The King of the Times Square Comedy Show Ticket Hawkers
Amongst the Times Square denizens — everyone from the Spidermans to the Weed Guys to the tour bus ticket hawkers — Paul Rosa is one of the most well-known fixtures. Paul manages comedy club ticket sellers. When he’s not managing, he’s selling tickets himself. Paul tries to not take any of it too seriously. Paul’s business card states: Paul “Paul” Rosa (Manager/Fool). Paul wears circular, tinted glasses, bears a resemblance to John Lennon and has a unique, off-the-wall, often sarcastic sense of humor. When passerbys curse him out, Paul has been known to chase them down the street and offer them free tickets and ten dollars.
If he can’t get a sale, Paul will take a laugh, gladly.
Prior to hawking tickets, Paul worked as a standup comedian for eight years, and he published two humor books, both collections of fake letters he penned to real companies.
Growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Paul’s mother was warm, but his father, an engineer, was distant. Before Paul took to the stage to get the approval he craved, he tried to play it straight, majoring in business at Penn State. “In hindsight, it was a complete waste of time,” says Paul. Following graduation, Paul answered an ad and got a job at the Pentagon, where he managed a database for a defense contractor. Not surprisingly, he hated it and suffered chronic back pain. Eventually, Paul got up the nerve to perform standup. Not long after, Paul gave his notice. When he informed the Pentagon of his stand-up comedy aspirations, his supervisor told him, “but you’re not funny!”
“Go fuck yourself!” Paul barked back before storming out. Suddenly, Paul’s back pain disappeared.
Since, Paul has completely turned his back on a conventional career. In addition to standup comedian and comedy ticket seller, he has been a snow shoveler, a pizza delivery guy, a salon back-shaver and a port-a-potty cleaner, among other endeavors.
As a standup, Paul enjoyed making people laugh but not much else. He detested the make-me-laugh-now pressure, the downtime between shows, and the dilapidated condos that he was forced to share with the other comics. When he got a form letter from Pizza Hut inquiring why he hadn’t recently ordered a pizza, Paul was inspired — and he replied back:
I appreciate your concern regarding my recent failure to order a Pizza Hut Pizza, and was pleased to receive the (money-saving) coupons. I was also complimented when you stated, “You’re the kind of customer we’d like to see more often.” What I would like to know, however, is which customer you wouldn’t like to see more often? I simply couldn’t arrive at an answer, even after asking myself some questions (as you cleverly did). Would you be so kind as to write to me and clear up this confusing matter? It’s a puzzler!
Pizza Hut responded, which inspired Paul to write to even more companies, everyone from Rand McNally (“Many times I have driven from one state to the next, but I can never find the lines, no matter how hard I look!”) to Victoria’s Secret (“Who is Victoria, and what is her secret?”) to Super Glue, whom he informed that he had accidentally glued a large part of a ceramic vase to his hand and was embarrassed to tell anyone and leave his home. Super Glue FedExed Paul some glue remover and a loaf of multi-grain bread. After about 100 pages, Paul figured he had enough for a book. He signed with a literary agent and Doubleday eventually published Idiot Letters: One Man’s Relentless Assault on Corporate America. “I felt like I really hit my stride with that,” says Paul. The book sold well but probably would’ve sold better if Paul hadn’t been bumped from The Today Show because of the Oklahoma City bombing coverage. Paul put out a sequel, but it didn’t sell nearly as well as the original. It didn’t help that Ted L. Nancy’s Letters From A Nut, which featured a Jerry Seinfeld forward, was released at about the same time. Unfortunately, Paul’s follow-up writing efforts didn’t gain traction. “I got lazy,” Paul admits. “Rejection makes you spread out the books.”
About six years ago, Paul was selling politically-themed election trinkets (liberal, leftist stuff) when he heard about comedy ticket selling. Almost immediately, he was hooked. He enjoyed the flexible hours and cracking up tourists and anyone else — outside a club. Eventually, Paul became a manager and posted sarcastic ads on craigslist like the below to attract sellers.
HORRIFY TOURISTS!!!!**** (Midtown West)
Hey there, you.
Need a wonderful job? One that is rewarding and allows you plenty of opportunity for growth and fulfillment? A job where you are treated with respect and dignity? A position that allows your true “inner self” to blossom while you work hand-in-hand with creative, caring people? Then stop reading right now because this isn’t the job for you.
We offer soul-crushing rejection in Times Square and hour after ghastly hour of humiliating insults hurled at you by husky tourists from the “fly-over states.” Your miserable goal? Get a handful of them each day to hear your pitiful cries & purchase comedy club tickets from you. Sound wonderful? Then you, my friend, are an idiot.
Kidding! This job, when mastered, can be tremendous fun. And lucrative! After training, you are set free to use your improvisational skills, charm, and lunacy to sell comedy club tickets to tourists. Those with entertainment or sales experience and those with endless patience and fierce determination typically do best at this gig. We are an equal-opportunity employer but don’t have enough women on the team. Step up, ladies!
If Paul doesn’t get a hire, he will take a laugh, gladly.
During his comedy hawking career, Paul has worked for a bout a half-dozen clubs, from Dangerfield’s to The Comic Strip. During the past year, Paul has been working for the Broadway Comedy Club, which is conveniently located in midtown, just adjacent to Times Square. Working on commission, Paul sells $30 tickets to customers (he often settles for $20). Paul pockets whatever he can get from customers plus a “kickback” fee from the club for each customer that actually shows up to the club. The clubs make money off non-street ticket sales, the mandatory two drink minimum and other audience purchases. Comedy clubs are always hiring comedy ticket sellers because turnover is constant. No, selling comedy tickets on the street is not easy. Most recruits quit after less than an hour or even fifteen minutes, says Paul. Unfortunately, some unethical vets resort to lying about the talent that will be performing to land sales, a practice that Rosa vehemently denounces. “We’re not gonna get Chris Rock,” admits Paul. “We’re not gonna get Dave Chappelle.”
When there’s a thoroughbred seller, clubs often attempt to out bid one another as far as appealing kickback arrangements. When a club loses out on a seller, there are sometimes bad feelings. Paul says that he has been physically threatened during his career. “For the most part, it’s just bluster,” says Paul. “But you gotta watch your back.”
While Paul continues to sell these days, he mostly manages. He trains rookies for five hours or so and then sets them loose to “pester” and “butcher” tourists in the most diplomatic way possible into buying tickets. For the sellers that stick it out, Paul enjoys being somewhat of a avuncular figure. More than a few times, he’s given advances to team members to get them through rough patches. “I love mentoring them and helping them out,” he says.
When asked about his future plans, Paul says that he wants to continue writing and perhaps open a comedy club. For now, Paul’s more than happy to be out on the street with the masses. “Times Square is a mess, but I don’t even notice what an awful place it is when you’re dealing with people all day long.”
Jon Hart is the author of Man versus Ball: One Ordinary Guy and His Extraordinary Sports Adventures.