a status:
Metzger returned the following week to…
There may be more to this story than we know. Is this a valid complaint, or is it just written by someone in anger after having their show canceled? Plus, it’s important to weed out the irrelevant information (like the strange plugs for an other venue halfway through). Still, the issue of improvisors getting paid is one to talk about. What do you think?
Smells like bullshit to me. Lots of shows have gotten cancelled at UCBEast as that venue tries to kinda find itself. I highly doubt Kurt’s comments had anything to do with it. When the Chelsea theatre opened, I think every stand-up who came there made fun of 1) improv comedy 2) the pillar at the center of the stage and 3) the sewer pipe above it. The theatre would get criticized or mocked and no one cared. If the audience laughed, the comic was doing his/her job (though making fun of improv to an audience of people who liked improv struck me as counter-productive).
Asking for performers to get paid is a valid request. I’m sure there’s people who won’t perform at UCB because they don’t get paid, and that’s their right to do so. There’s also tons of great shows who are happy to perform on a prominent stage that has cheap tickets and a no-drink-minimum for its audience. Paul F. Tompkins doesn’t get paid when he performs at UCB-LA. Comedy Bang Bang wasn’t paid.
The East Village is an interesting place. The model that all stand-ups remember is Rififi in the Invite Them Up/Oh, Hello days. Free for audiences, two drinks tickets for all performers, no one gets paid and there’s lots of shows with almost no oversight from management. It was a cool thing that let a lot of stand-ups intermingle and develop. One problem: Rififi went out of business. Then Mo Pitkins seemed to be a version of Rififi and IT went out of business. Then Sound Lounge in Williamsburg took a lot of those shows and then it got forced out of its liquor license because of a picky community board. The Creek and the Cave seems to be making that model work, but it’s a full service bar and restaurant with two stages. I wonder if it’s possible in the higher rent location of the East Village. Kabin’s show seems to be carrying that torch but it’s a bar first, not a theater. Maybe a bar is the only place it can work for east village comics?
I feel like stand-ups get fidgety when it’s not done like they’re accustomed. They want someone at the top introducing them. They want drink tickets. They want plenty of time to go way long in case people join the show last minute. They don’t want notes from anyone, ever. They need a show that’s weekly, indefinitely and they get kinda resentful when they get less than that. They’re being persecuted. They’re the sad underdogs. HINT: you’re an entertainer. No one needs you. You have to be good enough to be in demand of you’re going to get screwed and that’s true for everyone.
There are clubs that pay comics. They charge $20 a show and have drink minimums. And they don’t pay that much? Fair or unfair, comics seem to make money on the road, then come back to NYC to develop material and contacts.
The UCB charges $5 and has no minimum, and has a pretty invested and excited community that gives you some audience base to start making a show. You don’t have to take that deal, but that’s the fucking deal.
The main thing I don’t like about this Cringe Humor article is the “tough guy” posture. “BEING CALLED OUT” smacks of someone who gets really excited for a prank show, or for shutting down hecklers.Someone who can’t wait to put his hand over his mouth and go “ohhhhhhh shit, did you hear that? oh shit!” A bully, frankly. The article also puts itself at the center of the universe. I bet that The Great Debate was not a topic of huge discussion by Nate Dern and John Frusciante (the artistic director and artistic associate). They probably looked at audience numbers, looked at other shows they’re being pitched, and went a different way. I doubt they knew or cared about Kurt’s comments. Certainly if someone at Totally J/K had “ranted” (another telltale word of overly aggressive posturing — “ranting” is for blogs circa 2002 or Dennis Miller after he stopped being funny) about UCB being unfair no one would have really cared. A lot of stand-ups criticize the house they’re in; I don’t think it always works, but it’s common and allowed and not as rock-n-roll as how Cringe portrays it.
They had their show cut, Cringe, that’s it. They’re not the first or last to have that happen at UCB. And it’s not the first or last time it’ll happen to them or any of us. Now you guys are producing it; maybe you’ll find success.
As far as the improv shows at UCB being poorly attended and not funny, I guess if they are able to support a theater for another 14 years, then maybe they’ll get some credibility.
P.S. I don’t mind the discussion of whether comics should be paid, by the way. I don’t see a model where there’s cheap tickets and the business survives but sure, let’s talk about it. Joe Stanton and other people are not being rude or something by bringing that up. The Cringe article has a smug “we’re so dangerous” air that irritates me, and I also think the Debate show being but had nothing to do with Kurt’s comments, but I don’t mind the discussion of how or what comics should/could be paid.
This, and to add that the UCB system, including classes, has been immeasurably valuable to me in developing my comedic voice and allowing me to succeed on the backs of the hard work, talent, and success of every previous performer at the theater, all the way down to Amy, Matt, Matt, and Ian (not Adam, as he was called in the original article). Seriously, every time Amy Poehler gets more famous, it helps my career. The industry would not be looking at UCB if it weren’t for everyone who came before me being so great and promoting the theater every chance they get. Thank, you, all previous generations of UCB, for selflessly giving me something I could never buy.
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