Times Square has attracted hustlers of all stripes for more than a century, each attempting to hustle tourists and other passing strangers out of their money.
Barkers who make outrageous claims and otherwise lie to persuade you to buy vouchers for comedy club tickets aren’t new, either.
Google “Times Square comedy barkers” and the top result is a warning posted to TripAdvisor back in 2010. In the nine years I’ve lived in New York City, every walk through Times Square has included at least one barker attempting to lure me to “comedy show” or “Comedy Central showcase,” or I’ve overheard them selling tourists on the idea of Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, or Louis CK. But usually it’s more vague than that. “Comedy Central Showcase” is not only what they say, but also the signs they’ll often hold up. Or they tell tourists they’ll see comedians who have been on The Tonight Show or HBO. Or Letterman before that.
Here’s a selfie I took in March 2015:
A crime column in the New York Times on Monday, though, found one woman duped into thinking she’d see Tina Fey performing stand-up (when has that ever happened, outside of her hosting an awards show, anyhow?!), and then returned to Times Square on a subsequent afternoon hoping to hunt down the lying barker.
When the NYT got involved, even on page A16 of the old broadsheet (and shared more among the comedy community via Facebook), City Hall noticed.
The city’s consumer affairs department mailed a letter dated Wednesday to comedy clubs asking for their help to crack down on fraudulent barkers in and around Times Square.
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (“DCA”) has received reports alleging that ticket sellers for comedy clubs in and around Times Square are engaging in deceptive trade practices, including false advertising, in order to convince consumers to purchase tickets to comedy shows. In particular, it has been indicated that ticket sellers who promote comedy clubs and and comedy performances have falsely claimed that:
- one or more well-known comedians will be performing;
- certain venues or performers are connected with well-known television channels, or television shows; and
- a comedian performing at a certain venue has, in the past, performed on a well-known television channel or television show.
We are writing to inform you that using false advertising to promote a venue, show, or performer, whether that promotion is conducted by a comedy club’s employees or independent contractors, is illegal in New York City. Under Section 20-701(a) of the New York City Administrative Code, such false promotions are deceptive trade practices and can result in DCA bringing action to impose fines or civil penalties up to $500 per violation. Futhermore, DCA can also take legal action to obtain restitution for customers and/or obtain an injunction or restraining order against such practices.
If you are aware of false or deceptive advertising in connection with comedy shows, please contact Jared Greenfield, Senior Investigator, by emailing him at email@example.com or by calling him at (212) 436-0334.