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