Monday, August 27, 2007

Lucky One

Last week I participated in the first round of HBO's Lucky 21; a nationwide comedy competition to win a chance to perform at The Comedy Festival this November in Las Vegas. While I was not chosen be one of The 21, I still feel very lucky.

First, the folks at Morty's Comedy Joint in Indianapolis gave me a lot of love. Two very special fans out did themselves. Meka and Tasha came to the show sporting "Girl You So Funny" tee-shirts with my picture! Game over. I win! Now, of course I'm sharing these ladies with fellow comedienne Mel Fine who's face was on the back but I don't mind.

Ironically, I’m also glad that I didn’t win and advance to the next round. Why? I read the contract. Pesky little habit of mine I picked up out of necessity (no attorney on retainer) and the disturbing tendency of the entertainment industry to legally sodomize talent whenever it can. It’s nothing personal. Just business. Actors have SAG, AFTRA and Equity. Musicians have ASCAP. Standup Comics? We don’t have a union, unless we also happen to be actors or musicians; so we fall through the cracks.

Contracts are rarely written in an artist’s favor. There are always intimidating phrases like, "promise to indemnify," "in perpetuity," and "throughout the universe" which promise in some vague but sure way that not only are you getting screwed, but that it’s going to hurt. And later on in your career, when you least expect, it’ll pop up and hurt some more.

In The Lucky 21 Contest contract, the Grand Prize section reads:

"Winner will have the opportunity to meet with network and industry executives selected by the Sponsor, participate in a television appearance and receive $10,000 cash."
To a trusting person this sounds great, but it becomes a little less glamourous when reread with a more critical eye. What’s to stop the Sponsor from simply introducing you to the head of accounting? That TV appearance could be a back ground part in a non union commercial, that when edited only shows your elbow.

Okay, but you still win $10,000, right? Take the money and run, but before you mentally spend it all in one place, the contract goes on to say:

"If, for whatever reason, sponsor is unable to provide any prize element, no compensation or substitution will be provided; however, remainder of prize package will be awarded and sponsor will have no further obligation to Winner."

In other words, if for whatever reason, Sponsor is unable to provide you $10,000, they don’t have to give it to you. Your recourse? None. You signed the contract. Are you feeling lucky yet?

The good news is, you don't have a lot of time to fret over these contractual ambiguities. It’s industry standard to give comics a contract on the day of, usually a few hours before your performance. They don't expect you to actually read it or make any changes. What they do expect is that you will just sign it, no questions asked.

And most of us do, because we hope. We hope this opportunity will be our big break. We hope that it will bring us the success we’ve been chasing. We hope this will be the last inequitable contract we’ll ever have to sign.

It’s like dating. No matter how many times you get burned, you still put your best foot forward and go out again hoping this will be The One.

It wasn’t for me but I feel like I won something more important: fans. And fans don’t need a contract. We go on a handshake, a laugh and a tee-shirt. (Thank you, Meka & Tasha! You made my year!)

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