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Rob Becker: Financing the 'Caveman'

Bankrate: When you were developing "Caveman," were you still doing stand-up?

Rob Becker: Yes. I would take little pieces of the show that I was writing and put it in my stand-up so I could try it out and see where the laughs were.

Bankrate: At what point did you make the transition where you would just do the show and pull back on stand-up?

Rob Becker: I was headlining all these comedy clubs, especially working for the Improv chain. The Improv in San Francisco was going out of business. They had to find something to keep it open. So they asked me to do the show there, and they booked me for a month. I thought, if I can run for a month, wouldn't that be great. But it took off. I never did stand-up again.

Bankrate: What did that do to your financial situation, especially considering you were already making $100,000 a year?

Rob Becker: The money was exponentially better. Not from the very first day, but within a very short time. They charged $8 at the door the first few months, like they were used to for stand-up comedy. As I did it at other Improvs, they kept bumping the price up little by little to see what the traffic would bear. So it went from $8 to $12 to $14 to $18 to $22, and at the end, in Dallas and D.C., they were making people buy a dinner. So people were paying $20 for a dinner, and $22 for a ticket to the show, and a lot of people would say, "I don't want the dinner, I just want to see the show."

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Bankrate: So how much of that went to you, and how were your finances affected as this was going up?

Rob Becker: Every time the ticket price rose, I made more money. Whatever I was making when they were charging $8 at the door, you have to imagine that went up when it went to $40 at the door. Most of the places I play now have 2,000 to 2,500 seats, and the average ticket price is around $40, so you can do the math. Eight shows a week times 2,000 seats, somewhere around 15,000 to 16,000 people a week, times $40 -- we gross around $600,000 a week.

Bankrate: And you own the show, right?

Rob Becker: Yeah.

Bankrate: So that means you rent the theater, cover the expenses, and the rest of the money's yours?

Rob Becker: I have a lot of expenses to pay. I have to pay 10 percent to an agent, advertising and theater rental and so forth. So out of whatever I gross in a week, I probably take home about 40 percent of it.

Bankrate: That's pretty good.

Rob Becker: I'm happy. I'm extremely fortunate. When I first started doing the show, my agents were saying, "This is a crazy idea you're doing." At the time, the trend was really to bash men. When I told them I was calling the show "Defending the Caveman," and I was going to defend men and take a real even approach and not blame anyone, they said, "Boy, are you on the wrong track. This is going to go nowhere."

Bankrate: So are you an investor? What's your financial focus?

Rob Becker: I ran around for a long time with big checks sitting in my wallet. I even didn't put them in the bank. I wasn't focused on money at all. By the time I thought about it, the stock market was sky high. The NASDAQ was around 4,000. Everybody was saying, if you put your money in the market, you get 25-30 percent return every year. But the stock market returned something like 11 percent over the last 100 years. It seemed that the market had to cool down. So I was reluctant to put my money in the market, and I put it into municipal bonds. All my friends said, "You're out of your mind, you're going to get a 6 percent return and you could be getting 25 to 30 percent in the market." While the NASDAQ went from 4,000 to 5,000, I really regretted my decision. But when it went from 5,000 to 4,000 to 3000 to 2,000, putting money into bonds was the luckiest thing I ever did. So I missed out on the downside, and I've been able to make a pretty good return.

Bankrate: So is all your money in bonds?

Rob Becker: I put a tiny amount into the NASDAQ for fun, and I looked like a genius when it went from 4,000 to 5,000. I had all this JDS Uniphase that I bought, and made all this money really quickly. My NASDAQ portfolio doubled in about two or three months, and I was thinking, "Damn, I wish I had put all my money into the NASDAQ." Then so many of those stocks cratered. If you take my losses from that, balance it with the 90 percent of my money I put into municipal bonds, I still made money.

Bankrate: For the future, have you thought about any creative investments?

Rob Becker: I thought about buying some houses, but I feel like real estate now is like the NASDAQ was at 5,000. In Northern California, real estate took a huge run-up over the last year and a half. I think when inflation heats up again and rates go up, real estate is going to come down. I don't think this is a good time to buy real estate. So I'm holding firm. Municipal bonds aren't as good as they were when I bought them, and the stock market doesn't look like a good bargain right now. The P/E ratios still look very high. So my money's in a holding pattern, probably making 1.5 percent in some account. My joke with my financial guy is, "I'm aggressively conserving capital."

Larry Getlen is a freelance journalist and comedian in New York.

-- Posted: Feb. 18, 2003
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