A Conversation with UCB‘s Chief Financial Officer

"That's hard enough that I had to sit through 160 layoffs. And tell people that they were losing their job. That's hard enough for me."

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Below is the transcript of a conversation I had yesterday with UCB’s Chief Financial Officer and Acting Executive Director, Daryl La Fountain. It’s a bit lengthy but the thrust is that he intends to sue me for slander and libel and for publicizing his name and title. He also spoke a bit about this week’s layoffs at UCB—where he says he is the only employee remaining at the theater—and responded to my argument that the owners should have paid their staff through the duration of the theater’s shutdown. But this is just a fraction of what I think was a very interesting, contentious discussion.

Some context. When I was reporting on the layoffs at UCB earlier this week, I called La Fountain to ask for comment. (I’ve emailed him for comment in the past, but he has never responded.) After I introduced myself, he asked how I got his personal number. I told him I found it on White Pages, which he did not accept, and told me never to call him again. I asked how I should contact him with questions about UCB; he said I should email him. I said he’s never responded to my emails, that many people in his theater get their information about it from me, and that I wish he could see me as an asset. He hung up.

Yesterday afternoon I learned that UCB had not paid out its laid-off employees’ sick days. Neither California nor New York law requires this of employers, but I felt it would have been the right thing to do. So I texted La Fountain for an explanation, as I believed he would not respond to an email, and that a text would be within the bounds of his request not to call him. Here’s that exchange; please forgive the embarrassing typo it begins with:

I then tweeted about the exchange—

—after which he texted me again, erroneously stating I had revealed his number:

One minute later he called me. My recording of the call is garbled at a few points, which I have noted throughout, with his side necessarily suffering more than mine. That said, I have transcribed it to the best of my ability, endeavoring to represent La Fountain accurately and completely. If he informs me that my account does not align with his at any point, I will update this post accordingly.


This is Seth.

Seth, this is completely off the record. I have a third party listening to this call. Are you opposed to having it taped?

I'm not opposed to having it taped but I don't agree to saying anything off the record.

So everything has to be on the record with you?

Yes. I'm a reporter.

No you are not. You are a blogger.

Hold up. So we're taping this, right?

Yeah.

Okay. Go on.

Everything I'm about to say is completely off the record.

No, I don't agree to that.

Why? It’s a confidential—

Because I'm reporting on the theater you run.

You take confidential emails and you post them without the confidentiality clause on them.

Well, I'm not bound by those confidentiality clauses.

You're not?

The emails are sent to me by people who receive them. Because I am a reporter who covers UCB. Have you not worked with journalists before?

You are not a reporter.

Sorry, can you repeat that?

You are not a reporter.

What do you mean by that?

You are a blogger.

I'm a blogger but I'm not a reporter, you're saying.

Yes. [This is a little garbled and may have been some other one-syllable word, but I’m confident in “yes” due to the following:]

No, I'm a reporter. I've been published in Slate, Vice, Esquire, I used to be an assistant editor at Paste Magazine. Currently I publish an indie newsletter at sethsimons.substack.com. This is all reporting. I report on UCB.

Which is a blog, right? Substack.com is a blog.

It's a newsletter platform. A lot of people use it for reporting.

Okay, I'm sure at the Times all of their reporters have those sort of sites, right?

All of—can you say that again?

Seth, all I'm asking you to do is to stop placing my personal information out there.

Which personal information have I placed out there?

My name. My title. You've actually gone through research—not White Pages, 'cause it's not available on White Pages—to find my personal cell phone number. I have a family. And you are enraging a community against me. [These last two words are garbled, but based on memory and what I say next I’m fairly confident in "against me.”]

Respectfully Daryl, I did find your phone number on whitepages.com. That's how I got it. That's how I have it. I don't see how your name or your title are private, personal information. You work for a theater that's a very high profile comedy theater, you know, you're the one who took that job. If you don't want your name and title to be known, I don't think you had to do it. As for enraging a community against you, I'd say that what they're enraged about is getting laid off with no notice and no severance and no sick pay. If you're saying that they're enraged about—because of me reporting on that, then I'm gonna have to disagree, very respectfully.

Unfortunately, Seth, we do disagree on a lot.

Okay.

And one of those things is slander and libel.

How have I libeled and slandered you? What have I said that's untrue?

We will discuss that in the near future.

You’ve got me right now. Let's discuss it now.

I'm sure through attorneys we can discuss that.

You really want to sue a reporter during a pandemic when the theater you work for is getting extremely bad press?

I have to do whatever I have to do to protect myself.

I'm sorry. I'm just a little confused about what you need to be protected by. Or from, rather.

From posting things about me that are absolutely untrue.

What have I posted that's untrue?

You are searching through my past, you are attempting to search through my past and find things and posting them. So all I'm gonna advise you at this point is make sure that you preserve everything you've done.

I think he’s referring to these tweets by the account @FriendsofDaryl, the first of which has since been deleted.

I'm sorry. Are you referring to the tweet from your Twitter that I quote-tweeted? When you say that I'm combing through your past?

Please make sure that you preserve everything you've done—

Sure—

—up until this point that has anything to do with me.

Sure—

Pursuant to California law, if you are asked to do so, you must do it.

Okay. I just, like, again for my own edification, what do you mean by combing through your past and what do you mean by slander and libel?

Again, Seth, you make unfounded statements about people that you believe you can do and they're not slanderous.

I'm not hearing what those statements are. What are the statements?

I'm really not gonna discuss this with you. But what I'm gonna tell you is that my family has nothing to do with UCB. The fact that I have taken a job there—

And I have said nothing about your family.

Again let me finish—

Okay.

You do this all the time. All right? You think that because employees have something to say, anyone and everyone is up to your written word. [I can’t 100% make out this last word—it may have been "work."]

Sorry, my what?

I have a family.

I know.

That you are continuing to post my name out there because I replied to a text message after I told you to not contact me. Then you text me.

And that puts you in danger? That puts your family in danger?

Did I not tell you on Tuesday to not contact me? And you said how should I—

I believe you said not to call you again.

—How should I? And I said email. Did I not? But then you chose to text me.

I did text you.

Right?

Yeah.

After you were instructed to not contact me on my personal cell phone.

To my recollection you said not to call you.

No no. I said do not ever contact me again. And you said, well I've emailed you before. And I said, take a hint. There was a third party present 'cause I was standing in the Verizon store.

Okay, I must have misheard that. I could have sworn you said do not call you.

No, you heard me very clearly. You wanted to try to bait me. And as a quote-unquote reporter, I am done playing the little games with you.

Daryl, I haven't been playing any games. I have been trying to report on the layoffs at your theater. And, you know, if you would just give me answers to some of the questions I'm asking, I don't think we'd be having the problem that you think we've been having.

Why don't you email them to me as you were asked to do on Tuesday?

'Cause you don't get back to my emails and, you know, people are hurting now. People don't have jobs now.

Because your emails are like, is it true that this happened? You aren't asking questions. You are trying to bait people.

I'm trying to bait you by asking if it is true that there were layoffs?

You already know there are layoffs. Have you contacted Marriott?

I don't report on Marriott.

Have you contacted Qantas airlines? How about literally any other company in the world today? These are restaurateurs.

I don't report on those other companies.

Oh, you only do theaters?

I am a—I report on comedy.

What other theaters in New York have you contacted regarding their layoffs?

Well, if you look at my newsletter you'll see that on Wednesday I reached out to a bunch of theaters about how they were dealing with coronavirus. You'll see that on Sunday I reported on Second City furloughing its night staff without pay. When you called me now I was just getting to writing about mass layoffs at Second City. I actually report on a lot of comedy theaters, and UCB is the biggest comedy theater—[my recording is garbled here but I believe I said "so it does take up most of my time." The beginning of his response is garbled too but the end is:]

You are using wrong information on a routine basis.

Can you say what some of that wrong information is?

[There is some garbled cross-talk here.]

—Most of it contradicting itself.

I don't know what you're referring to. Can you explain?

You talk about UCB's—no I can't.

Why not?

Because you're gonna write about this. And you write things in the way you want to present them, instead of in reality.

Daryl, you're telling me off for saying things wrong but you're not gonna tell me what I'm saying wrong. I don't think that's very fair.

Again, it's off the record—

No. This is all on the record.

[More cross-talk.]

—'cause I'm gonna release this tape. Right now.

Okay. That's awesome. I will retweet it.

Great. You are completely misrepresenting situations.

Again, I am asking you what am I misrepresenting and you're not telling me.

Because you want to write about it.

I do. I write about UCB. That's my job.

It's a job? Who pays you?

I have subscribers to my newsletter and I'm a freelance journalist—I get paid by the piece.

Who pays you to write about UCB?

Well, again, Slate has paid me. Paste Magazine has paid me. My subscribers to my newsletter pay me. People care about this. It is the most famous improv theater in the world. It employs a lot of people. It has employed a lot of people. Thousands of comedians have gone through it. It matters. It's news. Are you saying it's not news?

I am saying that people deserve accuracy.

I agree.

And truth.

I agree with you. What have I said that's inaccurate and untrue?

What have you said that's inaccurate and untrue?

That's what I'm asking, yeah.

Okay. How about the point where you wrote about the fact that we were ready for closure and now you're saying that oh, we should pay every employee more than what the law requires.

When did I say that you're ready for closure? What are you referring to there?

You wrote about the financial difficulties.

That's right. My belief is that the theater's millionaire owners should pay its employees.

Which employees?

Well, you know, the production and training center staff and all the performers.

We did pay them.

Who did you pay?

Everything required by law.

Yeah, and they should continue to be paid through the shutdown, I think. Because it's a global pandemic, people have healthcare, bills, people have rent to pay. I don't see why they shouldn't be paid. Do you?

Because every company out there is doing it. Right, Seth?

A lot of them aren't. And a lot of them should. UCB is one of them.

Okay—so as—

UCB is owned by Amy Poehler, a multimillionaire.

I should be a multimillionaire.

I'm not talking about you.

I should be the king of England.

What do you mean?

Because a lot of them aren't and a lot of them should.

Yeah, they should.

Okay, so I should be the king of England.

I don't think that's quite analogous.

I should have all the money in the world to do that. Our business should be charging equivalent charges for tickets and classes based on what we do. Because we're the number one comedy theater in the world. Right, Seth?

Yeah, it is the number one comedy theater in the world. And—

So we should be charging ticket prices in order to pay our people, is what you're saying. Right?

Yes. If that's what it takes to pay your performers and employees fairly. Yes.

And why did iO West close?

Because, uh. iO West?

Yeah.

Oh, you know, rampant mismanagement and neglect. Actually, this is also something else I wrote about that you can look up if you want—

I did—

—In my work reporting on comedy. All right.

And I spoke to them.

You spoke to who?

I spoke to people at iO. So, you know, it's interesting how you act is if there's something out there that people don't know about. No one is doing anything, from my level on down, that is illegal, immoral, inappropriate, or anything else.

Do you think it is legal to not pay performers?

Do I think it's what?

Are you saying it's legal not to pay performers at UCB?

I'm not going to comment on that.

Well, but you just said everything's legal on down so it seems like you did just comment on it. So why not comment a little more specifically?

Why don't you comment on the fact that you posted my private information on the Internet? My name, my title, everything that is not listed on a public website anywhere.

Just some publicly available information I found on Al Gore’s internet.

Your name and your title are not private information. Our text messages are also not private information. So again—

That's right. And they're discoverable. Right? And subpoena-able, right?

I'm not a lawyer so I guess I can't answer that. But again, you're saying I posted your private information online and I am confused—

I have your story. I have your story printed out. I forwarded it to my attorney. I am ready, willing, and able to file suit against you, Seth.

I'd rather not. Because, you know, I don't have a lot of money to go to court with you right now and I know California has very strong anti-SLAPP laws. So I think it would end up being a waste of your time too. As I said—and I meant it when I said I would stop texting you, and I'm happy to do that, you've made it very clear you don't want to comment on these stories and I'll leave it be. But I am still confused why you think that's private information when it's your job and your name. But again, I'll leave it be.

My job and my name are one aspect of who I am. I am not Amy Poehler, I am not Matt Walsh, I am not Matt Besser, and I am not Ian Roberts.

Right, but you're head of the leadership team, right?

No, I'm not part of the leadership team. I'm the only person remaining at the theater now. And that's hard enough for me, Seth. Okay?

That part's not what?

That's hard enough that I had to sit through 160 layoffs. And tell people that they were losing their job. That's hard enough for me. To not be put out there like I did something horrible to people.

I'm sorry you had to do that. Why didn't you quit instead of doing it?

Because I have a family to support, just like everybody else.

Just like all of the people who got laid off.

Yes.

So you can understand why they would want more information from you and the theater's owners.

The theater’s owners have reached out to them. [Last night I asked a handful of former employees if they’ve heard from the owners; all said no.]

Have they? I didn't know about that.

As have I. Now the people commenting, I haven't been able to reach, and I've tried. But the people commenting on your tweets, I've tried to reach out to. Now, am I going to speak to "well, you should do this, and you should do that”? No I'm not, Seth. Because you know what? If we had all the money in the world, we would do severance packages. Something no other company has done.

I believe Amy Poehler does have a lot of money. I believe to many of the people who work at the theater, they might describe that as all the money in the world.

Well, actually, Amy is an investor in the company. Like every other owner.

Uh-huh.

And it is not her job to operate the company. She is an owner of the company, not an operator. And that's where everybody gets confused. Everybody believes that the owners run the company day-to-day, and they don't.

People—I don't think they believe that, because the owners have said again and again that they don't. Other than I guess Matt [Besser], who's been pretty involved. But what I'm saying is that she owns it and she has lots of money and the moral thing to do with that money is to give it to the people who worked for her.

She has an obligation of 25 percent of the company.

I know.

Just like all four of them do.

Right.

And she has done everything in her power.

Like what?

I'm not going to speak on that. She has done everything in her power to assist and navigate through this.

Okay. I mean. I'm sure she's done a lot but I don't think—I feel like if she had done everything, she would have paid the people who just got laid off severance. That's in her power, isn't it? She has so much money.

It's in mine too, right?

Sorry?

It's in mine too, right?

Are you saying it's in yours too?

I mean if we should be doing things, sure. [Garbled; I think:] I guess it's in my power too.

Yeah, I think the people who have more money have more responsibility.

Why is that?

Because they have more power by virtue of having more money.

I don't know that I agree with that.

You don't think that multimillionaires who will never spend all of the money that they have, you know, have some moral obligation to make the world a better place with it? And to give it to the more needy?

I believe that coming from a non-profit background, if that's what they want to do, then they should give their money to charity. Absolutely. And they should help the masses. Absolutely.

Okay. But. I guess you're saying that—

And [this next word is garbled; I think:] unfortunately, because it doesn't fit into your narrative, Amy has helped the theater a lot. And most of the employees are aware of that. They are well aware of that. And it doesn't fit into your narrative, so you don't write about it. And that's fine.

I haven't written about it 'cause no one's told me about it.

Right. Which again, is another wrong thing. You haven't written about it. So you don't know.

I'm not obligated to write about every possible story that relates to UCB, although I would be interested in doing that. But, you know, no one inside the theater ever talks to me. So it is quite challenging.

Because nothing you write is positive and it affects us in a negative way.

That's right. I consider—a lot of the things that I write are indeed not positive because there are a lot of not positive things about the theater, which I consider—and I think have argued successfully—has an exploitative business model.

I think that what you do is you take everything you hear, you slant it negative and you write about it. And then it affects my ticket sales, it affects my class sales, it affects morale.

You think my writing affects your ticket sales and your class sales?

Well according to you, you're a big reporter, right? And you sell all these pieces?

Oh, I didn't say I'm a big reporter. I said I'm a reporter and I have reported on UCB. It's a niche beat.

Okay, well it has negatively affected us.

Okay. Well. I think the business, again, is exploitative. And, you know, if you want to have a more successful business that people come to and support, maybe, you know, run it in a not exploitative way.

I find it so interesting that again all you go back to is the fact that you believe that you have no responsibility whatsoever.

Can you say more about that?

No, I'm good. I think that I've made myself clear that you have opened yourself up to a strong lawsuit. And I fully intend on pursuing it. And I hope that you make sure you preserve all communications we've had.

To recap—you're saying I've opened myself to a strong lawsuit by calling you and then texting you and then posting a screenshot of a text exchange with your name and title attached to it? That's what you're saying?

No, I'm saying anything and everything you've done. Make sure you keep it.

So you're saying—

—California law requires that if a member of a lawsuit alerts you that you need to keep something, you must preserve it. And I have made you aware of that at least five times throughout this conversation. And a third party has heard me say it.

I'm sorry, are you suing me over my reporting?

I am saying everything. Your blog posts, everything you've done that communicates with me or about me. Preserve it all.

Okay. And you were recording this conversation, right?

That is correct.

Okay. Because I also was.

And I have a third party present.

Okay.

Because you misconstrue and you write the wrong thing every time.

You have not told me any wrong thing that I've written.

Okay. Well, it'll all come out, Seth. Don't worry.

If you can't tell me here how are you going to say it in court?

Oh, don't worry about it, I will.

Okay.

You don't want to be sued but you want to keep making these comments. You want to keep putting people's information out there as if it's not something that's discoverable.

I don't know what you mean by "as if it's not something that's discoverable." I posted what you said because I thought it was newsworthy. You know, the people who got laid off want to know what's going on. They want to know what the leaders of their theater are doing and why they're doing it.

Every one of them can reach out to me. I'm more than happy to talk to them.

I don't think there's a lot of trust or faith towards UCB's leadership.

Oh, so there's not a lot of trust in me?

Towards UCB's leadership, which you're a part of. I don't think there is.

Oh, you don't think? Or you know? Have people made that comment to you?

Based on my conversations with people in the UCB community, I don't think there is a lot of trust or faith towards the company's leadership, no. This is based on my conversations, yes.

And they've identified me directly?

Why do you ask?

I ask because, have the employees identified me directly?

I'd rather not say, I guess.

Oh, okay. It's all discoverable.

I'm sorry I offended you. But again, I'm just trying to get information. And I wish you could have just answered the questions I was asking.

You can certainly ask questions that are valid and I'd be more than happy to answer them.

You've never answered any of them.

I have answered many of your questions.

I mean—

If anybody has a question about why they were laid off, or what the leadership of UCB is doing to speak to them, they can certainly reach out to me. I am more than happy to have a conversation with anyone at UCB. Who was employed. I'm more than happy to. And I would love to, in fact. I spend most of my day communicating with them via email or via phone. Because it's my job to make sure that they're well informed of what they can get, what services they have access to, how they can do that. I spend most of my day doing that. Because that's my job.

Okay.

And I take great pride in it. So anyone you would like to refer to me, Seth, please do so. Because I would love to speak to them.

Okay, well. Let me just ask on their behalf, then: why couldn't you pay out the sick leave?

Again, if you would like to refer the employees to me, I will be more than happy to have a conversation with them.

Okay.

They work for me. Not you.

I know. I work for, you know, the bigger public that wants information about how their comedy theaters function on the inside. And I think that question is relevant to that conversation.

I'm sorry, I'm not willing to comment. If my employees have a question, they can reach out to me.

Okay. Then that puts us back where we started with the—yes it's a no comment. Thank you.

No worries.

[La Fountain hangs up.]


I emailed UCB’s publicist last night, asking if the theater has any comment on its CFO’s threat to sue a journalist. She has not replied.


If you can, please help out the laid-off UCB staff in NYC and LA.

Header image via Travis Wise on Flickr.