Host Joan Rivers performs at a benefit to aid show staffer and L.A. performer Jackie Beat, who is on strike with fellow cast members after facing a health crisis without insurance.
This story first appeared in the May 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A victim of the Fashion Police labor strife has turned to an online fundraising campaign to pay for an expensive double-hip replacement.
Jackie Beat, a Los Angeles drag performer and comedy writer, has been on staff of E!'s Joan Rivers talk show for 15 months but doesn't have health insurance through the network or the Writers Guild. Although Beat, 49, is a member of the WGA, the performer has not accrued enough hours to qualify for insurance, and Fashion Police, like most unscripted cable series, is non-union.
The show's writers went on strike April 17, claiming back wages, pension and health benefits as well as "industry-standard compensation" for writers.
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"If the show was union, I would be eligible for health insurance," says Beat (real name Kent Fuher). "Truth be told, we simply got sick and tired of working in a joke 'sweat shop.' "
When he couldn't put off the surgery any longer, Beat started a Give Forward fundraiser to raise $50,000 for the April 19 procedure and several months of rehab.
At press time, the fund had reached $41,465 thanks to two events in Los Angeles and New York featuring supporters including Jane Lynch, Debbie Harry and Kate Flannery. One supporter -- surprisingly -- is Rivers, who donated to the fund, hosted the New York benefit and opened the show with a short set.
Beat says he appreciates the personal support, but if E! changed its policy, he "wouldn't need to essentially beg for money online."
The Hollywood Reporter: What prompted this sudden strike?
Jackie Beat: There was no original agreement. When you first start, to be honest, you are so thrilled to be working with a comedy legend like Joan that you don't realize just how much time and energy it takes. Without going into specifics, it really is very little money for a lot of work. Work that gets harder every week because it's often the same people we're writing jokes about. That takes true creativity. After the ninth week of staring at Anne Hathaway in a couture gown with her pixie haircut, you need to really work to find jokes about anything and everything: The way someone is standing, what's in her purse, the words on the wall behind them. It's much more than "that looks like an ugly bedspread!"
THR: Are the back wages for overtime essentially?
Beat: Yes, they are for "overtime," although that word is often open to interpretation. We are not afraid of hard work, we are not lazy. But the show started out as a half hour and now it's an hour. The recent Oscar special was 90 minutes! That means more jokes, more work. When we do an awards special we arrive at E! around 2:30 p.m.. and work, non-stop, until at least 6 a.m. the next morning. I don't going above and beyond like that, but not if I am being paid the bare minimum.
THR: You mentioned in a Facebook video post that Joan is supportive; can she have any sway over the agreement between writers and network?
Beat: Let me tell you something, I love Joan. I really do. She is at the top of her game, she is hilarious. She is also a survivor and a fighter and if anyone gets standing up for themselves and demanding what is right, it's her! She appeared at my surgery fund benefit in NYC and wrote a check. I am not mad at Joan Rivers. I am not mad at anyone. This is about Comcast and E! and, as they would say to justify our low wages. It's just business!