August, 2010 Issue

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The Laff Guru - Two Agents Walk Into A Bar...


This column started with a post on Facebook asking what my friends had to say about the relationship between performers and their representation. The response was overwhelming (although most chose to reply via a private message for fear their agent might see a public post). Here's a brief sampling of the dozens of contributions I received:

What's the difference between a vampire bat and an international agent?
One is a fearless, evil, bloodsucking monster, and the other is a small, harmless, mouse-like creature with wings.

What's the difference between God and a Hollywood agent?
God doesn't think He's an agent.

What's the difference between a bantam rooster and a New York agent?
A rooster clucks defiance.

Clearly, the relationship between agents and their clients is sometimes strained at best and downright hostile at worst (I might as well have asked how people feel about their mother-in-law).

Why do agents have the tarnished reputation of being dishonest, unethical, megalomaniacs that leech off other's talents? For the same reason that creative types have a reputation for being moody, irresponsible, self-absorbed eccentrics; each occupation attracts a percentage of people who have those negative traits in their nature. Naturally not all agents are sleazy and not all artists are flakes, unfortunately, enough are to establish stereotypes.

These stereotypes are perpetuated by the undercurrent of antagonism created by artists and agents being hopelessly dependant upon each other. It is very similar to the stereotypes that reflect the enmity that exists between genders: men don't listen and women talk too much, men are obsessed with sports and women are obsessed with shopping, etc. The love-hate relationship found between husbands and wives is also found between agents and artists. Although both forms of relationships may have negative moments, they both remain desirable because of the positive synergy created; in show business, like marriage, working together can produce results not obtainable by working alone.

The simple truth is half of show business is business, and most creative types are not hardwired to thrive in that arena, so even if an artist believes agents are evil, he knows they are a necessary evil. Having an agent you hate is often better than having no agent at all. Regardless of how an artist feels about his agent, more often than not, he endlessly craves the agent's attention and approval, as illustrated by the following joke:

A comic gets a call from his neighbor, who regretfully reports, "I have really bad news for you, buddy. Your agent came to the house, started a fire, wrecked your car, killed your dog, and molested your wife." The comic gets excited and blurts, "Ok, let me get this straight: My agent came to my house?!"

Just as most young single people dream of marriage, most new performers dream of signing with an agent. But as the old joke goes, marriage is like a hot bath, once you get in it, it ain't so hot. (I'm not sure who has screwed me more often, my ex-wives or my ex-agents?) My personal history with agents has been a roller coaster ride of alternating ups and downs.

First Agent: Jack Thumbs down Unlike

My first agent, whom for legal purposes I'll call "Jack" (as in "Jack the Ripoff") was in that small percentage that gives other agents a bad name. I wouldn't call him a snake in the grass, more like a cross between a lion and a cheetah (because everyone he dealt with called him a lying cheater...Ba-Da-Bing!) For example, I learned from his former secretary that Jack would send a booker the photographs of each of his twenty clients in one Fed Ex envelope, then bill each of the twenty clients the shipping charge, netting himself hundreds of dollars in undeserved profits. I dumped Jack after I caught him taking a 40% commission.

Why did New Jersey get all the toxic waste dumps, while California got all the agents?
New Jersey had first pick.

Second Agent: Rob Thumbs up Like

After I left Jack things quickly looked up. My next agent, whom I'll call "Rob" (because that's his name) and I formed a relationship that lasted the next eighteen years (longer than both my marriages combined). Our relationship eventually resembled an old married couple and our lengthy time together created a mutual affection that was never too far below the surface. With his help I was voted "Campus Performer of the Year" and "Campus Comic of the Year" (twice!)

But as with many marriages, we both eventually yielded to the temptation to see someone new. When he added new acts to his roster I began to feel like a suspicious old wife when her husband gets a hot new young secretary, and I was soon seduced by another agent's offer to join a start-up agency.

Third Agent: Harry Thumbs up Like, then Thumbs down Unlike, then Thumbs up Like

My third agent I'll call "Harry" (inside joke) was, and still is, a dear friend, that was launching a new agency. When Rob and I had an amicable split, I became the first comic on Harry's roster. In retrospect I now see this was a mistake, because Harry stayed in business for only one year, and the abrupt unexpected exit left my career in the lurch. (Fortunately our friendship remained in tact.)

Why don't sharks attack agents?
Professional courtesy.

Almost Forth Agent: Bertha Thumbs down Unlike & Defriended

Enter an agent, whom I'll call "Bertha," who owned an agency I was familiar with from my decades of attending conferences. She eagerly expressed interest in representing me and we spent hours on the phone discussing how we might make each other rich. I was 99.9% certain I had found the agent of my future. Then many days passed while calls went unreturned; NACA submissions were rapidly approaching when I finally got Bertha on the phone and was informed that several weeks prior, her staff opted not to represent me. She had not even shown the common courtesy to let me know!

Two agents are having dinner in Beverly Hills when a gorgeous blonde walks past them. The first agent says, "Wow, I'd love to screw her". The second agent asks, "Out of what?"

Forth Agent(s): Tim & Rich Thumbs up Like

I'm happy to report this ride is ending on a high note, actually two high notes; I am thrilled to have Tim Moyer and Rich Nikodem as my new agents. Their company, GP Entertainment, has only been around since 2004, but has come very far very fast and shows no signs of slowing down (already voted this year's runner up as "Agency of the Year.") And I'm very proud to be on the same roster with Justin Kredible, the four-time "Entertainer of the Year."

First Manager(s): David, Jim, & Steve Thumbs up Like

But wait, it gets even better: I also have a new management company, Next Round Entertainment, whose staff includes show biz heavy hitters like David Jelenko, the all-around-nice-guy Jim Oliver, the marketing genius Steve Hofstetter, and a star-studded roster that spans a dozen different college agencies. If you don't know about Next Round yet, you soon will.

In fairness to all agents, before I close I should acknowledge that having to deal with the inflated egos of dozens of performers on a daily basis must be a very challenging chore (I only have to deal with one, and half the time I think he's crazy) so these next few jokes are on me:

How many new comics does it take to screw in a light bulb?
100: One to do it and ninety-nine to ask "How long has he been up there?"

How many veteran comics does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Only one, they don't like to share the spotlight.

How many superstar comics does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One: They just hold it and the whole world revolves around them.

I'll conclude with one last parting shot:

How many agents does it take to screw a light bulb?
Actually agents will screw most anything...