Comedians aren’t used to waking up before noon, joked stand-up Mona Shaikh, who organized the event. But they braved a 90-degree morning to show their solidarity with striking actors and writers.
“It’s all one. We’re all under the same umbrella so we have to support each other,” said participating comedian and recent Roast Battle L.A. champion Sarah Fatemi, who lovingly skewered WGA and SAG-AFTRA members.
Film and TV writers went on strike in May after negotiations broke down with Hollywood studios for a new three-year contract. SAG-AFTRA began its own strike in July, citing many of the same concerns as the Writers Guild of America: low wages, an outdated residual system and the encroachment of AI into Hollywood.
“Right now is a pivotal time in history for actors and writers to defy crappy pay and working conditions, not to mention lack of health benefits,” Fatemi told the crowd, which ebbed and flowed as picketers made their rounds. “I mean, who do you guys think you are? Stand-up comedians?”
The comedy jam was hosted by Minority Reportz, a showcase for underrepresented stand-up comics that Shaikh launched in 2015 at the Comedy Store. Minority Reportz aims to give stand-ups from diverse backgrounds, particularly women of color, an alternate place to practice their craft outside of the traditionally white male-dominated bar/club scene, Shaikh told The Times’ Daily Pilot in 2019.
Shaikh came up with the idea for the stand-up event in July, when she attended her first picket at Amazon Studios. That day, picketers boosted morale with karaoke performances.
“I feel like [stand-up] is a good way to lighten up the mood,” she said.
It’s not the first instance of picketers getting creative. Last week at Warner Bros., Latinas Acting Up lifted protesters’ spirits with a flash mob. Back in May, writers turned the picket line at Universal Studios into a singles event.
After originally pitching the event to SAG-AFTRA as a roast of the studios, Shaikh rebranded it to a “comedy jam” out of respect for ongoing guild negotiations with the studios.
Negotiations between writers and Hollywood studios remain in limbo. The AMPTP publicly released its counter on Aug. 22 to pressure WGA leaders to return to the bargaining table with what the studios considered a more reasonable offer, but for now, they’re not budging.
SAG-AFTRA is similarly at an impasse, but the negotiating committee released a statement on Sunday saying it is “ready at a moment’s notice” to get back to negotiating — once the AMPTP demonstrates willingness to make concessions.
Shaikh opened her set with a bit about audience members confusing her for Mindy Kaling.
“Mindy is rich. I am poor. That’s why I’m doing this,” she said.
Comic Felicia Michaels cut her set short, saying she’d soon devolve into “a bunch of d— jokes, which does feel fair on a picket line in front of Fox Studios.”
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
It was a witty segue into her critique of Disney CEO Bob Iger, whom Shaikh not-so-endearingly referred to as “Bobby.”
“Bobby said it was unrealistic of WGA members to ask for a 2% raise. Just to put things in perspective, the average writer makes $69,000 a year, while Bobby makes $74,000 a day,” Shaikh said. “I think he failed math.”
On July 13, less than a day after contract negotiations broke down, Iger appeared on CNBC’s morning show “Squawk Box,” calling the guild’s actions “disturbing.”
“There’s a level of expectation that they have that is just not realistic,” Iger said. “And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher fired back on July 14, saying, “It’s so obvious that he has no clue as to what is really happening on the ground with hard-working people that don’t make anywhere near the salary he is making.”
The comedians at Monday’s event took similar jabs.
“It costs [studios] 48 cents to send you a one-cent residual check, if you’re wondering where our money is going,” said Alex Hooper.
Felicia Michaels, who followed Hooper, ended her set after just a few minutes, saying that she’d soon devolve into “a bunch of d— jokes, which does feel fair on a picket line in front of Fox Studios.”
The comedians all stressed their desire to give picketers a few laughs and a sense of community, but several also said the event carried more weight than that.
Participating stand-up Samson Crouppen said comedians are “the voices that are in the forefront when things need to be said,” speaking the truth when others might fear the consequences of their honesty.
“We’re tight-rope walking,” he said. In his set, he referred to studio executives as “pimps” exploiting their talent.
It’s the same for stand-ups who perform in comedy clubs, Crouppen said. Although their performances draw the crowds, who in turn drive profits by eating and drinking at the clubs, they’re almost never fairly compensated.
This is one of many reasons comedians need guild protections of their own, Shaikh said.
Facing addiction, harassment and mental health issues at such high rates, she said, comedians need to work with comedy clubs to “start that conversation.”
“It is high time comedians see their own union,” she said.
The Comedy Co-op, more geared toward improv and sketch comics, launched in mid-2021 to promote a socialist-inspired approach to comedy. Despite various periods of inactivity, the group still promotes various comedy shows happening around L.A.
Minority Reportz Comedy Jam returns 10 a.m. Wednesday at Netflix’s Hollywood offices.