We all know how hard it is out there for comedians in 2019, what with people constantly calling them out for joke thievery, lazy hacky comedy, and in some cases, sexual misconduct. In the past, audiences and comedians seemed to have an understanding that the former would not record their sets, particularly when they were working out new material. But more recently, a few major comedians have been trying to create safer spaces for themselves by making audiences turn over their phones beforehand. And now, SNL castmember Pete Davidson has come up with a way to one-up that: he's reportedly started having audiences sign $1 million NDAs to see him perform stand-up.
Several people have tweeted over the last month that they signed NDAs to get into Davidson's shows, but for reasons that have become very apparent, did not go into any detail about it. As Consequence Of Sound first reported, one person, Stacy Young, posted the NDA on Davidson's Facebook page after receiving an email about it before attending a show (you can see that document by clicking on the embed below).
The most striking part of the NDA states: "The individual shall not give any interviews, offer any opinions or critiques, or otherwise participate by any means or in any form whatsoever (including but not limited to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or any other social networking or other websites whether now existing or hereafter created)." The fine for breaking the NDA is $1 million: “In the event of breach of this agreement, individual shall pay company, upon demand, as liquidated damages, the sum of one million dollars, plus any out of pocket expense.”
"I understood and was willing to consent to the initial request of locking up any phones or cameras brought to the event, but I think this a bit ridiculous and over the top," Young wrote on Facebook. "I get that comedians are protective of their jokes and don’t want their routines rebroadcast, but it’s rather Orwellian to not allow anyone to share an opinion on it. Don't perform for the public if you don't want people to have an opinion about it!"
Two Vulture staffers debated the ethics of comedy NDAs today, who agreed the document was "weird and extreme." As writer Kathryn VanArendonk put it, "It sounds like what Davidson wants is a focus group, a group he can use to test out some material and swear them to secrecy in case it’s bad. In which case, I would recommend he run it like any corporate focus group, where the audience would be the ones getting paid, not paying for the privilege of participating."
But would the NDAs even be legally enforceable? Probably not: “The penalty would gain as many laughs in court as Pete is likely to gain on his tour,” Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer and lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, told The Washington Post. Handel and Thomas Dunlap, a Virginia-based attorney focused on intellectual property law, both told the Post successfully suing a random fan for $1 million would be difficult if not impossible.
Davidson, who was once the kind of comedian who would mercilessly rip into his hometown, told Paper Magazine that he was worried about the hyper-sensitivity of audiences today: "It makes doing college [shows] really hard. I refuse to do a college after this year 'cause it's like, you're just setting yourself up for trouble... Comedy is just, like, getting destroyed. Standup's about to be about, like, sneakers. Like, 'Hey, everyone like sneakers?' You can't talk about anything. You can't. The second you open your mouth and have an opinion, you lose money today. And I don't think that's a safe place to live in."
Davidson has not replied to our request for comment.