- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

I finally read something funny in the newspaper. It seems that a group calling itself the New York Comedians Coalition (NYCC)is threatening to go out on strike. For the record, there are 300 men and women in the NYCC, and recently they sent letters to 11 club owners demanding a raise. For acts running about 10 minutes, they’d like a 100 percent increase to $120.

Now I’m not one to begrudge anyone a fair wage, at least so long as I don’t have to pay it. Besides, in a world that pays people like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler $20 million to 30 million to make unfunny two-hour movies, what these stand-up comics are asking for doesn’t seem unreasonable.

On the other hand, there is a definite risk in all this. After all, what’s to prevent the comedy club owners from deciding that, if they have to pay twice as much, maybe they should only hire half as many comedians. After all, even 150 jokesters would seem like more than enough to supply 11 clubs.

The fact of the matter is that in the entire history of the universe, there have not been 300 comics who were worth $120 for a 10-minute routine. That’s $720-an-hour, for heaven’s sake. Why that’s probably more than lawyer Mark Gerragos makes. OK, bad example.

I have seen a lot of stand-up comedians in my life. Too many. With precious few exceptions, they should have remained seated. These are people who talk about slaying the audience, killing the audience, murdering the audience; I suppose they have mayhem in mind because they hate us because we don’t laugh. Of course the reason we don’t laugh is because they aren’t funny.

In the early days of TV, a lot of the old comedians bemoaned the death of the Vaudeville circuit. They said that young comics no longer had anywhere they could be bad. Well, they spoke too soon. The comedy clubs filled the void. Suddenly the young tummelers had their own circuit. Only, unlike Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield and Alan King, they tended not to get better, merely older. They just kept mining the same tired turf, rehashing the same creaky one-liners about airline food, crummy motel rooms, smoking pot and, of course, their domineering Jewish, Italian, black or Korean mothers. All of them hanging in there, hoping to be the next lottery winner to be offered a TV sitcom so that they, too, can become as rich as Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano.

The coalition complains that the pay’s the same today as it was 20 years ago.

To me, that seems fair, seeing as how the jokes are the same.

To let you know just how painfully awful stand-up can be, I once went with my wife and a group of friends to a comedy club. Because some people will never leave anything once they’ve paid for it, and because I couldn’t leave without them, I actually sought refuge next door. And next door, I kid you not, was a karaoke bar.

My advice to the members of the coalition: Quit being so stubborn. Make your folks happy and go into the family business. My advice to the club owners: Kick out the comics and bring in the mimes. At least the customers will be able to drink in peace.

Burt Prelutsky is the author of “Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco.” An award-winning Hollywood writer, his credits include “Homeward Bound,” “A Small Killing,” “Hobson’s Choice” and “A Winner Never Quits: The Pete Gray Story,” “MASH,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Dragnet” and “Diagnosis Murder.”

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