No joke: Comedians may lack health coverage

When comedians join the national health care debate, you expect them to say something funny about it.

Offstage in their own lives though, it’s a dark humor.

“Most comedians marry a woman with a job so they can get insurance,” says John Padon, who runs Sin City Comedy at the V Theater.

When his wife was cocktailing at Planet Hollywood Resort, the Culinary union plan was “amazing.” But now she isn’t, so he’s setting up a small group plan for Sin City and it’s “unbelievably expensive” by comparison.

We’re talking about this because Saturday night, Padon was to throw a benefit for Ron Shock, a veteran stand-up and longtime Las Vegan fighting an aggressive urethra cancer.

Shock is almost 70 and covered by basic Medicare. But co-pays on four hospital stays in six weeks already overwhelm Shock and his wife, Rhonda. In a stroke of bad timing, she quit her job a month before he got sick, and now is too busy helping him to go back.

Fellow comedian Geechy Guy says he was casual about his insurance “until I met my wife and she pounded some sense into me.”

The spouse option wasn’t available to Brian McKim, long married to another stand-up, Traci Skene. The couple hadn’t had insurance since 1997, when their former state of New Jersey “decided to reform health insurance,” he says. When residents were no longer allowed to shop outside the state, “the prices went way up.”

So until two weeks ago, “our health plan was ‘Eat right, exercise and don’t skateboard.’ ” However, “we finally nailed down health insurance with a company that does business in Nevada,” with a low premium for a high deductible.

“Comedians I don’t think are any more or any less responsible than regular folks,” McKim says. But they are self-employed, so “we really do get burned by the system. We pay both sides of the payroll tax.”

The second annual “The Comedy Awards” air on Comedy Central May 6. They benefit The American Comedy Fund, a new branch of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.

“This has been launched for just the reasons you’re seeing,” says Barbara Davis, chief operating officer of the affiliated The Actors Fund. “It’s a very challenging industry … It’s not that they’re not worried about it. They’re freelancers. Any form of benefits is up to them.”

The fund recently surveyed 650 comedians and found 31 percent don’t have health insurance; “twice the national average for a working group,” she says.

McKim thought it would be higher still: “I’m kind of proud of ’em almost.”

Like we said, dark humor.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com
or 702-383-0288.

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