Kurt Metzger and UCB incident spawns debate on compenstation for comedians

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  • Kurt Metzger and UCB incident spawns debate on compenstation for comedians

    Metzger UCBI’m sure many of you comedy junkies have heard by now about the dispute between comedian Kurt Metzger and UCBeast (Upright Citizens Brigade East). If not, allow me to fill you in – UCBeast hosts numerous shows, including several stand-up comedy shows. You want to go to one of these shows? It’ll cost you 5-10 bucks, not a bad price for a solid night of comedy, however, this is where Kurt Metzger has a bit of a gripe with UCBeast. You see, they do not pay their comics. Kurt, a damn fine comedian, first pointed this out after doing a show at UCB.

    Near the end of last year Metzger performed at a sold out, 120 person show at the venue called The Great Debate. Metzger did some sh*t talking from the stage about this fact and later posted this fiery rant on his Facebook page (which is awesome for rants BTW) stating, “I don’t know who the fuck runs UCB but they have tremendous improv balls to charge money for a Friday night show and not pay the comics anything. I would LOVE to meet you in person.”

    About a week later Metzger returned to UCBEast to perform on The Great Debate, complained about this issue some more and rather than himself getting banned from the theatre, his friend’s show (whom he was doing a favor for) got booted from UCBEast completely. Cringe Humor posted the rundown of the canceling of The Great Debate at UCB from it’s producers Michael Shawki and Jeff Wesselschmidt.

    Tyrannical statements were tossed at many including the “UCB Four” (Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Ian Roberts) and their business practices. While others defended the improv theatre’s practices claiming that it does not operate as a comedy club, rather as a workshop for funny people to develop improv and different ideas.

    Metzger’s since left many other statements and gotten into debates over the issue but his main argument can be summed up with the simple idea that as a comedian, “It doesn’t have to pay our rent. It’s just simple the respect of ‘hey we would have NOTHING without you, here’s 10 bucks from the door.'” UCBeast’s argument on the other hand is comics get recognition from being on the show, have staff waiting on them, and above all else, it costs money to run three locations, so it would be tough to pay every comedian.

    Both are great viewpoints and make total sense coming from different communities of stand-up and improv.

    There were certainly other comedians who spoke up on the topic, Dan St. Germain stated, “It’s easy when you start out to believe that it’s the venue or industry that makes comedy great. It’s not. It’s the performers. If you are a venue that is charging admission and are not paying performers (with the exception of benefit shows) you are taking advantage of performers you claim to adore. Simple as that. We get silent on these things as a community because we don’t want to ruffle feathers or cause any controversy on the way up. I have a lot of good friends who work for some of these institutions and there are some awesome shows which are produced there but it’s time now, especially with the economy as rough as it is, for these venues to take a look in the mirror and wonder what sort of legacy they want to leave behind.”

    Sara Schaefer also chimed in, “I built my career mostly independent of any single club or theatre, because that kind of “do it our way or you’ll be a total failure” mentality drives me fucking crazy. There are scenes like that in every nook of this city. I only bring this up because since then, I have always understood that UCB is fiercely independent and they are simply gonna do things their own way. It’s both good and bad…It helped me develop my voice by not tracking one path exclusively and letting myself experience different audiences and different styles of comedy. I have no regrets and appreciate UCB’s place in my development… That being said, I do have a hard time getting past this simple math:120 seats x $10 tickets = $1200 (and this doesn’t include drink sales), and they can’t spare $160 for each comedian to get $20? The comedy scene in New York has changed so much in the past 10 years. Maybe it’s time they change along with it?”

    Michael Lawrence’s thoughts, “If a place charges a cover it should pay it’s performers. Not just comics but any performers: Improvisers, sketch comics, musicians, mimes, jugglers… We need to be unified on this and not keep in-fighting. An audience pays money to be entertained and they want to believe that money is going to the entertainers that entertained them. You should too.”

    A few other comedians have spoke up about the situation including a long and poignant response from UCB alum Chris Gethard stating that he would not have gotten the opportunities had it not been for UCB and that he was grateful for the opportunities it presented.

    This past Sunday Kurt was to appear at The Stand for The Great Debate Show to have a conversation with some UCB members about the entire issue. Before his appearance he stated that he’s heard from the UCB higher ups and they’re working on new ways to make everyone happen. The debate didn’t happen on stage but that didn’t stop Metzger from sharing more of his thoughts and revealing two ideas for compromises are to either to pay the comics a small amount or to not charge an entrance fee for the general public.

    As balanced as I try to be, I have a hard time understanding why UCBeast is not paying their comedians. Open mic is one thing, however, when you put a show on, you need to reward the talent. These comics don’t just print money for when ever they need it, this is their job and they cant afford to do it for free. Now, if UCBeast truly cannot afford to pay the comics because their having a hard time keeping all three locations going, well, then they need to look in the mirror and make some changes. However, this is just my lonely opinion.

    We’ll keep you updated comedy lovers so stay tuned and if anything new turns up (like perhaps a Sharks vs. Jets faceoff?) we will be sure to report on it.



    I do not understand why it is difficult to see that UCB gets earnings from the workshops. Those are what develop and run the whole of the training centres. Therefore, the shows are nothing in helping sustain the business. The info is from their mouths I have found and those that use the model.
    In order to pay every person that gets onstage would be impossible, there is too many people. Therefore the money out would be excessive. It is a long lived model that works.
    Strange though that the guy returns to their stage, doesn’t seem like he can progress without that stage then.


    While I 100% agree that free shows/open mics should exist to help comedians and improv’ers to develop. A packed show on a Friday night with veteran comedians on the lineup is not that place. If you are going to do a stand-up show, you can’t apply improv show rules to it. Many stand-up comics are willing to do shows for free for a variety of reasons. But assuming they shouldn’t be compensated from the get-go is just a sign of disrespect.

    Matt Hoskins

    Maybe a different business model could benefit both. For example, a cover charge for the theater expenses, and then guests tip the performers.

    Daryl Horner

    as someone who makes his living on stage, I can see both sides of this argument, but in the end, if you charge a cover your comics should get something. Even if it is only cab fare. Kudos to Kurt for shedding light on this, no matter my stance. He has taken some real abuse from people who know nothing about this business, and should shut it.

    Gotta Stay Above the Water | petulantpanda

    […] doesn’t pay its performers, which keeps its costs low which keeps its theaters full. According to Kurt Metzger, the comedian who opened this can of worms, stand-up performers accustomed to about a $20 payout at […]

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