Trashing your credit for laughs:
The story of Mike the Deadbeat
What does a stand-up comic in bad debt trouble
do? Make a joke about his debt by taunting his creditors; record
the conversations for his Jerky Boys-esque CD and send his credit
rating into a fiery pit of financial hell.
This is how Mike Reynolds, a stand-up comic, became known as Mike
the Deadbeat -- a prankster with $20,000 of debt.
"I did it for the comedy," says Mike Reynolds. "I
did it to make people laugh."
Live from New York
Reynolds wasn't always a deadbeat. In 1998 he was living in
New York, working steadily as a writer for "Saturday Night
Live" and doing the stand-up circuit. So what happened?
"I wasn't prepared," he says.
Reynolds ruptured a disc in his back and was unable to work. He
returned to Los Angeles and just when his back seemed to be recovering,
he came down with a case of mononucleosis. The mono turned into
pneumonia. Between bouts of illness, Reynolds found work in a casino.
But his inability to work steadily cost him dearly.
"I went from making $200 an hour at SNL to $200 dollars a
week at the casinos," says Reynolds. "I was fighting just
to stay alive. I wasn't worried about the bills at the time."
Suddenly, he was out of money and the creditors started calling.
Birth of a deadbeat
The bills started piling up. He says he was making payments
-- as much as he could afford anyway. But the $35 late fees, $29
over-the-limit fees and interest fees -- some as high as 27 percent,
were adding up faster than he could pay them off.
"I did pay," says Reynolds. "I spent a year paying
off a $6,000 balance -- $8,000 really, with all the penalties I
paid. When I paid it off, they wouldn't give me a card again. It
didn't do me one bit of good to have paid this off. So that's when
I started only paying on the cards that were still active."
Eventually, his frustration with creditors' constant phone calls
and their lack of understanding about his predicament eroded into
"The deadbeat name is a joke -- for comic effect. I started
asking them 'Why did you give me this card? Didn't you know I'm
a deadbeat?' -- because that's how they were treating me,"
While Reynolds was making minimum payments on his credit cards
that weren't canceled, the collection agencies that had taken over
his other bills kept calling.
"The bill collectors got relentless. After six months of them
calling, I started to go crazy."
Roll the tape
Reynolds says he told the collection agencies he just didn't
have the money to pay them. He says he explained that he was unemployed
but they wouldn't listen to reason. They encouraged him to send
them his rent and electricity money. He considered their ideas outrageous
-- laughable even. So he taped their phone calls to see what his
friends would think.
"I started calling friends and playing it back. Just for some
laughs," says Reynolds. His friends thought it was funny, so
Reynolds kept the tape rolling when creditors called.
Forfeiting reason for comedy, Reynolds began to play with the
callers. His favorite taped prank is the first track on his CD --
when he responds to a credit card company representative by yelling
"Hoo-ha!" a la Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman."
On another call, Reynolds reaches what is perhaps his most honest
moment when he asks one customer service representative to reactivate
his credit card so he could "Whack it right up (to the limit)
and then chuck it. I just need it turned on for one day and then
I'll go on a little shopping spree." She said she'd forward
the request to her supervisor.
Reynolds is selling collections of his credit pranks on his Web
the Deadbeat. He's hoping the sale of the CDs will help him
pay off the collection agencies and his friends.
It could happen to you
While Reynolds reacted to debt a lot differently than most
people have, he believes many Americans are on the brink of similar
"A lot of this stuff was out of my control -- I got sick,"
says Reynolds. He feels that if sickness or unemployment hit, many
Americans would find themselves in his situation.
"If people don't have delinquent credit card bills, most do
have credit card bills. They are making enough, but they are stretching
to pay their bills. If those debts were called in, they would be
in trouble too," he says.
Reynolds recommends that others who have already fallen into heavy
debt weigh their priorities.
"If things get that bad, take care of yourself first. Don't
let them scare you into paying them. If you have to choose between
paying a credit card bill and paying your electricity bill, pay
the electricity bill. It's bad (to have creditors calling), but
that's nothing compared to getting your lights shut off," he
Reynolds says he regrets sending credit card companies money that
could have paid for electricity and food. If he could do it all
over again, Reynolds says the only thing he would do differently
would be to have started recording earlier, rather than being frightened
of the bill collectors.
Tough break to Tough Crowd?
Reynolds has every intention of paying off all of the remaining
$20,000 he owes and his life is looking up. True, he's living with
his mother in her Sarasota, Fla., home, but he's working stand-up
at local clubs and has hopes of returning to New York showbiz.
"I'm very close to getting a job on 'Tough Crowd with Colin
Quinn' on Comedy Central," says Reynolds, adding that he actually
owes Quinn money. "I know him from the early days," says
Reynolds, referring to his "Saturday Night Live" stint.
But Reynolds' large debt still hangs over him, stunting most aspects
of his life -- especially his social life.
"Sometimes after a show a woman will come up to me and I'm
thinking, 'I have nothing to offer her,'" says Reynolds. "I
used to be the king."
With the economy so down for so long, many people may know
the sting of a creditor's phone call or the dread of an impending,
unpayable bill. We'd like to hear your story. What the worst credit
mistake you've ever made? Let us know by sending an e-mail to: email@example.com.