Hidden Hollywood: How the quarantine affects freelancers like warm-up comedian Bill Sindelar
For the last 20 years, comedian Bill Sindelar has warmed up audiences for hundreds of comedies, reality programs, and talk shows that tape live in Hollywood. But just two weeks ago, he joined millions of other Americans who were told to stay at home in an attempt to prevent spread of COVID-19. In EW's new occasional series Hidden Hollywood, Sindelar talks about how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted his career as a freelancer and what scares him about the future.
"The last job I had was The Talk, on March 12. Everybody knew that this was coming. When I got a call notifying me that they were letting us go, even the human resources person told me, 'Yeah, I have a job today. But they may lay me off too.' I was like, God, even the human resources people are impacted because there are no shows and no work. The Talk is doing the show live now. But all the hosts are going to be at home. They don't need half the people that are on payroll.
"A month ago, I was working seven days a week on seven different shows like The Conners and World of Dance. I was supposed to do Supermarket Sweep for ABC. I'm an independent contractor. Thankfully, because I'm SAG-AFTRA, I get benefits. I know people who lost all their benefits. What about those poor people who are audience pages? I mean, security guards are getting laid off. My buddy works for a company that does promos for all these shows. I don't think people even realize there's a separate company. It's not in-house. They don't have any work because none of the shows are doing anything.
"Being an independent contractor, people always say to me, like, 'God, when do you rest?' Well, if I don't work, I'm not making money. I can't get sick. I don't get vacation. I actually was supposed to go on a cruise next week. People were like, 'Aren't you going to cancel your cruise?' I was like, 'Well, no, I'm not afraid of getting it.' It's not that you think you're invincible. Honestly, I work with 2,000 to 3,000 people a week sometimes. I'm exposed to so many people, I rarely get sick. My immune system's built up. But the more I heard about the virus, I thought, well, gosh, if someone even coughs on my ship, I could be quarantined for two weeks with 4,000 people and just stuck in a tiny room doing nothing? So that's when I was like, okay, I'm going to cancel my cruise. It's funny. I wanted to go on a cruise so I could just be by myself and let other people entertain me. My job is to make other people happy and to bridge that gap between the show and the audience and make them feel part of the show. It's exhausting trying to be the funny, happy, energetic, loud person in the room. Now I would kill to talk to anybody, even people from Riverside, Calif.
"If this goes into August, I will be scared. You know what's scary about all this, truly? No one knows what to expect. Where do I go for work? I can't just go into a parallel position. I'm in such a specific field, and I'm not the only one. I'm lucky. I'm the gay dude with two dogs. My other friends are supporting whole families. I can't even guess what their stress level is like."
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