Thursday July 25th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL
The frustration of playing the politics game is ongoing. Here’s another situation that makes my bung hole wink. There’s a comedy club in Milwaukee that opened a few years ago called Jokerz. I was one of the first headliners there, and it went really well. The pay was solid, the staff treated me great and I enjoyed the experience all around. I thought I’d finally found a home town base.
After a couple of engagements, the owners wanted to make me one of their top acts. They said I could work there four times a year, and even pick the weeks I wanted to work. I wanted to take the deal right there, but the political process took over and I tried to play the game by the rules.
There was another club in town at the time called Giggles, and I had worked there many times before Jokerz opened. I had a decent relationship with the owners, but they didn’t pay nearly the amount Jokerz did. They were giving me one week a year, but the booking agent Funny Business Agency out of Michigan had probably a dozen weeks of work scattered throughout the Midwest.
Here’s where the politics comes in. The owner of Giggles asked if I’d ‘be loyal’ to him and not take the Jokerz offer – even though it was four times the work at almost double the pay. I should have demanded a similar offer from him, but we get so conditioned by the strong arm tactics of a booking agency that I didn’t. I agreed to stay with Giggles, and assumed I’d still get the weeks of work from Funny Business. I’d been working for them for twenty years, and it paid a lot of bills.
I politely explained the situation to Jokerz, and they were fine with it. They said they’d love to have me, but understood the politics game. I’d been with Funny Business first, and was a soldier (translate: flaming brainwashed dumb ass). I continued to work for Giggles, even as pay dropped due to severe mismanagement of the club. Crowds got smaller, and they even switched locations.
Something wasn’t right at Giggles, but nobody knew what it was. All kinds of things happen in the night club business from drug abuse to gambling addictions to who knows what other kind of underhanded debauchery. All I ever wanted was a stage to perform on and an audience to see it.
It finally got so bad that I’d heard Giggles was bouncing checks. That’s THE unpardonable sin in the comedy club business, and once the reputation gets out it’s not long before the club closes as a rule. I’d seen it play out from coast to coast, and that’s the situation that was happening here.
At the end of a week just a couple of years ago, the owner pulled out a checkbook after the last show when we traditionally get paid. That had never happened before, and it was a giant red flag I wasn’t prepared for. I told him I’d rather have cash as usual, but he said he didn’t have enough.
“I’d NEVER bounce a check on YOU, buddy” he lied – trying to give me the look of sympathy like we were in it together. “But if you could just maybe wait a day or two before cashing this I’d really appreciate it.” I had a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach as he said it, and it got worse.
Sure enough, the check should have had ‘Good Year’ written on it because it bounced sky high when I ran it through my bank. I called the club and the owner told me to wait a day or two then try it again. I did. It bounced again, and in the mean time five checks I’d written bounced after it.
By this time I was furious, and contacted Funny Business. They told me to “get it from the club owner.” NO, I worked for them so THEY needed to get it from the club owner. The war was on.
One thing led to another, and I found out I was not alone. Several other headliners and feature acts also had their checks bounce, and we were in a club in which nobody wanted membership. I admit I was beside myself with anger, and after trying to be nice several times I couldn’t keep it cool any longer and dashed off an email that took no prisoners. I thought they forced my hand.
Funny Business promised to get my money – and my bounced check fees for the five checks I wrote that were bad – but they never did. I got the low rate of pay I had agreed to do the week for out of ‘loyalty’, and the whole situation made me want to kick everyone’s ass starting with mine.
Then to add extreme insult to serious injury, the son of the owner of Funny Business sent me a nasty email saying “my services would no longer be needed.” What?? They fired me for sticking up for myself and the (subpar) pay that I so richly earned? That was the final straw. I was pissed.
I’m still pissed. Hurt and insulted, too. I was ‘loyal’ to the father for twenty years, and tried to dance to the politics polka correctly. I drove to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the snow on short notice to ‘help out’, and I’m sure I kept that kid in Pampers while I risked my life and limb.
Now he’s the one that fires me, and the old man doesn’t even have the courtesy to pick up the phone and call me to apologize for the trouble with the bounced check. It’s as unprofessional as it gets, but then everyone wonders why comedians are jerks if and when they hit the big time.
So to review, I’ve now lost money to bounced check fees being ‘loyal’ to the Giggles puke and passed up a chance to do four weeks a year at Jokerz for good money. The Funny Business has a bug up their ass because I went for my money, and now I’m out there after twenty years of pain.
I went back to Jokerz and asked if the offer was still on the table, and they welcomed me back. There was a manager there named Natalie Lozano who was an absolute sweetheart, and she and I hit it off really well. She totally got it, and all the comedians loved her. She treated us like gold.
Not that much later, Giggles went out of business and closed their doors. Nobody I knew shed any tears, and a lot of comics went through hell trying to get their money. That kind of hassle is totally uncalled for, as comedy is difficult enough without that. We were all glad they were gone.
But wouldn’t you know it, the former owner of Giggles talked his way in at Jokerz of all places and somehow convinced them to fire Natalie and give him the manager’s job. I was stunned. I’ve been around the block and thought I’d seen it all, but this was a cake taker. I was out once again.
Despite the relationship I thought I had with the owners, I was now persona non grata because the new head Satan said so. Natalie lost her job too, and I still can’t figure it out. Welcome to the wonderful world of politics. I know it’s that way in all businesses, but this one is extra vicious.
So in the end, I get NOTHING. Giggles is thankfully closed, but now the moron who ran it not only into the ground but through the ocean floor and into the molten core of the Earth has power again and runs Jokerz. Because he has a jag that I bitched about my bounced check – I’m barred.
I’ve never been an ass kisser, and I’m not going to start now. If I have to go manage a Wendy’s or a Jiffy Lube, I’d rather do that and have some dignity than cow tow to unscrupulous bastards who don’t know a damn thing about the craft of standup comedy and don’t love it like I do. They won’t win, because I won’t let them. The painful lesson here is the only one to be loyal to is me.