The Last HONEST Booking Agent (They're disappearing at an alarming rate!)





When one prostitutes oneself for laughs, i.e. taking money
to perform in a plethora of cities and states and countries, face it, most
stand-up comics need a pimp they can trust!




I’ve been dispatched to hundreds and hundreds of locations
to do shows: nightclubs, colleges, military bases, riverboats, prisons, cruise
ships, football stadiums, mansions, theaters, mud wrestling pits, and even
stranger events. The one common denominator amongst them all is that
almost always, it was a booking agent that arranged, and/or ordered for me to
go there. (Ordered because I wouldn't have gone to those places otherwise)




As with all of the performing arts, most stand-up comics
can improve only by getting endless practice. A cooperative booking agent is
pretty much the best way to get enough shows to better one’s act, and thereby
better one’s paycheck. No one agent, or agency, covers the whole country.
Booking agents usually function regionally, in sort of a “This right
here is MY turf here…That’s
yours...over there!” verbal arrangement.




As a comic graduates from doing once or twice a week shows
in his home city, he has to prove his mettle to regional or one-nighter
bookers. This eligibility is usually earned with a recommendation from a
fellow comic, hence the saying: “ Be NICE to those around you on the way UP,
because, on the way DOWN, you just won’t have any time! ”




I’ve visited many bookers’ offices from coast to coast,
and have seen bookshelf after bookshelf full of un-viewed audition videos. (I
predicted that watching too many comic audition tapes causes
cancer!)




These days, only a few bookers still go to clubs to see
new performers and creating some buzz on the comedy trail can get you new jobs,
or elevation in show rank. To put together a decent length tour, a
stand-up has to “make his bones” with a number of bookers. Done
correctly, a comic can proceed from region to region, booker to booker, and
avoid those mind-bending fourteen hour drives. These iffy talent merchants are
the only lifeline a comic has, as they travel around each of the booker's
various circuits.




Primarily, since real contracts are few and far
between, a booking agent phones, (or you call them) to tell you where you’ll
perform, when, where your hotel is, and how much you’ll be paid. Some booking
agents, when you need them, can be unreachable, undependable, and very
crotchety. But, there is this one guy….




The last honest booking agent works out of a sweetheart of
a city, Louisville, Kentucky. (Properly
pronounced: Loo-ah-vul) Tom Sobel owns and operates his own full
week club, The Comedy Caravan, and produces a string of one-nighter shows.
His agency also books endless private events, and manages a small,
select group of comics. (Lucky bastards) He’s the agent of record
for a number of other full week clubs. Tom’s done these harrowing chores for
more than 28 years. It has cost him his hair and waistline, but
he knows that’s a small price to pay for the esteem in which he’s held, and the
respect he has earned for years.(Very little hair now, and the opposite
for waistline)




Having booked zillions of gigs in
his illustrious career, Sobel has also put more comics on the road than Flo
Ziegfeld (an old-timey booker) ever did! If you want to put on a comedy
show within one day’s drive of Louisville, just call TSM Artists (502-459-5532)
Tom’s standup comics have done great shows in many places where comedy shows
weren’t really meant to be done. (The above mentioned prisons and River boats.)
The Caravan shows aboard The Star of Louisville,
sailing the Ohio River,
resulting in no injuries, no arrests, and no bad vibes, unlike with certain NFL
players I won’t mention. The trick to it all: stringing enough good shows
together to make it profitable for everybody involved. Many times Tom’s fee is
excluded to make sure the deal is right. Hundreds of comics have achieved their
“Roads Scholar” degree driving in, and out of Louisville.
Caravan comics relate a continuing gag about finding numerous interstate
freeway signs that read:





Food-Gas-Lodging-SOBEL GIG: 22 miles




Some of the most nefarious bookers often give a ballpark
figure about your pay, then typically remit a lower amount. Other more suspect
agents “double dip”-which means they collect a fee from the producers of
a particular show, and also charge a booking fee to the funny guys. This
practice is against the law in many states, but even asking if a certain show
qualifies will often cost a comic that job. If an act happens to sell T-shirts
or a CD after their shows, a percentage of those sales may be charged to that
act, unknowingly. The quite honorable Mr. Sobel and TSM Artists have always
shunned these cheap and tawdry methods, and I believe He and they always
will. "Ahhhhhhhhh...Lue. we don't operate that way at TSM."




Operating as a great talent agent amounts to a 60-hour
week, and it’s beaucoup pressure. (That's lots!) Tom is addicted to the
telephone. This means that his usual day has 40 or 50 return calls. All of this
madness begets problems to be solved. (Where can you get a new
Microphone…and a Honda carburetor on I-65?? ...Tom knows. What do you do when a
hotel washing machine turns all your clothes pink??...Sobel said to go to
Kmart. The club I'm performing at has burned down, the motel won't give me a
room, what do I do??...Tom says to drive to the next town, another Caravan gig,
go to the comic's condo, your opener last week is working there this
week, and he'll let you in! (...that
Sobel must be a God!)






Problems are right in his wheelhouse. This guy does
problems! But, for all his facility in staging live shows…anywhere; Mr.
Sobel has his idiosyncrasies too. He likes to talk. He likes to eat! This man
knows the best places to eat in fourteen states, and he'll tell you about it.
Then, he'll tell you that he told you about it!




Despite massive computer backup, Tom Sobel, like most of
the better agents, keeps it all in his head, and he’ll tell you about
it. Many times, he and I have left his club during a weekend show
to drive around and check out some other club’s parking lots, comparing
customer activity. Those whirling dervishes in the Mid -east have nothing
on Sobel’s non-stop days, and nights, and he’ll tell you about it.




This jolly prevaricator of cash for laughs has also
loaned, or donated huge piles of money to needy comics. But, he won’t
tell you about that. Tom’s really a working act’s best friend. This
talkative Friar Tuck has pissed away uncountable sums taking care of comics,
and the problems they encounter on tour every damn day. Enough to moolah buy
Masada!
(Which
I heard he has inspected)




I salute this impressario who orchestrated, and cast his
own Showtime special with his own great acts.(Even though I wasn't one of them,
damnit! He sent me to Palm
Beach
.)




I raise my glass of Three Stooges Beer to the booker who
can get a Western Union
Money-gram to a interstate freeway rest stop, to rescue a damn prop act!




Kudos to the man who once escorted the legendary, and
quite tipsy Ollie Joe Prater from a Bourbon Street Comedy Club green room back
to the ten blocks distant hotel…in a baggage cart! (And gave a tip!)




Now, listening to the final strains of The Curley Shuffle,
as I hop aboard my Camel and ride into the sunset, heading for the next in a
series of endless one-nighters, I just wanted to tell that tall, balding guy
with five weeks of straight work, and more friends than he will ever realize:
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...Thanks Tom!




Closing this paean to a passing breed, I quote Robert
Frost: "HOME is where you go, and they HAVE TO take you in!”




If you are in search of stand-up comedy being done, the
way it should be done,
call Louisville!
Call now! The Comedy Caravan and Tom Sobel will take you in…and make you feel
at home! He might just be the last, honest booking agent!