City Council Bill 100267 and what it means for comedy

05/20/2010

Since it was introduced to City Council on April 22nd, Bill 100267 has created quite a stir in many entertainment circles. Introduced by Councilmen Bill Greenlee and Darrell Clarke, the bill calls for promoters of special events to apply for a free permit from the Philadelphia Police Department 30 days prior to each event.

According to Greenlee, it’s an attempt to curb event-driven distruptions throughout the city. While the bill hits promoters and is clearly targeted at nightclub events and similar social gatherings, the language of the bill could cause repercussions within performing arts communities.

Reviewing the bill, we see that permits will be needed by the entities promoting and producing events, and those that look to profit from them. It exempts paid media outlets, ticket sellers (off premises), performers (paid strictly to perform), agents, politicians, political committees, non-profits and of course the City of Philadelphia itself. It also allows PDD to deny a permit up to 10 days prior to the event, and without cause.

The area that we as comedians need to look most carefully at is how the bill classifies an “event.” It’s simply described as “any activity requiring a special assembly occupancy license.” The COP website states that a license is required for restaurants, bars, catering halls, night clubs and other gathering places with dancing and a lawful occupancy of over 50 people. The site also notes that they exclude theaters with fixed seating. So while we may not feel that we fit within the definition of a dancing establishment, the presence of an exclusion for fixed-seat theaters means the city thinks otherwise.

It’s also important to note that although they do not make the distinction, lawful occupancy is different from seating… so while your venue may not seat 50 people, it could potentially be occupied by that many. Public entertainment venues that are up to code should have some sort of official signage that notifies you as to the legal maximum occupancy.

As comedians commonly producing our own events, we are constantly striving to simply fill our houses; barely able to imagine our audiences overflowing to the point of causing civil unrest. Even though the thought of breaking down our folding chairs and busting out an unauthorized dance party a la Footloose is unlikely if not hoped for (I’m looking at you Kristen), Greenlee and the bill sponsors appear to be sticking to their guns. Which means that without defeat of the bill, as soon as June standard venues like the Shubin, Ric Rac and the Playground may need to make some adjustments in their operations or face extreme bureaucratic red tape (e.g. ComedySportz filing for over 100 permits a year) – all while under risk of being shut down anyway.

Who is in the clear?

  • Theaters with fixed seating
  • Non-profits producing & promoting their own events
  • Venues with a legal occupancy under 50

Who is potentially at risk?

  • Larger venues that utilize folding chairs for patron seating
  • For-profit producers & promoters
  • Regular entertainment venues unlicensed or not compliant with city code
  • Comedians who perform under at-risk producers and promoters
  • Venues that financially depend on revenue from independently-produced events

How can I be heard?

Reach out to the sponsors of the bill, as well as the Council President, and let them know your thoughts on this matter. If we can’t stamp it out all together, demand the language be amended to exclude seated performances, raise the lawful occupancy maximum or otherwise adjust the bill to no longer include low-risk events of a theatrical nature. Emails can be directed to:

You can also sign the petition at PetitionSpot.

What can I do if the bill is enacted and I’m at risk?

  • If you rent or sublet, ensure the venue meets the exclusionary standards
  • If you’re bordering on occupancy limits, renegotiate your lease to exclude non-essential areas
  • If you’re venue doesn’t work, find one that does
  • If you produce regular shows, consider a non-profit tax status
  • Discuss creating a non-profit production/promotion entity with other groups
  • Consult legal council specializing in entertainment… I’m no expert
  • Stop doing comedy… You’re clearly too dangerous
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