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Steve Hofstetter promotes non-union work for his FOX stand-up comedy series, “Laughs”

SteveHofstetter_Reddit_IAMA_2014

Hot off the heels of SAG-AFTRA's "Do Not Work" notice telling its union member actors not to perform on the new FOX stand-up comedy series, Laughs, the show's host and executive producer happened to put himself on Reddit to take any and all questions on Wednesday.

The top/best question from yesterday's Reddit IAMA with Steve Hofstetter: "Are you going to try to resolve the "no-work" notice SAG just put on the show?"

Hofstetter's reply:

"No. We're a non-union show by choice, and have always been up front about it. There are dozens of non-union shows, and that's okay.

If we were a union show, we couldn't break new comedians. Imagine telling a young comedian that he or she gets to be on TV for the first time, but has to spend $3,000 to join a union in order to do so?

The union doesn’t like when people do non-union shows, and that's okay, too. However, it’s your right to work wherever you want to work. If you are in the union and want to work a show like ours, I’d advise you to switch to a SAG/AFTRA status called “Financial Core” - it’s a designation that allows you to accept union and non-union work with no reprecussions at all (other then not being allowed to ever run for SAG office).

Frankly, I think everyone should be Financial Core."

That doesn't sit well with SAG-AFTRA.

On its page "Get The Facts About Financial Core," the union says straight out: "Fi-Core/FPNM are viewed as scabs or anti-union by SAG-AFTRA members, directors, and writers-most of whom also belong to entertainment unions." Moreover, it says if you go Financial Core, SAG-AFTRA won't allow you to call yourself a SAG-AFTRA member in any resumes, headshots, auditions or the like.

Hofstetter claimed, "I know many working actors that are Fi Core," and that he hadn't had to show his union card for any auditions.

In his defense of not paying SAG-AFTRA rates to the comedians seen nationwide on FOX this summer via their short stand-up spots on Laughs, Hofstetter said that his show didn't receive the full budget and backing of FOX. His video promos for Laughs on YouTube mocked his low budget. Repeatedly, he also mentioned that his series -- which has a 13-week tryout on 11 markets -- is backed by FOX Television Stations Group, a subsidiary of the full network's FOX Entertainment Group made up of stations owned-and-operated by FOX Broadcasting.

"No, comics are not being compensated for their 60 seconds," he said. "However, we use the comics on the show at my clubs. So I think a few weeks of work and my recommendation to many other bookers, is worth more than a few hundred bucks."

Hofstetter also told Reddit readers that "the network had no notes on the first episode" which aired last Saturday night, that "I LOVE /r/standupshots - we use some on Laughs," and that the only idea for the show he's rejected so far: "Just bad comedy in general. A lot of clips we get are racist, sexist, or ignorant in other ways. I prefer clever to shock, every time."

Comedian Sean Wilkinson asked Hofstetter: "I've seen you explain this project and I believe a couple others (Adam Corolla's movie) essentially the same way: "We wish we could pay the performers, but we can't, but you will get exposure." That seems fine in theory (provided that exposure actually leads to results), but are you pitching these projects to Fox/whoever as "We'd like to pay these people" and they shoot that idea down, or are you pitching it as "We can shoot this for cheap because we don't have to pay the performers"? Artists do a lot of things for little or no pay, but to run more than one major project of this nature seems like you're giving the latter pitch and not the former. Especially with a company as big as Fox."

Hofstetter's reply: "Hi Sean. Good way of asking a tough question. Some others on here could learn from you. And this is a great example of why people should ask questions before deciding they know what's actually happening. I had no involvement in Adam Carolla's movie other than being in one scene. I was promoting it because I believed in it. Laughs is Fox's project, not mine. They came to me with it, and I helped them shape it into the way it would be most beneficial for comedians. (i.e. plugs on screen, promoting the comedy club that had them tape, etc). Meanwhile, there's a narrative in your head of me going into the King of Fox's office and telling him we can screw all these young comics, just give me the chance! I have done a ton of stuff in my career (and still do) for the exposure - if the exposure is worth more than money. Do the equation in your head - "is this exposure something I would pay for?" i.e. if someone said "hey, would you buy 60 seconds of airtime for $500, of you just doing standup, presented in a way that you're one of the best up and coming touring acts in the country?" If the answer is yes, than that is worth more than $500. Hope that helps clear it up."

As for exposure versus payment for services rendered, Hofstetter said this:

"When the exposure is worth more than money, or when you're not making money elsewhere, take the gig. How many of us work bar shows just to get better as standups? The best example I could give is my festivals. I HATE that we can't afford to pay comics. But that's because we use the money to pay industry instead. Dave Waite won Laughing Skull and got Fallon out of it. Carmen Lynch won She-Devils and got Letterman. Aren't those worth more than the few hundred bucks you normally get? Meanwhile, other people ask you to pay to be in their festivals to perform for who, tourists? Other comedians? I advise everyone to consider all options before you make a decision. But this "fuck you, pay me" attitude that some comics have is not going to help them. I'm in the position I'm in because I took hundreds of unpaid gigs - and at those gigs, I made connections, and got better as a comic. You just have to pick the right ones."

***

All of this takes me back a few years to a couple of different yet similar situations for comedians looking for TV exposure.

In one scenario, Comcast sought out stand-up comedians to post their sets for Comcast On Demand. There was a lot of confusion and consternation about payment versus exposure there, too. But that was one cable company, and it wasn't even on a TV series, but something you had to seek out in the On Demand menus.

Rooftop Comedy also supplied stand-up comedy clips for a couple of TV shows, "That Sucks," and "Rooftop Comedy's Road Trip," to a cable channel that wasn't available on my subscriptions -- MAVTV -- and that doesn't even play comedy any longer, since it was bought in 2011 by Lucas Oil Products. Rooftop already owned all of its stand-up clips, however, because its structure is based on recording live stand-up performances at various comedy clubs across America and internationally, too.

***

That said, I also heard that for Laughs premiere party last weekend at The Laugh Factory, the "red-carpet" treatment did not include a big screen to watch the show, but did include charging a two-drink minimum for invited guests who stayed to watch it anyhow.

Laughs is based on clips you submit directly to Hofstetter. Or, in some cases, performances you record at one of Hofstetter's clubs or partner clubs taped specifically for Laughs.

As Hofstetter himself advised aspired comedians just yesterday on Reddit, he took "hundreds of unpaid gigs" on his way up the ladder. "You just have to pick the right ones."

So the choice is up to you.

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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15 Comments

  1. Richard

    Is Fox a non-profit?

    Reply
  2. Erik Charles Nielsen

    If there was any justice in this world, Hofstetter's "career" (such as it is) would be over. I don't see how any self-respecting comic could appear on a bill with the guy at this point, or how any conscientious venue could book him. Not that he had a sterling reputation beforehand, but this is a low even Byron Allen wouldn't touch. Let's hope this show's well-deserved failure dissuades future networks and producers from following in the same path.

    Reply
  3. Phil Johnson

    It's an unfortunate business plan to be sure. But I think I would mind a lot more if you had to travel somewhere to tape a set which means giving up work elsewhere. In this case, you're leveraging something that's already been done into additional exposure.

    The bottom line is what will it do for me in the long run. Will it be a great credit? I don't think anyone in the industry will be super impressed by it.

    Will it bring new fans into my website that I can build a relationship with? Maybe. Depends completely on how big an audience the show gets. At least there are mechanisms in place on the show to point people in that direction.

    Outside of being paid, those are really the only two considerations. New fans or street cred. And I suspect it'll come down to new fans. And that's iffy. Even a single Letterman spot isn't going to do much to build your fanbase.

    So anything past the ability for an MC to say "You've seen this next guy on Laughs..." I don't think there's a ton of benefit to be had unless the show starts to really generate a large audience.

    That being said, I've already done the gig and have the tape. If a big YouTube channel asked me if they could show it, I'm sure I'd say yes. It won't be a career maker, but it's a building block that doesn't cost me any additional sweat or money despite not being paid for it.

    Reply
  4. AD

    Were the stand up shows on cable in the 8-'s and 90's non-union? I know stand up stoplight on VH1 gave a flat fee of $500. CC is using old stand-up they shot. That's a non-union. Why didn't Steve just do a buy out? or did he ?
    This show was made b/c it's cheap.

    Reply
    • Erik Charles Nielsen

      I did my first TV acting gig in 2008 for Adult Swim... AFTRA cable scale at that point was a little over $600, which leads me to believe that $500 was probably at least scale in the '90s.

      For the record, I've taped sets for Conan and for HBO Canada (at JFL), both of which paid over $1000. (JFL also paid for transportation and lodging to perform out of city.) Note that neither of those shows were for a major American network. I'm not sure what the full range of fees being paid for stand-up sets on TV is, but nobody's producing a non-union TV stand-up show, and nobody's done so in the past five years. (Byron Allen had to deal with accusations that he didn't pay agreed-upon residuals, and he does use non-union crew.) So, you know, a new low.

      As for the question of reruns, residual rules for programs made for cable are byzantine at best... I've been paid low residuals for some (union) cable things I've done and no residuals (on cable re-airings -- weirdly enough, I've always been paid a pittance for DVD sales) for others.

      And "this show was made because it's cheap" is not a defense of anything. In addition to the point that paying the performers wouldn't cost anything appreciable (we're talking less than $1000 per act), _everyone involved had the right to say no_. If the only deal available is one that exploits and demeans comics, and diminishes the value of the industry as a whole, the producer and the performers had the right and the duty to walk away.

      Reply
      • Zac

        I don't have anything to contribute other than to say that I've been a fan of your comedy for years and that I hope you continue to get work for a long, long time.

        Reply
  5. Rebecca T

    I think this show literally has no budget and Fox created it, not Steve Hofstetter. I don't understand why he's under attack here.
    http://variety.com/2014/tv/news/fox-stations-combat-broken-syndication-biz-with-in-house-development-1201254855/

    Reply
  6. A Comedian who has been paid for 30 second clips

    Having no budget means you don't have a show. Let's look at it this way, Steve Hoffstetter owns a roofing business, he gets a roofing job but the guy has a "low budget". He takes the job, but he goes to the people who make the roofing tiles and says "Hey, look, I'm going to do this guy's roof in YOUR tiles, but I can't pay you for them. I'd love to, but man, it's just that he gave me a really low budget and if I pay you for the tiles I won't be able to do the job at all". The roof tile manufacturer then tells him to go fuck himself.

    Reply
    • Rebecca T

      But it's the network's choice to not pay the comedians. If you were going to be mad at someone, shouldn't it be them?

      Reply
      • Erik Charles Nielsen

        They're all complicit. If Fox wants to produce a stand-up show, then proceeds to say, "hey, you don't have enough money to pay the comedians," the producer has both the right and the duty to say, "well, then, guess we don't have a show." We're talking about less than $1000 per comedian... I know this show's format is wonky, but you could produce a half-hour with three or four comedians doing sets for less than $5000 in talent costs per episode, do right by the performers, AND presumably make a way better show than the barrel-bottom-scraping nonsense he ended up with.

        And all this is assuming Hofstetter's telling the truth about the show's budget. (One wonders, did he pay the camera operators and editors?) I mean, this is a guy who already had a reputation for, among many many other things, lowballing comics at his clubs. I wouldn't put it past him.

        Reply
  7. Merchant

    "[Steve Hofstetter] emails me things like, 'One nighter. In Texas. Fly yourself in. You pay us $20. Share a room with a horse and the other talent. Clean up after the show. Bus the tables." - Andy Kindler

    Reply
  8. Jay

    Ugh. SAG Background makes $152 for being consumers of oxygen.

    Reply

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