That's Not Funny: Comedy Club Owners Trade Putdowns in Email Exchange

Perry Sak: Which club will he choose?
Perry Sak: Which club will he choose?

Last week, we heard from Pete O'Neil, the newcomer to Fort Lauderdale who decided to speak out about the FDA's antiquated ban on blood donations by homosexual men. That's not the only issue he's going to battle for -- it appears he's taking to the bullhorn in his business as well as his personal life.

O'Neil was eager to tell us about his new business venture, the Fort Lauderdale Comedy Club, an upcoming outpost of his Sebastian Comedy Society. A couple of days later, he forwarded an email he had sent to the United States Department of Justice, alleging anticompetitive practices by an established club, the New York Comedy Club in Boca Raton.

Inside, see O'Neil's missive and rival club owner Donald Siegel's "crap"-filled response.

Here's O'Neil's May 5 letter to the Department of Justice, copied to his lawyer and Siegel:

US Department of Justice
Citizen Complaint Center
Antitrust Division
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Room 3322
Washington, DC 20530

My name is Pete O'Neil. I am the Managing Partner of Sebastian Comedy Society, LLC
Our firm is in the process of opening a new comedy club venue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Our goal is to have a traditional club that showcases performers committed to the art form of stand-up comedy.
Today we were informed by a comic performer, Perry Sak, that he was just contacted by the owners of The New York Comedy Club in Boca Raton, Florida and told that if he performs once at our new venue we will be "black listed" at their venue and will never be able to perform at their venue again.
Mind you, Perry is paid as an independent contractor and there is no written formal contract covering restrictions on his services to competing local clubs.
We just got word this morning that a large comedy club firm operating out of indian reservations will also be telling comics that they cannot perform at our venue or they will not be able to ever work at their club again.
Unfortunately having worked in this industry for over 22 years this is not a new practice. It goes on nationwide every day.  This illegal policy makes it harder for young upcoming comics to make a living at their trade.
We respectfully ask for your office to look into this matter since it's believed that this conduct by club owners and managers violates federal antitrust and labor laws.

Pete O'Neil
Managing Director of Sebastian Comedy Society
Owners of Fort Lauderdale Comedy Club

And Siegel's response, less than an hour later:

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thu, May 5, 2011 5:28 pm
Subject: Re: Letter to US DOJ regarding complaint in comedy clubs

Hey Schmuck:

Why don't you lie a little bit more about the fact that you have been in this business for more than 22 years. You have been in this business for probably less than a year when you decided to get inside information from me about "buying a comedy club in South Florida". That was just a guise to try to learn as much as possible as well as to get contact information about local comedians that you would otherwise have not been able to get on your own. I guess you decided to try to open in Fort Lauderdale because you were totally unsuccessful in your are of Sebastian and Vero Beach. I will assume based upon the crap that you put together on your own that you called comedy shows, that you were thrown out of the venues that you were doing shows at. Now I guess your plan is to try to bring your crappy shows to Fort Lauderdale where your quality of show will not be any more successful than it was where you just left.

Let me also inform you of the totally legal and justifiable way of producing a show. If we are trying to sell tickets to our shows and someone else uses the same names before we have the performers it will interfere with our ticket sales. Therefore, we never tell anyone that they cannot perform at your new temporary venue. We simply have a policy that states that any performer that performs at another venue in our area will not be booked by us six months before or after they work at the other venue, Including your venue. We never tell them that they cannot perform at your venue. We simply inform them of our policy and they can make up their own mind as to where they would prefer to perform.

I don't think that the Hard Rock Hotel that hires Louis Black in May is going to want him performing a month before he is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars at your venue without some restrictions on the time frame he is allowed to perform in this are at another venue. That is totally justifiable and legal. And if you were really in this business for more than 22 minutes and had any professional courtesy you would not try to book comics that are already booked elsewhere anyway. Bring in your own crappy performers. You know, the ones that got you kicked out of Sebastian and Vero Beach.

Since your record in this business is that you will probably not be in business for very long, that is a choice that those performers have to make on their own.

Donald Siegel
New York Comedy Club, Inc.

We called Sak, the alleged "blacklisted" comic. He says that Siegel's club does in fact impose a six-month ban on its performers appearing at other venues in the area. "The New York Comedy Club has been my home club since I got into comedy," he says. So he's likely to stay put, even though "Pete's a good guy and he's going to open a nice club."

In March, Tim Durham, president and CEO of National Lampoon, which runs another comedy club on Fort Lauderdale beach, was arrested and charged with running a $200 million Ponzi scheme. As far as we know, Siegel and O'Neil are not engaged in similar antics.

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