A Challenge to Save New York
A message to James Altucher and any millionaire fleeing our city.
I’ve only known of James Altucher during his stint as an open mic comedian who bought his way into comedy. By becoming a partner at one of New York’s comedy club fixtures, Standup NY, Mr. Altucher unfortunately made his way onto the historic stage that has been graced by well-known comedians including Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Bill Burr, and Jim Gaffigan.
Altucher comes from anything but humble beginnings. He was a hedge fund
manager, born into a well to do family (nothing wrong with that) and was lucky enough to get into some great schools. His education led to a career in finance and eventually a lucrative career as an author of over 20 books.
I don’t begrudge Mr. Altucher and his success, as a matter of fact, I celebrate it as a New Yorker. That’s what this city is all about. Make it here and you can, well you know how the song goes.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard several times “I read this article in the NY Post that made me really sad.” This was not fact, this was not news, this was an opinion piece published by an author and, from what I’ve read, it wreaks of selfishness, cowardice and greed.
I can only attribute his stance to his character and what is seemingly a life without adversity. I’m a little different. Mr. Altucher is most definitely a New Yorker. Born here, grew up here, developed here, but what he doesn’t know growing up a bit sheltered is that there are different New Yorkers.
I’m one of those. I grew up in poverty. My family experienced adversity from the moment they arrived in this country and almost from the womb I had to figure out how to survive in this city that presents a great opportunity but also an incredible amount of struggle and strife.
In Bushwick, Brooklyn, the streets I grew up on were littered with crack vials and violence. The kind of violence so eloquently documented in movies like A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Mean Streets, and Taxi Driver. On most nights, I’d watch my mother come home after a 10-hour day working as a seamstress and miraculously make my brother and I dinner. I doubt Mr. Altucher was ever on welfare. I also doubt he has ever been chased down 20 blocks for a jacket and beaten or shot at.
Mr. Altucher also mentions his proximity to ground zero on 9/11, but I doubt he was ever on the piles. I doubt that he ever felt the smoldering heat under his feet as he shoved charred body parts into a body bag. Mr. Altucher recollects the city being bankrupt in the 70's and the housing market crashing over a decade ago, but I doubt he ever felt the absolute devastation of what that meant.
I mention all of this not to say “hey look at me, I’m better than he is”, but what I can say is he’s never had to survive the worst this city has thrown at him like most New Yorkers. He hasn’t had to persevere in the most extreme situations, and it’s clear he doesn’t have a true understanding of the resiliency of New Yorkers. When everyone is gone, as he says, there will be me and people like me staying put, while he flees and runs from another hole this city has to climb its way out of.
I expect more from people like Mr. Altucher. The people we deem the best of us. It will take New York’s best to build it back. Businesses will have to take a chance on us again. We’ll have to keep our culture and food industry relevant in a city where apparently everyone is leaving.
Mr. Altucher mentions in his op-ed that all of his friends are leaving. I think he knows the wrong people because me and my friends are staying. We’re going to commit to being here for the worst so that people like him can come back and make millions again.
I’m one of the owners of The Stand Comedy Club in Union Square. I didn’t have the dispensable income to buy my way into comedy. We built our business from scratch. I teamed up with friends and people I loved, people like my brother Paul, who saw my vision and added his. My buddy Patrick, who loved comedy so much he sacrificed money he didn’t have to produce it, and of course, my late friend David Kimowitz (who we lost last year in a tragic death from which we are all still trying to heal), who was always the positive one and always the one who believed no matter how hard the task was we would figure out a way through it.
I don’t mean to keep piling up on a privileged New York life. He might be an
awesome guy and maybe one day we can have a cup of coffee and be friends, but for now, he is just the guy willing to watch his city burn, doing nothing about it, from the comfort of his new home in Florida. Best of luck to you, wherever you end up, but please when you get there, don’t tell them you’re from New York. You’ve lost that right.
My brother has worked in commercial real estate for over a decade, last year
joining forces with Compass, a real estate giant. No one at the company is bailing or shaking in their boots. The offices in the building we are located in will be back to 50% capacity starting in September, with the hope that it’ll get to full business as usual by the first quarter of 2021.
I asked my brother Paul if there was any hope for the future of this city. “There’s always hope, long term, there’s always hope and as devastating as it may seem, it’s not like we haven’t taken the hits before.”
I’ve watched my brother reinvent himself at least half a dozen times in his life. After September 11, after the housing crisis, each time bouncing back from what was perceived a devastating hit. During the pandemic, my brother rolled up his sleeves and helped create a New York chapter for the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which is working with NY Senator Chuck Schumer to bring much-needed relief to ALL comedy clubs and independent venues around the country. Together we were able to launch the saveourstages.com campaign. Sounds like Paul is staying too for the long haul.
While Mr. Altucher was sitting in his home, not in New York, and not coming up with solutions, his only contribution to the pandemic has been bombarding New York City parks with pop up shows. He went on to boast that his club is producing something like 50 shows weekly. He said this proudly as it was some kind of achievement. Unknowingly, these non-permitted events caused the cancellation of NY Laughs’ summer program: Laughter in the Park.
NY Laughs is a non-profit organization that uses its programming to fundraise for other charities for the last 14 years. Thanks to Mr. Altucher and his 50 shows, all the dates were canceled. When asked again to confirm why New York City made this decision, they pointed to Mr. Altucher.
So, what is it you are offering with your now two-part op-ed? Not hope. Not solutions. You are telling us to give up. Get out while you can? Anyone with a modicum of success in New York should come together and find solutions. We owe the people who stay that much, and we owe it to the future of this city. So, here’s a challenge to Mr. Altucher: get involved with NIVA, join forces with us. Get involved with NY Laughs and Laughter in the Park. Help us along with Senator Chuck Schumer to get a bill passed to help keep independent venues going. Let’s get the attention of Google, JP Morgan and all the other corporations you say will never be back and remind them how this city contributed to their growth. It’s now time for them to help save it.
A close friend of mine who owns a chain of supermarkets, employs thousands of New York City residents and owns real estate throughout the 5 boroughs of New York, says he sees no other way. We need to stay. His family, while successful, has been through devastating turns of adversity, each time battling back and sticking together in order to survive. He simply says about the future of this city, “These things take a toll on everyone, but you keep moving forward. It’s what we do.”
It is what we do, Mr. Altucher. We survive. We rebuild. We rise.