For more than a century, The Friars Club stood as a testament to the power of the press and of comedy to do good.
The organization began in 1904 by press agents, but over the decades became best known for its celebrity roasts, which eventually became a staple for Comedy Central.
In recent years, however, the club itself has fallen on hard and/or illegitimate times, as explained in a thorough piece earlier this month in The New York Times. The club gained Jimmy Fallon and all of his Late Night crew in the late 2000s, but lost its tax-exempt status in 2010. And then it got worse. As the NYT piece recounts:
Federal agents raided the offices in 2017, carting off boxes of files. Earlier this year, they charged the club’s executive director, Michael Gyure, with filing false personal tax returns.
The club’s governing board told members last month that the federal investigation was over and that the club faced no further accusations.
“It is our hope,” the board wrote in a letter, “that now that this cloud has lifted, many good Friars will return so that the Club can go forward to recreate the fraternal environment which made the Friars famous.”
But a review of emails, tax records, Friars’ correspondence and financial records — and four dozen interviews with former and current Friars and staff members — reveals that the club’s problems ran deeper than one director’s faulty tax returns.
The club’s foundation held charity events that raised $3 million but cleared only $13,000 for charity, an outcome that led the volunteer board to cease operations in 2015. The club hired a man convicted of defrauding charities, who called himself the “King of Cons,” as a consultant. Former staff members described questionable spending and sloppy bookkeeping, including a $160,000 loan to the executive director without interest that was never written down.
Though the club looks as it always has — bars on the first and second floors, gym on five, Luigi’s barbershop on four next to the card room — many Friars and former Friars remain upset, and have been meeting to discuss what to do next.
Here’s hoping the Friars get themselves back on the mend sooner rather than later.