COLUMN: The Wrong Students Are Getting The Stipends
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 01:09
Okay, so, there are these two comedy troupes. They both belong to the same comedy school, but that’s pretty much all they have in common.
One troupe, let’s call it “The Margos,” regularly draws big crowds. People love to watch them, with their Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics and sharp comedy. They’re so popular that a few national television companies decide to pay the comedy school a lot of money to broadcast the shows live, with very competitive advertising rates. Also, if you get recruited to the comedy school as a Margo, you don’t have to pay. The school just wants the best, so tuition, room, and board, maybe even a little extra, all get covered through that TV revenue, alumni donations, some institutional support. Sweet deal, right?
Then there’s the second troupe. We’ll call it “YMCMB.” Their shows don’t always sell out. A lot of the other students in the comedy school don’t really understand the humor the members of YMCMB go for. It’s rooted in the distant past and completely irrelevant to the present. The funding for YMCMB doesn’t come from any revenue or donations. Instead, money from the rest of the students’ tuition at the comedy school is given to YMCMB to use for their shows. That money is spent on props, expensive comedy retreats, and sets. Despite the funding, students still complain that YMCMB wastes the money away.
Some people start arguing that the members of The Margos deserve more than the cut they currently receive through the comedy scholarship. Outside observers see all of the money and attention generated by The Margos, and they say it’s unfair that the comedy school keeps a lot of it to spend on administrators, comedy coaches, and new studios and stages.
Hardly any of The Margos would ever complain about this. Most of the students at the school don’t get their tuition covered, and it might look selfish if The Margos asked for more. Sometimes, though, the glaring imperfections in the system stand out.
The Margos have very strict and taxing practice requirements. This doesn’t leave much time for them to work part time jobs, so spending money for off-campus meals, movies, and dates can be hard to come by.
The governing body for comedy schools recognizes this hardship, and passes a measure that would allow each comedy school to give out stipends to the elite troupes, such as The Margos. Although this governing body has consistently been bashed for arcane rules, holding back the elite troupes while the governing body and the comedy schools rake in money, this is seen as a move of welcome change and progress. The elite troupes deserve a greater portion of that money, and now they have the opportunity to receive some of it. It’s not enough to go buy fancy cars or pay for expensive vacations, but the stipend would essentially cover the part-time job for which the members of The Margos don’t have time.
Unfortunately, the comedy schools strike down the governing body’s measure. They ask stupid questions such as, where do we draw the line? Why just comedians with full scholarships? Do they really deserve this stipend? How do we know they will spend it responsibly?
The Margos, and the other elite troupes at the rest of the comedy schools, don’t complain. They get back to work, trying to put on the best shows that they can every week.
Back to YMCMB. They decide that they’ve had enough. Students keep complaining about their shows, so they decide to restructure the troupe. They say that they are going to “streamline” their comedy—whatever that means.
Most importantly, though, they decide that they are going to use some of the funding that they receive from the students’ tuition to pay themselves stipends. They have complete control of their budget, giving YMCMB the ability to make these kinds of decisions about how the students’ money is spent.
The members of YMCMB justify these stipends by saying that an increased workload under the new system means they’ll both earn and deserve money they’ll receive from the stipends. Although they don’t generate any revenue—in fact, their shows lose a decent amount of money—and although plenty of the other students at the comedy school put in just as many, and often more hours, with much more celebrated results, the members of YMCMB have no problem passing this new stipend plan. The comedy school sees no reasons to shut it down.
At the first major show put on by YMCMB following the passing of the stipends, hardly anyone shows up. It is a catastrophe. Tickets are overpriced, and then when not enough are purchased, YMCMB just starts giving out free tickets the day of the show, trying to save face and fill seats. The comedy is dated, and students roll their eyes. The arena for the show, which is regularly packed for The Margos and in the past has been full for YMCMB in better years, is manipulated to make the much smaller crowd look like it has filled the space to capacity.