Pear Shaped people often ask me "How can the gig possibly be any worse"?
The answer's simple - you create a gig where
BOTH the audience and the punters pay!
At Pear Shaped we're happy just to rip off the public
So.. what’s SO wrong with Pay to Play?
Firstly let’s look at how comedy promoting has worked historically and
indeed most would assume it does work. For those of you who are new to
the world of comedy promoting here’s a picture I happened upon from the
Ladybird Book of Comedy Promoting 1981.
Of course being a Ladybird book the
promoter is always a man - the woman is at home ironing - but you get
Isn't that a bit
Clearly the Comedian's Job is to
Write and Perform Material while the promoter's job is to sell the
performance. Promoters don't write material for the acts or
perform it so why should the acts perform the functions of the
promoter? Sometimes the promoter may be an act or may be a
businessman but clearly it's the promoter's responsibility to get a
crowd not the acts.
This page is dedicated
to the best
promoting pay-to-play scams in the history of comedy promoting on the
London comedy circuit. For those of you who are wondering what
such a scam is. It is where an
audience are paying entry and the acts are paying to perform
no one's actually stupid enough to Pay-to-Play anyway?
You would think so.
However, new acts are
green and keen and fully of enthusiasm.Wanting to
get booked and rebooked they are prepared to offer all kinds of favours
and services in return for stage time.Some,
particularly the very young ones, will offer to flyer for you for free,
put out the chairs, set up the room, buy you a pint, shine your shoes
and cook you a four course dinner complete with after eight mints in
return for stage time.So almost since the dawn of
promoting some promoters have thought…
"Well, if these
idiots are prepared to pay me for stage time why not?"
...and promoters have
been trying to invent ways of passing off the costs of putting the gig
on to the newest and youngest acts... of whom there are many more since
the birth of the comedy course and the explosion of DVD sales...
Pay to Play
Mr Greedy decided that if people were prepared
to bribe him for a gig why not try and directly charge people to play.Of course as soon as Mr Mug found out he could get 5
minutes down the road at the Comoffit Head for £0 on a Saturday
night Mr Mug and Co were livid.As Charles Ponzi
explains in this diagram it is, after all, a very obvious con that you
don't have to be too bright to work out...
Greedy revised his scam and told comics instead they could…
Sell Tickets for a Gig – London’s first failed Bringer Show
Mr Greedy would sell
the acts tickets (as many as four) which they would then have to sell
on.Of course not everyone could find four people
so this was effectively a pay-to-play gig or at least a gig where the
acts were supplying unpaid labour to Mr Greedy in return for stage time...
birth of Flyer-to-Play gigs
As mobiles and email
came along booking gigs was suddenly simpler which meant promoters had
more time and there were more of them... promoters discovered (somewhat
belatedly) that you could fill your gigs with more people by sending
more people out to flyer.Particularly in the West
End where there is always a regular pool of tourists round Leicester Square ...
However, it was only a matter of time
before some people tried to shortcut the system by using open spots as
the UNPAID source of flyerers… Much duplicated, this scam was first
invented by a promoter (Ms Lazy) who would book exclusively new acts
and when they got there, send them ALL out to flyer UNPAID!
The UNPAID Flyer to Pay Scam
again a very simple con. Instead of asking one person to do 7
hours of unpaid work you ask 7 people to do 1 hour of unpaid
work. As a result you get a whole day of labour for free.
Eventually when you run out of people you can talk into this, you don't
tell anyone up front what you're doing until they get there and if they
don't do it you refuse to put them on. They're then forced to
work for you or have had a completely wasted journey.
The more open
spots are press-ganged into being free labour, the worse the gig gets
until eventually the gig is nothing more than an exercise in bullying
people into collecting people into a room for cash......
usually the gig then naturally implodes unless it's being
artificially sustained by being part of a larger promoting
This scam is usually perpetrated by telling people "We're all working
together!" ...although the promoter keeps all the money and
glory for themselves of which there is usually very little.
The bringer is where by leaning on new
acts to bring mates in emails when booking them the promoter steals
their labour and exploits their social contacts in order put bums on
seats. New Acts are coerced knowing no better; being sold such lies as
“if no one shows we’ll lose the room”. Also it's very
difficult to test material on people you already have an emotional
picture of how the Bringer Scam works
Of course this really
identical to Mr Greedy's scam,
but without the
obligation on the act to physically purchase the tickets up front.
The open spots are
actually being used to form a call center but they dont think this is
unsual while they are making the calls because they are physically
separated and as they are all new acts they are unaware this isn't
promotion it's simply recursion!
Another way of perpetrating the
scam is not to tell anyone
explicitly you expect them to bring someone until you email them to confirm days
before the gig making sure they have no
time to find another gig for that night so they are blackmailed
into either complying or ending up with a hole in their diary.
defended with that good old classic
"There are 15 odd
acts each week delighted to bring a couple of friends".
Dunbar's number is a
theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can
maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in
which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person
relates to every other person. Dunbar used the correlation
observed for non-human primates to predict a social group size for
humans. Using a regression equation on data for 38 primate genera
Dunbar predicted a human "mean group size" of 148 (casually rounded to
150). If a new act gigs twice a week on average and has to take a
new 2 friends to each gig this means that after 75 gigs he will have
totally exhausted all his relationships in only 9 months. He will
then have to create new social relationships at the rate of 2 a
week. Since he can only keep a maximum of 150 friends going at
any one time this will mean he will have to lose 2 of his old friends a
week so that every meaningful relationship he had before will have been
ended in just over a year and a half. And that's assuming no
other acts are his friends.....Clearly this is unsustainable
nonsense. Perhaps there are people who can run their Facebook log
in like that but no one can sustain real social relationships like
that, can they? If they can it's a miracle of social harmony.
So what happens in social
reality is that open spots end up dragging other open spots to bringer
shows (as all their newly formed relationships are with other opens)
and pretending that they're not acts but required audience
members. The promoter then pockets the £13. The acts
have also paid to travel to the gig. This is silly, as if they'd
pooled their resources they could have stuck it all into petrol money
and gone and done an out of town gig, where they would be rebooked if
they did well. Out of town promoters are more than happy to give
open spots petrol money in order to fill their stage time. It is
only London promoters who have socially isolated themselves by banning
anyone who disagrees with them who think we really are all that stupid!
While it's true that friends of new acts will always be
part of the revenue of an open mike night, forcing people to bring mates or
coercing them is trying to lean on them to do the work of the promoter
for themselves. Most of the time I have found that a percentage of new
acts bring mates anyway so why force them to do so? There is only
one reason - to increase turnover
for the promoter's cash ISA. Whether the public or acts enjoy
themselves is of no consequence.
This is usually defended with
a very small price to pay when
you think about the benefits to you.
The important words here are price to pay.
It is an open admission that acts are paying for stage time.
If he has found a
way to keep both parts of his club going, it has
got to be good for the business as a whole from
The key phrase here is both parts
- it is an admission that the promoter
has to keep the new acts and established acts separated, in order to
institute his policy of effectively charging the new acts.
you agree to do a Bringer show, book it and bring no one and let the
promoter stew in his own impotence. No matter how many IMPORTANT famous people the promoter
photographs himself with or boasts about knowing if he really was powerful he wouldn't need YOU
to bring an audience. Respectable clubs don't lean on new
acts to bring in punters. No one has the right to ask you to do unpaid
hilarious defences for making acts pay to play include:
are driven by jealousy
No, I'm not.
is just a few comics who are annoyed by it.
When HUGE numbers
of acts professional and new annoyed by this ! I am not running a
vendetta but you can check this out by searching the Chortle News
archive and forums.
It means we will
have a sure crowd
So does kidnap
Without a venue there can be no gig.
While in New York real estate prices are astronomic
meaning club owners there can bully acts in this way decimating their
own industry, there are over 55,000 pubs alone just in London many of
which have function rooms and that doesn't even include arts centers
and proper entertainment venues. Just how stupid do you think we
are, Mr Bigness?
All acts bring
friends with them when they start out...
No, we didn't. We really really didn't.
But my scam is a
new way of doing things...?
No, it's as old as the hills - see above
EVERYONE PAYS NO
That is the only way a night like this is possible
I am sending a coded message to the acts that I expect them to pay to
play while attempting to conceal the fact they are being charged to
perform from the paying public. Actually, this is a black
lie - I dont really need to charge at all I'm just very ruthless and
The combination of our website, our huge mailing list, and our facebook
site means that your name gets seen by approx 13.000 people in any one
week . That includes media folk watching out for the stars of the
Anyone can set up a website, mailing list and facebook
site - Mr Bigness didn't invent the internet. Exploitative practices
are often defended with the phrase "media folk watching out for the
stars of the future". Promoters and agents go to gigs
anyway. Yes, Avalon actually do send people out to open mike
nights to spot and trawl for new talent - good on them! I know
this because I've sold them tickets.
The venue makes a
bit on drinks which I need to happen in order to stay there.
Some new act nights have been running for over a decade
if no one does come …erm … what’s the point?Actually
many people have asked us that but we're still there. Seriously though
despite some very slack periods indeed in the past we've never lost the
room and ...if no one ever does come ... You need to think about why
your gig doesn’t work? Besides which being thrown out of a venue isn't
the end of the world. If todays established promoters had let little
things like being thrown out by the landlord stand in their way... The
object of promotion is to run an event people want to come back to not to fill pub
rooms by bullying. If you have a respected name people will come back
even if you move venue.
It helps towards
my costs of putting on the night.
point out that I spend many hours during the week pushing the event.
No one's denying Mr Big works very hard but Mr Big is
working for Mr Big. The acts are working for Big by definition if he's
charging the public to see them. To ask the acts to bring their own
paying audience is short-circuiting the process of promotion and
perverting the promoter/act relationship
You get to perform
at an excellent influential leading club
It was until you ran a scam
and damaged your reputation for integrity within the "industry".
This has worked as
a really good formula for the past two and a half years...?
No, it has not. Your name is
mud all the way from Portsmouth to Manchester. This is why you are
still doing open mike nights after ages and ages on the circuit.
I also noticed
that performers who had their friends in the audience performed to a
generally higher standard
Any promoter who links stage time to returned favours in this way is
putting themselves under the suspician that they take
bribes. It is also a coded way of saying the promoter's
biggest interest in new acts is turnover. While this may be true,
saying it explicitly is slightly tactless
People pay to do the
Fringe - this is no different?
is. People who take shows to the Fringe are investing their
labour and money directly in their own career. People who work for
nothing for a promoter are simply exploited. Also the Fringe has had
problems with this kind of thing too. Eventually when the costs of
performing had been eaten away by so many parasites that only the rich
could afford to go one man, Peter Buckley-Hill, stood up and invented...
These people are doing it for a hobby, so why shouldn't
they pay for it?
Many people do comedy for a hobby,
semi-professionally or professionally. However, even hobbyists and part
timers do gigs in order to get gigs. An open spot is meant to be a job
interview for a paid spot. Or a chance to test new material in a
situation of less pressure as the gig is unpaid. The comic is actually
doing the promoter a favour by turning up and filling stage time - not
the other way round. If someone is doing a gig-they-paid-to-do to
get an unpaid gig then firstly they are bribing the promoter which is
unethical and secondly the promoter is trying to get them to work for less than nothing or do the labour
of promoting for them in order to turn a profit. And if the public are
paying to see the acts and the acts are paying to be seen this is a Pay-to-Play scam.
Also, if an open spot is a job interview then pay-to-play gigs are by definition
employment scams and employment scams are actually a form of advance fee fraud.
So long as you are prepared to pay someone upfront to find you work they
have no incentive to actually find you any or create more
employment. So it's always ultimately futile to pay someone for a
Unlike general cons or sharp business practices that prey on people
with disposable income employment
scams are particularly obnoxious because they prey on the most
vulnerable people in society - job seekers.
If I want to pay
to play why is that wrong?
It is bribery. An open spot is meant to be a form of job
interview. If you have to repeatedly pay for job interviews that is a
type of employment scam and there is legislation against such scams
even if the various pay-to-play gigs fall between the cracks. No
professional comedian will knowingly perform at a Pay-to-Play gig.
There will therefore be no progression. Even if a proper comedian is
willing to play a Pay-to-Play night the
promoter will not want them in their room for fear they will be
disgusted at how the other acts are treated.
Being a comedian isn't just about being funny. It
is also a sales job. The job of the comedian is to be funny and to sell the fact he/she is funny to
promoters. Salesmen who sell complex manpower projects to
large organisations have long used symoblic logic to try to map who has
influence and authority within an organisation in order to maximise
their chance of a sale. Whether an organisation/promoter has 1,7
or 1000 individuals working for them, all organisations have one thing
in common - the
number of people with the infuence and authority to spend money is
usually limited to one or two at the most. These people
are often hard to reach so the salesman tries to impress people of
moderate influence and authority in order to find someone who has
sufficient social influence with the actually powerful to get him work,
contracts (or in our case a gig).
By making subjective judgements on influence (likelihood to recommend an act to a
promoter) and authority
(likelihood to book
and pay an act)of every act/person at any particular
type of gig (this doesn't count the audience that would take forever)
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli has produced the above
influence vs authority bubble chart of power at pro, amateur, open mike
and pay-to-play gigs. While the
positioning of each individual bubble may be debatable the size of the bubble (which reflects the number of individuals at each power level)is not...
As the animation shows, people
who pay-to-play instead of working for free or for nothing
actually have negative authority and
negative influence. Basically they are giving money to
someone who's ambition it is to keep them at the bottom of the comedy
ladder for as long as possible. The more promoting work they do
for for free the more power the scam promoter gets.
If you really want stage time that badly, start your own
club and book the acts. Many well respected acts right up to top pros
will play the smaller clubs for realistically small fees as long as
they dont feel they're being taken for a ride. You can find
contact details of acts through the Mirth Control Diary Room, by
gigging and by going out to live comedy gigs and blagging them.
Dont be shy to ask an act to gig for you - they can only say "No" or
"How much?" or "Ask my agent" You find a pub with spare room and
politely ask the landlord if you can use it for a gig ... if he says no
you keep looking. If you dont feel confident enough to run a club on
your own find some mates to help you. It does take a fair amount of
work but if there are lots of you involved you dont have to be there
EVERY week. Alternatively go out of town. There are many many
clubs out there and if you do well they will pay you and ask you
back. That is an investment in your future - rather than a scam
promoter's cash ISA
a free market
It's not an unregulated free market and you can't behave
as though employment law didn't exist or abuse the goodwill of acts and
the general public forever.
As explained above, as well as being employment scams,
pay to play scams are also simple forms of old fahsioned bribery and
corruption. For all their talk of "free markets" pay-to-play
promoters are actually simply engaged in old fashioned anti-competative
practices that create a very unfavourable business environment by
encouraging unfair advantage.
and corruption impacts upon the poor and vulnerable people, it
undermines public services and has an economic impact, increasing the costs of doing business
(see below) whether the corruption is overseas or open mike. As
explained by this Japanese election poster ...
But these are just
All professional acts started out as open spots at some time and
promoters who value the labour of open spots enough to put them on for
free are not happy about "promoters" trying to undercut them by using
opens as a source of free money/labour particularly so when they are
acts themselves expecting to be given free stage time at other clubs.
Furthermore it is our experience that when they run out of sub-minimum
wage labour some of these "promoters" come round free-to-play clubs
trying to find more people to force to pay to play against their will
and when they are confronted and ask to leave turn very nasty.
club starts in effect charging people to perform then lots of other
people within the industry will have to start charging each other to
perform and the costs of becoming a comedian will rise...
is the usual effect of bribery and corruption increasing the cost of
doing business (see above).
Then the new generation of comedians will the be decided
by how much wealth they have rather than how funny they are and poorer
people will be excluded from the comedy circuit meaning the development
of talent will suffer. People who support paying for stage time are
really dividing society and decimating the industry as famously
happened to the New York comedy scene. Everyone does unpaid gigs
somewhere and everyone needs a promoter to take a risk on them at the
start of their career. Running open mike gigs is relatively inexpensive
whereas comics have large overheads - travel, festival shows etc
...we travel all over the country and the world ... making people pay
extra on top of that will exclude more and more people from trying.
A new act night is
hard to sell to the public
Orange Shaped and the Laughing Goose and Playfulness
Comedy Clubs and New Acts at the Zebra and many other promoters have
been selling New Acts to the public for over a decade. New acts
are more than willing to gig for nothing. If you cant make money
out of people prepared to work for free then you're just really really
really bad at business.
put on an open night sometimes you get Daniel Kitson and sometimes you
get a mentally disturbed young neo-nazi woman talking for five
punchline free minutes about gas chambers while killing the evening
stone dead but most of the time you just find someone who’s okay.Also a lot of new acts are uncommitted and just dont
show! which makes the waiting lists for a spot for those genuinely
interested even longer. The upside of booking new acts is that you get
their contact details before anyone else and can circumvent agents and
middle men.I didn’t tell you that though.
But I cant start
my own gig and escape because
someone with a huge ego and an Equity card told me that the moment
money changes hands you need at
least £5 million of Employers Liability Insurance
which is a legal requirement which one can be fined £2,500 for
This is a black lie
designed to deter open spots from starting their own clubs and
promoting for themselves. If this was true half the open mike
promoters in London would be breaking the law. After a long
consultation with the CAB about HSE and 14 years in promoting we
have decided this is simply NOT true.
The truth is that if you
do not deduct national insurance and income tax from
the money you pay people
do not have the right to control where and when they work and how they
do not supply their work materials and equipment (there are none in
do not require that person only to deliver the service (i.e. can cope
with acts pulling - we are experts at this)
do not treat every "employee" in the same way as other "employees"
(promoters do not treat everyone as equal)
then it is EXTREMELY unlikely
that you need Employers Liability Insurance
Doorsplit gigs where the acts share all the profits
are explicitly exempted as there is no "profit" ...meaning that there
is no money held back by the employer to be re-invested or diverted to
a cash ISA.
The killer arguement
we came up with is - if you do not need
employers’ liability insurance for people such as cleaners or gardeners
if they work for more than one person how can it make sense that you
possibly need it to put on a 10 spot....?
This is bollocks.
Obviously if you
regularly run lots of gigs and have people who work exclusively for you
you might need it. If you are a familly business who only employs
relatives and not
incorporated as a PLC then you definately dont need it. The
regular misquotation of these regulations is just sophisticated middle
class intimidation intended to make promotion seem hard when it is
not. Of course if you're really worried you could come to an
agreement with the venue for them to cover you under their ELI but
since we havent managed to find any examples of single small club being
fined since the legislation was enacted in 1969 that would seem to us
to be a tad over-cautious.
But my Bringer is
not as bad as a direct pay to play gig
because athough I ask each act to bring two people
it's FREE entry so I'm not charging them to perform?
Let's look at the maths of that Business model for a moment
If each act spend on average £5 to get there...
Then the cost of the
open mike gig of 10-14 acts (including comperes) to put on in
travel expeses is £50 to £70.
These are the
acts expenses so not the responsibility of promoter/employer (although
many out of town promoters will pay travel expenses anyway).
Never-the-less the acts are still doing him/her a favour by
showing. Assuming only half of the acts (7) bring the
required number of friends
or that half the friends are there by choice then...
A ONE PERSON bringer duplicates
this travel cost at least once over generating an extra £35 in
A TWO PEOPLE bringer duplicates this travel
cost at least twiceover generating an extra £50 in travel costs.
If acts friends are not there by choice they are doing WORK for the
promoter by being there and going there. If we factor in the time
these reluctant souls spend at and traveling to the gig as unpaid
labour then even assuming half of them would be there by choice then at
ONE PERSON bringer = a free £125 in labour assuming their travel
is under an hour. A
TWO PEOPLE bringer = a free £250 in labour assuming their travel
is under an hour.
If we further factor in the drinks they wouldn't have bought which are
"funding" the night.
If each of the 7 friends at a BRING ONE PERSON bringer buys 1 drink at
£3 each the bar turns over an extra £42 buys 2 drink at
£3 each the bar turns over an extra £84 buys 3 drink at
£3 each the bar turns over an extra £126
If each of the 7 friends at a BRING TWO PERSON bringer buys 1 drink at
£3 each the bar turns over an extra £84 buys 2 drink at
£3 each the bar turns over an extra £168 buys 3 drink at
£3 each the bar turns over an extra £252
Collating all that we got this table
If we assume at least half of the "brought
peope" for each of the 14 acts are there against their own will then:
Bring One Person
Bring Two People
Duplicate Travel Costs (£5 each)
Hours at NMW)
Duplicate Travel Costs + "Friends" Time(3 Hours at NMW)
1 * Drinks that wouldn’t have been otherwise
bought at £3
2 * Drinks that wouldn’t have been otherwise
bought at £3
3 * Drinks that wouldn’t have been otherwise
bought at £3
you count the "friends who dont want to actually come"'s time as labour
NMW it = £160-320 depending on if they bring 1 or 2 people
drinks sales turnover of those people = £ 42-252 depending on if the act brings 1 or 2 people
at 20% profit per pint that's probably between
£8 - 50 net profit for the pub
total possible extra financial cost dumped onto acts friends/acts = £202-572 depending on if they bring 1 or 2 people
These statistics still assume that only half the people required by the
acts are actually brought or are unwilling to be there.
charging 24 acts £4 a entry fee each
only turns over a pitiful
24 x £4 = £96 profit And
no additional drinks sales turnover as
they probably dont have friends anyway So the total
possible extra financial cost dumped onto these acts is fixed at £96
From which we have concluded that
although he hasn't cloaked his disreputability .... London's
only direct pay to play promoter is probably cheaper (in time and
labour) to "work for" than London's
"reputability cloaked" bringer promoters if you multiply out the
equivalent NMW and travel costs. So it is not hard to postulate that
bringers steal more of an act's resources than direct charges.
It is little wonder then that these
bringer bookers are getting healthy bungs off of landlords for putting
on these shows which, of course, may also undermine the negotatiating
of non-bringer gigs with their venues. Why let someone have a
venue for free when you can make them pay through the nose by
subcontracting to an outside "promoter" the implementation of
extremely top heavy, hierarchical business structures designed to make
people work for less than the NMW just to do a job interview? that
cloak their exploitation as somehow "democratic". The
that this process kills new talent must always be someone else's
Why dont you name
and shame individuals?
Apart from the regular and
tiresome threats of physical violence and the fact everyone knows where
and who we are this would seem to be duplicating the effort of the
website which lists open spot gigs by booking policy under The Gig
Guide / By Conditions
Where do these
practices come from?
Although some of these
practices are imported from the music scene and US...
..., it's just a fact of
life that the Entertainment
Industry has always suffered from this sort of thing. Also many
these practices are/have been copied/imported from other areas of the
arts" where ambitious cheap labour is even more plentiful than in stand
up. If you think the London open mike circuit has a problem with
exploitation then you should read this site ... by former (now
retired) Equity frontman Clive Hurst about his campaign against
exploitative modeling and acting agencies and the attempts by himself
to close the many loopholes in National Minimum Wage law and the many
personal attacks on his person and property that resulted. The
Entertainment industry has more NMW breaches than any other sector of
the ecconomy. As from 1 January 2011, employers who break the law
on basic pay will find their names published on the Department for
Business website and given three months in which to correct the
breach. Edward Davey, the new Employment Relations Minister,
publicity can be a powerful weapon in the fight against employers who
try to cheat their workers and their competitors. Their reputation can
be badly damaged if they are seen to be flouting the law".
work! Every open spot in London should buy you a pint!
This is supposed to be a campaign against bribery - even if I do take
bribes I'm not going to admit it openly, am I? Bribery around the
world is estimated at about $1 trillion (£494bn)....
I give up - sell your soul ...I'll have a stout please
It's only a rival
promoter and a few new acts who object to it. You can read miles of objections by
acts and promoters at all levels of the circuit on the Chortle Forums.
People who run bringers,
unpaid-flyer and pay-to-play gigs make a big song and dance about their
important friends in the business in order to intimidate the young, new
and vulnerable into bowing down before them. But remember while
all acts should respect the booker you are not his slave. He/she
is only one booker.
Most comedians are happy with the
existing system to gig for nothing or relatively nothing if they're
free and want the stage time.
They do not want pay to play
however carefully cloaked.
So if you know
of a promoter using opens as free labour do something about it!
And dont buy
tickets directly from opens.
Go support new acts but make
sure they're not being leaned on
to sell you tickets.