If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed some activity related to a comedy show in New York this past weekend. Somebody called bullshit, here is the full story, even though I look pretty stupid. And this has almost nothing to do with Canadian Politics.
First, some info to set the tone. Whenever my girlfriend and I travel, we catch comedy shows. Louis CK in Seattle. IO and Second City in Chicago. Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. We always try to catch a few shows and we always have an awesome time. This trip, we were going to make more of an effort to catch some stand-up. We already had plans to go to a 10:30 show at the Comedy Cellar (Friday, September 20th), so comedy was on our minds. On with the story.
We were riding our Citibikes from Central Park down to Soho. We'd gone over our half hour and were nearing an hour time, when the rate gets jacked. So we had to stop and recharge the City bikes. I mention this because normally we wouldn't go anywhere near Times Square, but the closest station was nearby, just to the north. We parked the bikes and I was messing around with my camera when a guy approached.
Super friendly, young guy. "Hey, you in to stand-up?" I normally just shut this shit down right away, but my camera bag was open and I couldn't move and he seemed nice enough. I assumed he was trying to sell us tickets to his show that night, so I engaged.
Found out pretty quickly he was selling tickets for a venue and not performing, although he did admit that he was trying to get into comedy. I told him we were planning on going to the Comedy Cellar so probably weren't in to other tickets. He proceeded to whip out this binder full of really terrible pictures of the venue. "Here's a picture of Chris Rock. He was in just a month ago." I was going to make a joke about binders full of women, but I didn't. He also proceeded to tell us all about why Stand Up NY was way better than the Comedy Cellar. (footnote - oh my god was this guy full of shit. Comedy Cellar is absolutely amazing. Drinks are half the price too). I can't remember all of his reasons. He also mentions that tickets are 20 bucks, but far more at the door. I ask about drink minimums, as I figure this is probably the scam. He says it's no big deal. There's a two item minimum, and if you want to buy a pineapple juice, that's cool. He then talks for a while about how he just drank pineapple juice the last time he was in the club because he didn't feel like drinking.
So, of course, we asked him about the line-up. Funny thing, I don't even think the proper line-up is up on their website now. He mentioned Nikki Glaser (funny girl, she actually showed up). He mentioned some others. And then, I think he smelled weakness and went in for the kill.
This is where I hesitate. This is where I feel like I start to really look stupid. In hindsight, it's just...man...what were you thinking. But behind every good scam is a greedy mark, right? People seldom get taken advantage of if they're not trying to get something for cheap. I do realize there are countless stories that contradict this claim, but bare with me.
"You know Jay Pharoah, from Saturday Night Live? He'll be there tonight. People don't know this, but he's been doing stand-up since he was 15. He's so funny." We then talked about that for a while. I don't know, after everything he had told us, after we'd had this long conversation with him, peppered with his personal details, we believed him. But Jay Pharoah wasn't a dealmaker for us. Which, of course he should have been! You kidding me! Jay Pharoah for 20 bucks!
So he kept going. "You guys like Juday Friedlander? He's here tonight too! He does shows all the time." At this point, my partner was sold, but suspicious. We started asking him for more details. We asked very direct questions like "Seriously? Judah Friedlander is playing three shows tonight? Like, he's for sure booked?" Insistent, emphatic yes to every question. Even adding his own details. "He's such a cool guy. He always hangs out after the show. You can probably meet him if you want!"
At this point, I in no way questioned anything that the guy was saying about the show. But I assumed he's selling us fake tickets. He pulled them out. They looked legit. And we started to question him on what his piece was. He explained to us that he got a cut of every ticket and that he did have a vested interest in selling us these tickets. I asked at this point "We're not going to show up and these tickets won't work, are we?" I mean, I was kidding. I trusted him. Then the clincher.
He calls his boss over, who was standing about 20 feet away. He confirms everything that the first guy says. Then, he starts adding shit. "Tell you what. If you go to the 7PM show, I'll sign you up for VIP seats and throw in a round of shots. Just make sure you're there by 6:45." I mean...what the hell. I figure that if this is a scam, it's the most oddball scam in the entire world. Selling comedy tickets for 20 bucks for less than household name comedians (no offense to Judah and Jay)? Gotta be the stupidest crime in the history of New York. Of course we take that deal. Worst case, we're out 20 bucks. Boss phones the tickets in (we heard him do this, for what that is worth) and our trusty sales guy rights his name on the tickets, so he gets his cut. James is his name. I think. And we're on our way.
This is where you shake your head and call me a dumbass. But we were tourists! We didn't have data. We didn't have much time. A quick search would have exposed the scam, but we didn't have the means at our fingertips. Off we went.
We spent the rest of the day bombing around Soho. I had to pick up my new, bulky as shit motorcycle jacket that I'd bought the day before. And we headed back uptown carrying all sorts of shit, scurrying along to make it by 6:45, which we barely did. And that's the other thing that got us. If we didn't have all that crap. If we weren't almost late. We might have stopped at the door and wondered what exactly was going on. Looked for a poster with the line-up on it or something like that. But we didn't.
So we show up, and there's maybe 8 people ahead of us. Bad feeling. And they advertise really cheap drink specials on the sign out front. We've already spent 40 bucks, gotta see what happens. We're actually super happy that the tickets actually worked and that our reservation had been phoned in. They warn us that there's a two drink minimum and show us to our seats.
And here's where it starts to fall apart. Flip the menu over. The two item minimum promised by the sales guy? No, two alcoholic drink (per person) and a 20 dollar (per person) minimum. Drinks are $9.50 as well, so if you only order two, they still fuck you with an extra 50 cents per drink. Oh well. Beer list isn't terrible and we kind of expected something like that. A few more people trickle in and there's a not totally embarrassing crowd by the time the show starts.
It was pretty weird comedy. The host (Bob Dibuono) recognized the absurdity of the crowd. He engaged with pretty much everybody and set a decent tone. The comics were all pretty funny. Even started to get excited to see Judah in such a small space with so few people (I'd had a few drinks when this thought entered my mind). But then...."Please pay your bills before the headliner starts." Okay. Something ain't right.
It actually turned into a hostage situation. At this point, I know that my only leverage is to not pay my alcohol bill. And they won't start the final act until the bills are paid! They came buy at least 4-5 times to encourage us to pay the bill so we don't miss any of the final act. No fucking way I'm paying at this point. Just like that, my gradually rising suspicion turned into a blinding rage. Finally, they relent. They actually flash a little light letting the host know he can bring out the last guy.
Out walks Jay Oakerson. He's a big dude, but no Judah Friedlander. I'm just enraged at this point. I feel so stupid to have fallen for such a ridiculous scam. I want to just ruin everything. I assume the comedians are in on the whole thing and I just want to ruin the guys show. I actually heckled some Southern Republican Sorority Girls when they were too slow to answer the comedians question about why they hadn't dated a black guy before. I was just so furious.
The show ended. I asked to see the manager. I opened with "Okay. You scammed us with the tickets. How about knocking some money off the liquor bill?" I know. classy, right. But it was a $48 dollar bill for 4 drinks. She was pretty confrontational at first. "I don't have any control over the street team. They say all kinds of things to sell tickets. But you drank 4 drinks and you have to pay for them." I tell her that the drinks cost 5 dollars not 20 feet away and that I'm more than willing to pay for the alcohol that I drank, but that I'd appreciate it if she'd charge me the outside rate for drinks. I also explain that, as manager, she was the representative of the establishment and although she wasn't directly responsible for the lies that were told, as far as I was concerned she was my official contact for this organization. She offered to buy us another drink at the bar for our troubles. I kept going.
She softened somewhat. She printed off a new bill that knocked 20 bucks off, apologized and gave me the e-mail for the owner (who I haven't written, but probably should have before I tweeted). The waitress overheard at this point and seemed really embarrassed. They even offered us tickets to another show. I think partially they just wanted us out of there because there was a huge, huge line-up out the door for the next show. We left. Went down to the Comedy Cellar. And it killed. And drinks were only 5 bucks.
Lesson learned. I'm a greedy dumbass and if it's too good to be true...well...
In the end, we spent 70 bucks on a night of okay comedy (although it almost was 90). Far from the worst scam out there. Heck, we were pretty close to buying the tickets with no big name headliners. Had we not gone in to the thing with such high expectations, we probably would have been pretty happy.