Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sketch Writing for Riches!

So, my favorite form of writing is sketch comedy writing. In this town, there's not much reason to do it other than because you love it. If you are interested in writing for SNL or MADtv or sketch off-shoots like The Daily Show or Family Guy, it's an excellent training ground and you will, eventually, have to relocate. But if you want to stick to Chicago, you do it for the love and keep an eye out for opportunities to turn a buck with it.

One such opportunity is writing for corporate entertainment. Corporations often have big get-togethers where they have to get information out in an entertaining manner or, at least, have to spice things up between getting the information out there.

They tend to pay well, but I always feel like I'm getting screwed. Part of this goes back to my very first corporate gig.

Post-college, I was working at the Dayton Mall Food Court with an ex-girlfriend named Peggy. She had annually hosted a live kids show featuring the Care Bears over at the Salem Mall. Well, the folks at the Salem Mall had a fallout with American Greetings, the owners of the Care Bears. The Salem Mall still owned one Care Bear outfit, still had Peggy in town, had already scheduled the week of Care Bear shows. All they needed was a script. Peggy recommended me.

Immediately, I started brainstorming, letting it percolate in the back of my head, while grilling steak sandwiches at the food court. I came up with a title The Care Bear's Great Candy Adventure, a villain named The Icky Dr. Yuckbottom, and a joke.

Peggy is talking to the kids about something strange that happened to her. She rode her big wheel to the candy store and bought a lollipop. "I noticed my shoe was untied. So, I put the lollipop on the seat of my Big Wheel and tied my shoe. When I turned back, my lollipop was gone! At first, I thought my dog took it, but then I remembered, I don't have a dog!"

And don't know why, but it cracked me up that she would say that and it helped me gain momentum in writing the rest of the piece. The folks at the Salem Mall loved it, wanted to use it, wanted me to play The Icky Dr. Yuckbottom, and scheduled a readthrough. Mind you, this was all done before there was any talk whatsoever about paying me (sidenote: Always talk money BEFORE working on the gig). Peggy and I and the guy who would don the Care Bears outfit sat down with a Salem Mall rep to read the script. He gushed about it, we read it, we laughed. And then he said, "The dog joke has to go."

What!?! My brilliant work of genius comedy has to go? Why? Are you crazy?

"There might be kids in the audience who don't have dogs. They'll bug their parents to buy a dog and the parents will get pissed at us."

I still didn't get the logic of that being a problem.

"Theoretically speaking, then, we can't have anything in the show. No candy. No Care Bears. Nothing." I didn't say that. I wasn't smart enough back then. Plus, I was dumbfounded at their reasoning. It was my first experience of someone editing my work without honoring my input. They were killing my children!

I took the lump. I don't recall any other major alteration to the work. I was looking forward to performing my script for a crowd of kids for three shows a day for a week. A professional writer AND actor!

The money? I got screwed. I had no idea what was an appropriate amount. I think they expected me to negotiate. Not knowing I had any other options, I took the first figure they threw out. $300. It was less than I would have made working full-time at the food court. Peggy told me later I got screwed. Sigh.

Now, whenever I am offered a corporate gig, I ask for what I think it should be based on my experience with Second City. And if they ask me to do more than what was agreed upon, I ask for more. It feels weird. But it's right. Always ask for more than you think it should be. As an artist, you are usually low-balling yourself. The worst that can happen is that they make a counter-offer that's still probably more than what you would pay yourself.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Monsignor Tommaso Stenico was suspended from the Vatican after making advances on a young man says he what?"

25% guessed "Really did want the young man's opinion on his new pants."
- Do these standard issue black slacks make me look fat? No, because being gay has a slimming effect.

9% thought "Really is an amateur photographer who knows natural talent when he sees it."
- You remind me of a young Rock Hudson. Pout for me, pout for the camera, pout for the Pope. Uh, no.

8% figured "Really did find a stray eyelash on the young man's cheek."
- Got it! Now, make a wish and blow...harder! Nope.

58% rightly stated "Was just pretending to be gay."

According to the Associated Press, a Vatican official suspended after being caught on hidden camera making advances to a young man says he is not gay and was only pretending to be gay as part of his work. Monsignor Tommaso Stenico told La Repubblica daily he frequented online gay chat rooms and met with gay men as part of his work as a psychoanalyst. He said that he pretended to be gay in order to gather information about "those who damage the image of the Church with homosexual activity." And, yes, he said all these things with a cock in his mouth.