When the federal Small Business Administration finally released information this week on how they distributed $670 billion in available funds this spring through PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans, comedy fans were quick to pounce on the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre for claiming massive sums for its training centers in New York City and Los Angeles.
But they weren’t the only improv gurus with a shuttered theater to claim six- or seven-figure bailouts from the U.S. government.
In fact, Charna Halpern also received between $350,000 and $1 million, despite announcing recently that she would not be able to reopen her iconic iO Theatre in Chicago. The UCB4 similarly received $700,000 to $2 million to cover employee paychecks and expenses at the NYC and LA training centers, yet announced closing up shop for its NYC theater.
The SBA’s PPP consists of loans for businesses to keep paying employees who couldn’t work during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The loans “will be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities (due to likely high subscription, at least 60% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll).” Any small business (according to SBA standards) could apply for the forgivable loans. Some critics of the program pointed to large chains that had claimed big payouts (and some of those companies gave back the money after being publicly shamed), and this new fuller accounting has led to other criticisms about payouts to lobbyists, friends of President Trump, and hypocritical acceptance of federal money by companies that rail against taxpayer-supported funding.
But let’s take a quick look at the comedy industry.
Of the 661,219 companies that received at least $150,000, there were about 30 that could be directly traced to comedy clubs and theaters. BUT that doesn’t include the 282 other companies with “Theatre” in their name, or the 84 with “Theater” in their name, or the several hundred more with names such as Productions and Entertainment. So it’ll take a bit longer to sift through all of those. And some comedy clubs may operate under completely different, unidentifiable business names. So there’s that, too. With those caveats, here are the ones we can quickly round up.
Between $2 million and $5 million
- Hilton Head Comedy Club Inc., Hilton Head, SC
Between $350,000 and $1 million
- Cityscape Comedy, LLC, Phoenix, AZ (Stand Up Live)
- The Comedy Store, West Hollywood, CA
- Groundlings, The, Los Angeles, CA
- Laugh Factory Inc., Los Angeles, CA
- Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center LA LLC, Los Angeles, CA
- Comedy Works South LLC, Greenwood, CO
- Comedy Works, Inc., Denver, CO
- Improv City Place, Inc., West Palm Beach, FL
- Halpern’s Yes & Productions, Chicago, IL
- Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center, NY, NY
- Hilarities Comedy Club LTD, Cleveland, OH
Between $150,000 and $350,000
- Comedy Club, Inc.,Birmingham, AL (StarDome)
- Flappers Comedy LLC, Burbank, CA
- For A Laugh LLC, Naples, FL (Off The Hook Comedy Club)
- Ybor Comedy Inc.,Tampa, FL (Improv)
- Zanies Comedy Clubs, Inc., Chicago, IL
- KC Improv Inc., Kansas City, MO
- 1185 Comedy Inc., New York, NY (Carolines on Broadway)
- CMR Comedy, LLC, New York, NY (Gotham Comedy Club)
- LOL Stand Up Comedy Corp., New York, NY
- National Comedy Center, Jamestown, NY
- Easton Comedy Partners, Columbus, OH (Funny Bone)
- Kenston Comedy LLC, West Chester, OH (Funny Bone)
- Center Stage Comedy West, LLC, Portland, OR (Helium)
- Center Stage Comedy, LP, Philadelphia, PA (Helium)
- Arlington Comedy Inc., Arlington, TX (Improv)
- Comedy Driving Inc., Houston, TX (comedians teaching driving classes)
- Houston Comedy LP, Houston, TX (Improv)
- V.B. Comedy Inc., Virginia Beach, VA (Funny Bone)
Here’s a statement from The UCB4 co-founders explaining their case for asking for and taking PPP money:
Employees at several of these venues also had launched GoFundMe fund-raisers, or had comedians perform benefits on their behalf. Among them: Some $600,000+ raised for comedy club GoFundMes in coordination with Mike Birbiglia’s “Tip Your Waitstaff” campaign; The Comedy Store’s comedians put on a benefit show in April that raised more than $100,000.