New York, Dec. 23 (Reuters): The pay's a joke and it's not funny any more ' New York comedians have had enough of working for peanuts and are threatening to walk out if the city's top stand-up comedy clubs don't raise their wages.
Comics Ted Alexandro and Russ Meneve have rounded up more than 300 funny men and women to form the New York Comedians Coalition and they have sent a letter to the city's top comedy venues demanding a raise.
The bottom line is that $60 to $75 for a weekend set is not enough to survive, while the weekday rate of $15 to $25 for a 20-minute set is beyond a joke, Alexandro said.
'We've been making the same wage since 1985,' he said.
'A comic working 12 to 14 shows a week grosses barely over $20,000 a year from the New York clubs,' said Alexandro, a regular at top clubs such as Caroline's on Broadway, adding that he resorts to touring and corporate engagements.
New Year's Eve is the biggest comedy night of the year, with some clubs setting cover charges of up to $100, yet the comedians can expect to make little more than $100, or $250 as or master of ceremonies, Alexandro said.
'I'm going to be out of town because that's where we make our money,' he added.
Steve Hofstetter, a 25-year-old from New York who describes himself as a breakthrough comic just starting to get some recognition, said he didn't want to go on strike but he would be a willing participant if negotiations don't work.
'People should be paid what they're worth and if a comedian is generating a lot of money for a club, give them their due,' Hofstetter said.
He added that he had toured in 23 states in October alone to keep the money flowing in.
The comedians say admission and drinks prices have soared in the last 20 years while their pay has barely changed.
Chris Mazzilli, a former comic who owns the Gotham Comedy Club, said the economics were not so simple. He pays for six or seven comedians plus an MC on a weeknight when he can't be sure of filling his club with 130 or so covers.
'Clubs cost a lot of money to run. New York City is different: your rent factor is much higher and your insurance is much higher,' Mazzilli said, adding that he had already agreed to raise his rates by $10 as a result of the letter.
Mazzilli and several other club owners have agreed to open negotiations in January with the comedians, who say they are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve their goal, including going on strike.
'The comedians formed a coalition so that our concerns would be addressed collectively. Three hundred comics cannot be ignored,' Meneve said.