Who’s laugh­ing now? The comic who took on The Man – and won

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

LOUIS CK FOUGHT the law and Louis CK won. The sar­donic US co­me­dian, one of the very best in the busi­ness, had pre­vi­ously taken on The Man when it came to sell­ing his live DVD; now he’s tak­ing on (and cur­rently win­ning over) the live tour­ing in­dus­try. It’s a salu­tary story for any­body in­volved in to­day’s frac­tured entertainment in­dus­try – es­pe­cially mu­si­cians.

It be­gan last year when Louis wrote, per­formed, recorded and pro­duced his own live DVD, the very bril­liant Louis CK Live at the Bea­con Theater, and of­fered it as a stream­ing down­load at a flat cost of $5, with the added bonus that it was re­gion-free.

Ev­ery­one in the in­dus­try thought he was mad: put­ting out a DRM-free work would al­low the world to il­le­gally ac­cess it; a comic of his stature could have got­ten away with a $30-plus charge; by not go­ing through es­tab­lished chan­nels (dis­tri­bu­tion, mar­ket­ing, pro­mo­tion) he was doomed to fail­ure; etc.

To buy it you logged on to Pay­Pal, where a mes­sage from Louis said “this DVD has no re­gional re­stric­tions, no crap. You can down­load this file, play it as much as you like, burn it to a DVD, what­ever you want”.

It was a Ra­dio­head-style “tip jar” ex­per­i­ment and a per­sonal risk, given that Louis had bor­rowed $250,000 to pro­duce the live show. But he ap­pealed to peo­ple’s bet­ter na­tures. “Ev­ery new gen­er­a­tion of ma­te­rial I create is my in­come. It’s like a farmer’s an­nual crop. The time and ef­fort on my part was far more than if I’d done it with a big com­pany.” He added that if he had used “nor­mal” chan­nels, the DVD would have been priced at $20-plus and have all sorts of re­gion­re­stricted crap on it.

Louis sold 200,000 copies of Live at the Bea­con, which brought in (my cal­cu­la­tor says) $1 mil­lion. Of this, he set aside $250,000 to cover the costs of the pro­duc­tion; an­other $250,000 was given out in bonus pay­ments to those who worked on the DVD (light­ing, sound peo­ple, etc); and $280,000 went to five char­i­ties.

Of the re­main­ing $220,000, Louis says, “I will do ter­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble things with that money and none of that is any of your busi­ness”. Fur­ther­more: “If more money pools up around me (from con­tin­u­ing DVD sales), then it needs to be flushed back out into the sys­tem. If I make an­other mil­lion, I’ll give more of it away”.

Em­bold­ened by his lit­tle ex­per­i­ment, Louis CK is now hav­ing an­other go at The Man by by­pass­ing ticket agents. For his up­com­ing 39-city North Amer­i­can tour, he is of­fer­ing tickets at a flat rate (no extras, no nothing) of $45. He cer­tainly could have charged far more and still sold out.

The big deal here, apart from the lack of the usual “con­ve­nience fees” added on by ticket agents, is that th­ese tickets can’t be sold on. If a ticket does en­ter the sec­ondary tick­et­ing mar­ket (via touts, for ex­am­ple) it is sim­ply can­celled.

“Mak­ing my shows af­ford­able has al­ways been my goal,” he says, “but two things al­ways work against that: high ticket charges and ticket re-sell­ers mark­ing up prices.”

This is all quite unique: an en­ter­tainer of­fer­ing some­thing for a fixed price with no add-ons – and he doesn’t even want your email so he can sell that on to pe­nile en­hance­ment com­pa­nies or what­ever. In it’s own sim­ple way it’s quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

Granted, Louis CK’s nat­u­ral con­stituency is (in a sweep­ing gen­er­al­i­sa­tion) mid­dle class and lefty/lib­eral. Ninety-nine per cent of them have Twit­ter ac­counts. (I made that up but I’m sure it’s true.) There’s also the fact the comic is ex­traor­di­nar­ily tal­ented and in huge de­mand. But th­ese points aside, isn’t there some­thing here for ev­ery­one in­volved in the busi­ness of show?

Screw The Man. Do it your­self.

Louis CK wracks his brain for more ways to foil the fat­cats

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