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We're Broke: The Economics of a Circus Artist

By dipierro in Meta
Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 08:13:33 AM EST
Tags: Humour (all tags)
Humour

I come to you, Kuro5hin community, in an hour of need.

Great googly-moogly, could that be any more pompous? Nevertheless, it's true. You see, last Tuesday I went to the British Heart Foundation in Edinburgh and tried on a shirt. As I have always done, I left my bike outside the changing room. But this time someone bought my bike from the store! The shop had sold it for $15! The whole story was covered by Reuters. Frankly, I don't know what to do.

So I thought I'd take a little time and lay out the structure and workings of the circus business in general, and the bike-riding circus actors in particular, and ask what you think I should do.


The Business of Circus Performing

Many people are under the mistaken impression that the business of circus performing is just about hypnotizing chickens and making them play the piano. This is not true. There are many other performances, such as fire-eating, puppet-mastering and concertina-playing. In order to get in to see the performace, you pay a fee, part of which goes to the puppet master, part to the fire-eater, but never any to the chickens who play the piano. Those are my chickens, I own them, damnit.

We're Supposed to be Different, Dammit

Busking is the term given to us by our English mates. In New York City it would be called begging, or as the bleeding-hearts like to call it, street performing. If it were done on the web, it would be called profiteering, or by those same bleeding-hearts, fundraising. In any case, the idea is that we provide the entertainment, and out of the kindness of your hearts, you return the favor with your hard earned cash. Never-mind all the work that's done by the chickens. They voluntarily play the piano and are provided with plenty of chicken-feed in return.

Income vs. Expenses: The Steel-Cage Match of the Century

The two biggest factors any company needs to account for are income and expenses. Everything else is basically details. These two forces will always determine whether a company lives or dies. Circus performing is not a complex business, so here is the annotated guide to both sides of our ledger sheet.

Expenses

The major expenses in a circus act are people and chickens. Our act is no different, except that the chickens are donated to us by the NRA in return for our advertisement of their famous chicken shooting range. What's left is the cost of the bikes to take us from town to town and the salary of our employees.

We have cut costs to the bone, and have only one employee who performs as fire-eater, puppet-master, concertina-player, and chicken-hypnotiser.

So what does it cost? With the massive elimination of expenses, to the point where this whole circus [SIC!] can get by comfortably on simply the cost of a single full time employee, our annual budget works out to about $70,000. That includes my salary, corporate and payroll taxes, and all miscellaneous expenses, such as accounting, bookkeeping, legal costs, and the occasional replacement bicycle tires. It should be clear that this budget is paltry by corporate standards, and probably equals half of what most circuses spend on lawnmowing in a year.

Income

The other side of the coin is income. We've tried a number of things in the past, including spraypainting the chickens purple and yellow and spelling out YAHOO! on their foreheads, recording the chicken songs, putting them on napster, and then suing anyone who downloads it from us, and a limited subscription scheme. Our current income comes from only one source: premium memberships.

Premium Memberships

Premium memberships in Indus5rious (a play on the founder, Emily's name) permission to leave after the main show and before the NRA portion of the show, alerts you by email when one of the chickens takes a shit, and gives you a lyrics sheet so you can sing along to all the chicken showtunes. It's really too early to tell yet with these, but so far, I'm not too optimistic. We only need 1,458.3333333333333333333333333 subscriptions in order to get to our $70,000 target, but for some reason only 3 people have signed up so far. If each of the people who have seen our act had only pitched in 17.3 cents, we'd have already reached our target.

Irony Can Be... So Ironic Sometimes

Someone sold my fucking bike. There's a story about it on Yahoo, but needless to say, I walked into the British Heart Foundation shop in Edinburgh, went into the changing room, and came out to find my bike stolen. The bike was worth $1,800, and I don't have that kind of money.

So, What Now?

So what happens now? As you may imagine, I've chewed over it 24/7 for a couple weeks. It's been coming for months, so I've had plenty of time. Below is my current list of options, with pros and cons.

  1. Somehow convince enough of you that the my circus act is worth a few bucks for the enjoyment and information you get from it.

    Pros: Circus act lives, I get to do what I'm good at, which is helping people and making children laugh.

    Cons: Hasn't worked so far. Requires an unheard-of 1500 of you to pony up. There are 1500 of you who could, but I doubt you all will.

  2. Emily gets a "real" job.

    Pros: Will likely be able to pay bills, avoid premature ulcers.

    Cons: The circus act as a hobby would suck. I would have far less time and energy to devote to maintenance and improvements. I have no idea how long I'd be able or willing to maintain the act and work full time.

  3. I find some ad network that will pay to spraypaint the chickens.

    Pros: Well, it's income.

    Cons: Everyone, including myself, and especially the chickens hates this solution. As noted above, the prospect of selling you to advertisers doesn't sit very well with me. Feels like the "give up" option. Not very likely, these days, there's anyone who would pay enough to make it meet budget.

  4. Sell I5 Inc.

    Pros: Find a partner who can take over the "running a business" aspect of the act, allows me to do what I'm good at and not worry so much about money.

    Cons: "Selling out" increases likelihood that I5 loses the community aspect that makes it unique and valuable. Loss of trust that I've managed to build up by being a human being instead of a faceless corporation. And who the hell is buying circus acts these days? Probably impossible in the first place.

  5. Some other crazy scheme

    Pros: No shortage of them.

    Cons: They all require me to basically be in a business I have no interest in being in. I.e. the "selling t-shirts and knick-knacks" business, the "providing chickens to KFC" business, and so forth. End up reducing to "get a real job" without being a job I want to get.

So there you have it. I don't know what to do. I need to get a new bike before I can perform any more acts. At the moment, "get a job" seems to be the front-runner by default, simply because I know that it's possible. In any case, this is where we stand. If nothing else, I hope it was an informative look into the rather difficult economics of operating a circus act like this.

Large parts of this story have been stolen from Rusty's copyrighted work. Fortunately, congress hasn't completely removed fair use just yet. I'm sure they're working on it.

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Poll
Hypnotizing chickens and making them play the piano
o humane 70%
o inhumane 29%

Votes: 96
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Kuro5hin
o Yahoo
o The whole story
o story
o Rusty's copyrighted work
o Also by dipierro


Display: Sort:
We're Broke: The Economics of a Circus Artist | 39 comments (29 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
+1, ROFL (4.57 / 7) (#5)
by Kasreyn on Fri Jun 28, 2002 at 08:25:55 PM EST

Mostly for the "great googly-moogly!" and the disclaimer. THIS is the sort of thing I like to see in k5 humor. Meta-meta-meta-ad-infinitum-jokes are FUN. ^_^


-Kasreyn
"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Brilliant (4.33 / 12) (#8)
by jabber on Fri Jun 28, 2002 at 11:33:38 PM EST

I haven't laughed, or cried, so hard, since french-kissing that light socket back in '97.

Thank you.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

More story... (3.50 / 4) (#9)
by Hobbes on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 12:13:54 AM EST

I found another story (written by an english journalist, I'd say) here that gave a little more info.

Growr.
++++++
As bad as I am, I'm proud of the fact that I'm worse than I seem.

It's kind of hidden in there, but... (none / 0) (#21)
by dipierro on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 12:13:33 PM EST

"There's a story about it on Yahoo, but needless to say,"

[ Parent ]
ift his doesn't make sense; read the link (2.66 / 3) (#12)
by auraslip on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 02:36:44 AM EST

and you will find clarity.
124
There is yet another option! (3.90 / 10) (#15)
by dbretton on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 08:28:34 AM EST

Conduct your chicken-hypnotism act via internet streaming media, and charge people a poultry (hehe, pun) admission fee.

...then do it all naked (chickens, too!) and charge more!

This is an untapped internet revenue source! The potential earnings are limitless!

www.thechickenhypnotist.com
www.thenakedchickenhypnotistwithnakedchickens.com


If you can read this, you are too close.

Nonprofits *can* be sued.... (4.90 / 10) (#16)
by MickLinux on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 08:33:26 AM EST

Actually, in the case of this story I would advise suing the charity shop for the replacement cost of the bike, plus any expenses (including lawyer, and living expenses while awaiting trial.)

He who sells what isn't his'n must buy it back, or go to prison.

I strongly suspect that the moment a lawsuit was initiated, the charity shop would either immediately pay the $1500 + small lawyer fee, or alternatively the cashier would suddenly remember who had purchased the bicycle, and the bicycle would be returned, and a few months after that the employee might also be ... uh... released.

Liabilities are liabilities, NPO or not.

I make a call to grace, for the alternative is more broken than you can imagine.

What was she doing... (3.50 / 6) (#17)
by Mysidia on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 09:23:03 AM EST

Taking her bike into a shop?

Particularly a charity shop...

Is it not obvious that that isn't a very prudent thing to do, especially to abandon it in a place where they sell stuff?



-Mysidia the insane @k5+SN
Things that are wrong with this story (2.17 / 29) (#18)
by localroger on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 10:51:29 AM EST

  • It's old news. Rusty's charity drive was last week.
  • It isn't funny.
  • The metaphors don't jibe. The misfortunes of the chicken hypnotist don't come from the same kind of sources and aren't the same kind of misfortunes Rusty complained about.
  • It isn't funny.
  • K5's financial woes did not spring from an act of theft, and unlike the chicken hypnotist his primary goal wasn't to make money in the first place.
  • It still isn't funny.
  • More than half the article is Rusty's article, pasted into the submit form. Some call that parody, but in this case it smells more like plagiarism.
  • It's not funny.
  • By the way, did I mention that it's not funny?

I can haz blog!

responses (4.00 / 7) (#19)
by dipierro on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 11:18:54 AM EST

The metaphors don't jibe. The misfortunes of the chicken hypnotist don't come from the same kind of sources and aren't the same kind of misfortunes Rusty complained about.

In a sense they do. Both the chicken hypnotist's and Rusty's misfortune is that they don't want to get a real job. Yes, the bike was the straw that broke the hypnotist's back, but that's really not that important. For both the chicken hypnotist and Rusty, most of the money being begged for is salary.

K5's financial woes did not spring from an act of theft, and unlike the chicken hypnotist his primary goal wasn't to make money in the first place.

The chick hypnotist's goal was to make the children of the world laugh. The financial woes spring from the fact that neither of them wants to get a real job.

More than half the article is Rusty's article, pasted into the submit form. Some call that parody, but in this case it smells more like plagiarism.

Look up the word "plagiarism" some time. I never claimed that I wrote this entirely on my own. In fact, I specifically gave Rusty credit. Copyright infringement, maybe (sosumi). Plagiarism, no.

By the way, did I mention that it's not funny?

To each his own. Some have found it funny, others haven't. It made it to the front page (2 for 2, woo hoo), so I guess a significant number of people did find it funny. I'm sorry I can't please everyone.



[ Parent ]
Comparison is inappropriate (2.60 / 5) (#28)
by localroger on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 06:27:28 PM EST

The chick hypnotist's goal was to make the children of the world laugh. The financial woes spring from the fact that neither of them wants to get a real job.

The chicken hypnotist's job, at which he was clearly successful enough to support himself, was making the children of the world laugh. While you may not consider that a "real job" there is no indication that, outside the theft of the bike, he had any financial woes which would prevent him from pursuing this vocation.

Rusty, by contrast, is trying something that has not only never been proven successful, most who have tried it have failed miserably. Before you go moralizing to me about "getting a real job" I invite you to look up my comments on the story you ripped off here and you'll see that I advised Rusty to do just that.

The juxtaposition of the two stories just doesn't work, which is one reason it doesn't make me laugh. The inappropriateness of the comparison is very jarring.

Look up the word "plagiarism" some time.

No need, dahling. "Fair use" is the term you need to look up. You might also look up "parody," because in my dictionary the word "copy" does not appear within its definition. You didn't paraphrase, you didn't imitate Rusty's style, you didn't even do a very prominent job of referencing the source, and you didn't change it very much. Hint for the future: Parodies are almost always shorter than what they are parodying, and rarely go more than a paragraph in word-for-word-except-for-one-little-substitution mode.

It made it to the front page (2 for 2, woo hoo), so I guess a significant number of people did find it funny.

Some people find Jerry Lewis funny too, but that's still no excuse ;-)

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Maybe (4.00 / 5) (#29)
by dipierro on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 07:27:00 PM EST

The chicken hypnotist's job, at which he was clearly successful enough to support himself, was making the children of the world laugh. While you may not consider that a "real job" there is no indication that, outside the theft of the bike, he had any financial woes which would prevent him from pursuing this vocation.

Emily was most likely a "she". And like Rusty, she made enough money to support herself. Had she decided that she deserved $70,000, rather than just enough to support herself, this amusing plea for help might have resulted.

The juxtaposition of the two stories just doesn't work, which is one reason it doesn't make me laugh. The inappropriateness of the comparison is very jarring.

You're certainly entitled to your opinion. I thought it was funny. But then again, I have a fairly active imagination.

"Fair use" is the term you need to look up.

Despite the fact that you refuse to admit that you falsely accused me of "plagiarism" (something which is not only illegal, but immoral), I'll address your contention that this was not fair use.

First of all, I never claimed that this was "parody". That was your strawman, not mine. Look at the statutory definition of fair use some time, you'll notice that the term parody isn't even contained within it.

What you will find is 4 criteria. While you seem to focus on the third criterion, amount and substantiality, you ignore the fact that I would win hands down on the other three.

Like I said, maybe this is copyright infringement, maybe it isn't. I really don't care. I highly doubt Rusty is going to bring suit against me, and even if he does, I think I'd win.



[ Parent ]
You've got it all wrong! (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by mercutio on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 07:55:44 PM EST

Don't you know?  You're supposed to make sure everything is funny to localroger before you post any stories!

It's OK, you'll know better next time.

[ Parent ]

You have made a mockery of our charity (1.00 / 1) (#32)
by willpost on Sun Jun 30, 2002 at 10:35:19 AM EST

I will never value your opinion.

[ Parent ]
Charity? (none / 0) (#33)
by dipierro on Sun Jun 30, 2002 at 01:51:19 PM EST

What charity?

[ Parent ]
Wasn't Rusty willing to get a real job? (5.00 / 2) (#34)
by cribeiro on Sun Jun 30, 2002 at 08:34:49 PM EST

In a sense they do. Both the chicken hypnotist's and Rusty's misfortune is that they don't want to get a real job.

It is not true, and it is not fair. Rusty had nothing against a real job. He only pointed out that, if he ever got a real job outside K5, he would leave it - because running K5 is not a hobby anymore, and it takes a lot of work. That's why he asked the community to support K5. It is also very interesting to understand that Rusty is willing to give up control of K5, as soon as the structure is in place, as he pointed out in this reply to a post of mine.

As a parody, the article is fine - I found it funny at times. But as a serious critic to K5 fundraising, it falls short, because it fails to understand the spirit of the situation.

[ Parent ]

Fairness isn't part of this bag (4.50 / 2) (#35)
by Wah on Mon Jul 01, 2002 at 11:19:45 AM EST

In case you didn't know, dipierro thinks Rusty is a cheat and liar.

This article is a big bunch of sour grapes. Which is too bad since I thought it was kind of funny. Funny in a sense that someone bitching about people working for someone else for free, works for that same person for that same price.
--
Where'd you get your information from, huh?
[ Parent ]

WTF are you talking about? (none / 0) (#36)
by dipierro on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 06:33:34 PM EST

dipierro thinks Rusty is a cheat and liar.

Actually I don't think either of those is true.

Funny in a sense that someone bitching about people working for someone else for free, works for that same person for that same price.

Huh? Who'd I bitch about... What are you talking about?



[ Parent ]
You've got to be kidding (none / 0) (#37)
by Wah on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 07:37:29 PM EST

I'm not saying that Rusty doesn't have a legal right to set up a site that allows him to profit off the works of others. This is his business, and he can run it however he wants. I just think it's disingenuous to imply that the money is going toward anything other than boosting Rusty's salary. - dipierro.
--
Where'd you get your information from, huh?
[ Parent ]
Not kidding (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by dipierro on Tue Jul 02, 2002 at 08:59:01 PM EST

I think he was disingenuous. He told the truth, but he didn't tell the whole truth (at that point, the whole truth being that $58,000 of the $70,000 was his salary). I think he was disingenuous. I don't think he was a liar. I've explained that to you before.

[ Parent ]
You forgot one thing (2.28 / 7) (#20)
by ucblockhead on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 11:25:42 AM EST

That it isn't funny.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
I sooo know what you mean! (4.00 / 4) (#23)
by roam on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 01:46:56 PM EST

It would be so much funnier if his UID was 10-15k lower! Then it would be sheer comic genius!

___
Are they like hamsters?
Specifically, can I tape up a chinchilla, slather him in axle grease, and shove him up my ass? - Patrick Bateman


[ Parent ]
things that are wrong with your complaint (4.20 / 5) (#26)
by startled on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 05:21:01 PM EST

  • You didn't vote against it while in the submission queue.
  • You didn't vote against it while in the submission queue.
  • By the way, did I mention that you didn't vote against it while in the submission queue?


[ Parent ]
Because I didn't see it in the submission queue (2.60 / 5) (#27)
by localroger on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 06:13:51 PM EST

Don't you just hate it when that happens?

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Better Fit (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by dad on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 12:41:09 PM EST

This was a bit funny. I laughed, I cried. Then I decided that maybe had I seen it on satirewire or bbspot I may have taken it in a better context.

But hey I am at work and the comedy sites are blocked at the firewall -- so laughter was an added emotion bonus today.

one click chickens (3.60 / 5) (#24)
by turmeric on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 04:37:45 PM EST

i think you need some 'one click'. add that and everything will be fine.

Redundancy (in both meanings) (3.40 / 5) (#25)
by thebrix on Sat Jun 29, 2002 at 04:49:46 PM EST

Surely a circus performer only needs a unicycle, rather than a bicycle?

i sympathize, but... (4.80 / 5) (#31)
by noodles on Sun Jun 30, 2002 at 02:45:24 AM EST

Several people have said you should not walk away from the charity shop without some compensation. They are right.

I suspect that you feel that it would be somehow wrong to hold this store accountable for thier actions, because they are a charity, and thus somehow immune from the normal standards of public conduct.

Ok, not to be one to play around, let's look at the opposite extreme to lampoon this thinking. Let's say you've got a big old church. They bill themselves as moral authorities on all things. They promote themselves as Good PeopleTM and all that. And then it comes out that for decades they've been sheltering child-rapists, paying off families that find out, and moving the child-rapers from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, to keep them out of the hands of the law. This is, sadly, the logical ends permitted by a principle that holds someone exempt from the normal rules of conduct, just because they do some good some time, or even regularly.

Hint #1 -- Truly good people won't wait to be asked to do the right thing.

If I ran that charity, unless we were flat-ass broke, you'd have had our best efforts to find the customer for several weeks, and if that didn't work, you'd have had a check for the full replacement value. If we had to, I'd have run a special fund-raising to collect money, or organized a bike-watch in the local area, put posters up, etc. The press story makes it fairly clear that they've not admitted to any concern for your situation at all.

Go to them. Tell them you simply need them to either find the customer, or you will pursue legal ends to recover the cost of the bike. Don't go into specifics. Don't make a show of it. Just let it be seen that you are reluctant to do this, but that you feel that you simply have no choice - the bike is that central to your life and livelihood.

Give them a few days, come back. If they don't take care of you, go to the police and file a formal complaint. Mistake or no, sale of property that one does not own is a crime. This also enables you to use the police to track down the person who has your bike. This person is in possession of stolen property. The police then get bike from him, he gets his $15 back from the store, and everyone is happy.

I know it's sad that you would need to use threats to get the store to assist in this endeavor, but you simply must. There is NO reason not to. Not at all. No one would even necessarily see jail time if you filed a formal complaint - it jsut gives the police the documentation they need to make it an official investigation, after which they can post notices and have the patrols keep an eye out for your bike. I'm sure it's fairly distinctive... if they were loooking, I'm sure it'd turn up.

Remember, (paraphrased) "The only thing required for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing."



this is utterly bizarre, and kind of freaky (none / 0) (#39)
by daragh on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 11:31:15 AM EST

I happened to be staying in Edinburgh at the time at the Princes Street East backpackers hostel. One afternoon I hear a girl upset about having her bike stolen from a charity shop while trying on a shirt in the changing room, and the bike being everything to her etc. Now I've been living in Edinburgh a couple of months and I know that charity-shop-bike-fencing isn't a national sport or anything, so I figure that you must be that person. And stumbling accross this article on K5, not really being an active member of the site or anything, and when I'd nearly forgotton about the whole thing, well, that's just freaky. I'm sorry to hear how much the bike actually meant to you, but at the time when you were telling the story to people in the hostel it did sound quite funny...

No work.

We're Broke: The Economics of a Circus Artist | 39 comments (29 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
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