Show business is quite a scam. If you’re looking for a steady income or a reasonable sense of normalcy in your life–I would highly recommend any other line of work. Here are some numbers: There are about 150,000 actors nationwide in the Screen Actors Guild (movie union), Actors Equity (theater union), and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (a federation of…well, just about everyone on TV except for all the non-union non-actors cluttering up the TV screen on all those reality shows so that brilliant performers like me have to make a living in the lucrative field of online punditry!).
Now, for every one of those 150,000 or so actors, there’s at least two misguided souls who want to be in show business but have yet to reach a level of professionalism that would bring them into one of the performer’s unions. So now we are up to about 450,000 men, women, and children looking to make a living in show business. Out of that 450,000, only about two percent of the actors in the unions are actually making a living. This includes everyone from the third chorus girl on the left in the Poughkeepsie Dinner Theater production of Annie Get Your Gun starring Kaye Ballard to the hottest star in television Donald Trump.
This means at any given time there are approximately 447,000 out of work actors not making a living in this country. And, at any given time, I find myself in both categories. Some weeks I’m in the game right between third Poughkeepsie chorus girl on the left (her name is Miki and she’s a very nice girl) and the Donald. Some weeks I’m amongst the 447,000 scratching my head wondering who put a gun to my head and forced me into such an erratic business and is it too late to open up a nice, steady Laundromat?
What keeps you going (well, not you, but me) is every once in a while you get to have an evening that is not only ego-gratifying (extremely important as, like most performers I am basically in this business to massage, shampoo and otherwise pamper my oversized ego) but also rewarding.
Recently I was booked to emcee a benefit at the Waldorf Astoria for a fine Catholic charity, Youth For The Third Millennium. I was there because, like any good Catholic charity they know that to have a successful evening you’ve got to book a Jewish comedian. The producers of the event, Alexandra Preate and Michael Tew of the company Political Capital, sent me some info in advance explaining what YTM is and what they did. I glanced at the material, but having written my generic jokes well in advance, saw no real need to educate myself on the specifics of their organization. After all, a good emcee has to be prepared to “wing it” (as we say in the business) so why clutter up my brain with “research” (Larry King has made quite a living operating on this theory, so if it’s good enough for Larry…).
So, armed with no knowledge, but with a nicely pressed tux, I proceeded to the event. At the very least it would be a free date for my wife, the lovely author Susan Konig. Just to make sure I had more than one person there to laugh at my jokes, I invited my fellow comedian friend Tom Shillue and his lovely wife Denise. Tom has the best line I’ve ever heard about entertainers and politics; “I’m a Libertarian. You know what a libertarian is? A Republican in show business!”
The first speaker of the evening was Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. This presented a challenge for me as an emcee, as how exactly do you introduce an archbishop? “He’s played all the big rooms, he’s played the Vatican…” Despite the introduction, the archbishop was very gracious and spoke–with a beautiful Italian accent–about YTM’s work coordinating 6,000 young adult missionaries throughout the US. This all sounded good–particularly with his beautiful Italian accent–but I still wasn’t quite sure what YTM did. Not that I was paying that much attention as, like most entertainers my total focus was on what I was going to say next and how spiffy I looked in my tux.
Next up was Dr. John Templeton, a member of the YTM advisory board and president of the John Templeton Foundation. I wonder how he got elected president of that foundation. I’m sure it was a real cliffhanger, they must have stayed up all night counting those votes. I would assume being named John Templeton probably gave him an edge over the other candidates running for president of the John Templeton Foundation.
The doctor gave a nice speech about the national, local and international humanitarian work being done by YTM volunteers in eight different countries and twenty eight states. At least I think it was a nice speech, I was a little focused on scarfing down the free chicken platter that had been placed in front of me. As an entertainer, you’ve got to prioritize. When your somewhere between the third chorus girl on the left and the Donald, you never know where your next free meal is coming from.
An award was given to Kevin Hasson, chairman of the Becket Fund and author of The Right to be Wrong. He told a hilarious anecdote about a town that tried to remove a cement parking barrier from a public park, but was sued by a New Age religious sect that had discovered the cement parking barrier, decided it resembled a Hindu god, and had begun worshipping it. When you are in show business you hear a lot of “New Age religious groups worshipping cement parking barrier” anecdotes, but he told it really well. He also talked about all the great work YTM does helping people in impoverished communities, but as I was seething with jealousy over the big laughs he had gotten with his anecdote I kind of missed the point.
Finally, I introduced the last speaker. A kid–28–named Luis Gonzalez. Luis took to the stage and proceeded to knock everybody out with funny and moving stories about how he and a bunch of his YTM pals went down to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, rolled up there sleeves, and started clearing out refuse. They knocked on doors, introduced themselves, offered to help and got to work. They worked for weeks and weeks, a bunch of healthy young kids having a blast. They concentrated on rebuilding classrooms so that other kids, just a few years younger than them, could get back to school and get back to a little normalcy in the wake of the catastrophe.
Luis was a hit. He’s impressive, attractive kid who is getting the most out of life by helping others. (Okay, I was a little irritated. When I was his age my big focus in life was on making a high score in Pac-Man.) Luis explained exactly what YTM was doing down in New Orleans: a faith-based initiative getting the job done. Perhaps FEMA could learn a thing or two from Luis.
So, even though Luis had better material than me, I couldn’t be too irritated with him. After all, the kid had earned his accolades–being a real humanitarian is hard work. You’ve actually got to go to disaster areas and do hard work like rebuilding a few schools. Being a show-business humanitarian is much easier–all I’ve got to do is throw on a tux, show up at the Waldorf, crack a few jokes, and introduce people like Luis. What a scam!
–Comedian Dave Konig starred on Broadway in Grease! and won a New York Emmy as the co-host of Subway Q&A. Konig has written a novel, Good Luck, Mr. Gorsky. Konig is also an NRO contributor.