Out of Work: Why Comedy Can Be the Saddest Thing

Down But Not Out: Yahoo! Readers Share Their Stories of Unemployment and Job-Hunting

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Out of Work: Why Comedy Can Be the Saddest Thing
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Jeff Schimmel

Five million Americans are among the long-term unemployed--those without a job for 27 weeks or longer--according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 7.3 million are looking for work, while the unemployment rate sits at 7.9 percent. Numbers aside, individual stories illustrate how America is affected. To see how joblessness hits home, Yahoo News asked unemployed workers to share their job-hunting stories. Here's one.

FIRST PERSON | My name is Jeff Schimmel. I live in sunny Southern California: The Entertainment Capital of the World & The Unemployed Writer Capital of the Universe.

I've been a writer/producer since 1988, mostly comedy, and mostly in TV. I used to think my career was based on talent, but if that were the case, I'd be spending 70 hours a week right now, hunkered down in an office with a dozen other scribes, banging out the script for this week's very special episode. I'm not. I've come to realize what the old timers told me back when I was first starting out, full of enthusiasm and a never-say-die attitude, was true. It's all luck. That's fine. I'm generally a lucky guy. But when you're trying to get a mortgage, the loan officer at the bank won't consider good fortune to be valid collateral.

Over the years, I've had the honor of working on some very high profile shows. Emmy winners. And, I've written and produced for Oscar winners and A-listers. Steven Spielberg, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Bob Hope, Harold Ramis, Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Rodney Dangerfield, George Lopez, Robin Williams, Tracy Morgan, Bob Saget, Peter Boyle, Damon Wayans, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, David Alan Grier, Keenen Wayans, David Steinberg, John Stamos, Martin Landau, etc. Plus, I've spun my tales for studios and networks like ABC, NBC, Fox, Comedy Central, Dreamworks, MGM/UA, Warner Brothers, to name a few. Fabulous. That, and $4.50, will get me a latte at Starbucks. It's a little more expensive for me than other folks. You see, I'm lactose intolerant and they charge extra for soy milk.

These days, I don't visit Starbucks. Nope, I get my coffee from the gas station. It's cheaper, and I find that people who are complaining about paying $4 a gallon are a lot more down to Earth. Remember when the only people looking for spare change outside the 7-Eleven were homeless? Now, you can see soccer moms scrounging for quarters and dimes in their minivan ashtrays, just so they can buy their kid a Slurpee. These are the times in which we're living.

Like millions of other Americans these days, I'm unemployed. I've been lacking steady work since the Writers Guild Strike that ran from fall 2007 through winter 2008. I've managed to hustle up some work on an extremely inconsistent basis, but I've been actively seeking a full-time gig for nearly five years. In some respects, Hollywood is like a derailed, runaway freight train that is hurtling downhill, on greased tracks, at 200 miles per hour. If you fall off, the odds are it won't be back to pick you up any time soon.

When you're a writer/producer in L.A., finding a job is difficult under the best of circumstances. But when the industry is cutting back, like every other business these days, it's exponentially harder. Sometimes, friends who live in the real world ask, "How come your agent can't get you a job?" That's easy. Agents have never obtained work for me. The same goes for just about every writer I've ever known. Agents hibernate and allow you to scramble for your own opportunities, then wake up just in time to collect their 10 percent commission. Finding a job as a writer/producer isn't like anything else. There are no classified ads in the paper, no job fairs, no interviews, etc. Either you know somebody or you don't. And in 2012, even knowing someone isn't good enough.

My purpose in submitting this story is to pledge solidarity with the millions of other people who are also unemployed. Bricklayers, teachers, waitresses, airline pilots, cab drivers, gardeners, paralegals, nurses, etc. We're all in this together, trying our best, but suffering just the same. And, it won't get better for any of us until it gets better for all of us.

I'll continue my search for the only work I know how to do. I spend my free time, and there's a lot of it, teaching and mentoring others who also want to be writers, doing volunteer work, and just generally trying to be a decent human being. Until the phone rings with good news, it's the best I can do.

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