Self-Proclaimed ‘Fool of Times Square’ Is an Author
Among the Times Square denizens—from the Spider-Mans to the multiple Weed Guys to the tour bus ticket hawkers—Paul Rosa is one of the most well-known fixtures. Paul manages comedy club ticket sellers. When he’s not managing, he’s selling tickets himself. Paul tries to not take any of it too seriously. Paul’s business card states: Paul “Paul” Rosa (Manager/Fool). Paul wears circular, rose-tinted glasses, bears a resemblance to John Lennon and has a unique, off-the-wall, often sarcastic sense of humor. When passers-by curse him out, which is not infrequent, Paul sometimes chases them down and offers them free tickets and ten bucks.
If he can’t get a sale, Paul will take a laugh.
Prior to hawking tickets, Paul worked for eight years as a stand-up comedian, and he published two humor books, both collections of fake letters he penned to real companies.
Growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Paul’s mother was warm but his father, an engineer, was distant. Before Paul took to the stage in search of the approval he craved, he tried to play it straight, majoring in business at Penn State. “In hindsight, it was a complete waste of time,” recalls Paul.
Following graduation, Paul answered a classified ad and was hired at the Pentagon, where he managed a database for a defense contractor. Not surprisingly, he hated it. Chronic back pain made things unbearable. Eventually, Paul got up the nerve to perform stand-up. Not long after, Paul gave notice. When he informed the Pentagon of his stand-up comedy aspirations, his supervisor told him, “But you’re not funny!”
“Go fuck yourself!” Paul barked back and stormed out. Suddenly, Paul’s back pain disappeared.
Since then, Paul has completely turned his back on a conventional career. In addition to stand-up comedian and comedy ticket seller, he has been a snow shoveller, a pizza delivery guy, a salon back shaver and a port-a-potty cleaner, among other endeavors.
As a stand-up, Paul enjoyed making people laugh – but not much else. He detested the make-me-laugh-now pressure, the down time between shows and the dilapidated condos that he was forced to share, mostly with other miserable comics. When he got a form letter from Pizza Hut inquiring why he hadn’t recently ordered a pizza, Paul was inspired – and he replied back:
I appreciate your concern regarding my recent failure to order a Pizza Hut Pizza, and was pleased to receive the (money-saving) coupons. I was also complimented when you stated, “You’re the kind of customer we’d like to see more often.” What I would like to know, however, is which customer you wouldn’t like to see more often? I simply couldn’t arrive at an answer, even after asking myself some questions (as you cleverly did).Would you be so kind as to write to me and clear up this confusing matter? It’s a puzzler!
Pizza Hut responded, which inspired Paul to write to more companies, everyone from Rand McNally (“Many times I have driven from one state to the next, but I can never find the lines, no matter how hard I look!) to Victoria’s Secret (Who is Victoria, and what is her secret?) to Super Glue, who he informed that he had accidentally glued a large part of a ceramic vase to his hand and was embarrassed to tell anyone and leave his home. Super Glue Fedexed Paul some glue remover and a loaf of multi-grain bread.
After about 100, Paul figured he had enough for a book. He got a literary agent, and Doubleday published Idiot Letters: One Man’s Relentless Assault on Corporate America. “I felt like I really hit my stride with that,” says Paul. The book sold well but probably would’ve sold better if Paul hadn’t been bumped from The Today Show because of the Oklahoma City bombing coverage. Paul put out a sequel, but it didn’t sell nearly as well as the original. It didn’t help that Ted L. Nancy’s Letters From a Nut, which featured a Jerry Seinfeld foreword, was released at about the same time. Unfortunately, Paul’s follow-up writing efforts didn’t gain traction. “I got lazy,” Paul admits. “Rejection makes you spread out the books.”
Paul was hawking politically-themed election trinkets, liberal stuff, when he heard about comedy ticket selling. Almost immediately, he was hooked. He enjoyed the flexible hours and cracking up tourists and anyone else –outside a comedy club. Eventually, Paul became a manager and posted ads on craigslist like the below to attract sellers.
HORRIFY TOURISTS!!!!**** (Midtown West)
Hey there, you.
Need a wonderful job? One that is rewarding and allows you plenty of opportunity for growth and fulfillment? A job where you are treated with respect and dignity? A position that allows your true “inner self” to blossom while you work hand-in-hand with creative, caring people? Then stop reading right now because this isn’t the job for you.
We offer soul-crushing rejection in Times Square and hour after ghastly hour of humiliating insults hurled at you by husky tourists from the “fly-over states.” Your miserable goal? Get a handful of them each day to hear your pitiful cries & purchase comedy club tickets from you. Sound wonderful? Then you, my friend, are an idiot.
Kidding! This job, when mastered, can be tremendous fun. And lucrative! After training, you are set free to use your improvisational skills, charm, and lunacy to sell comedy club tickets to tourists. Those with entertainment or sales experience and those with endless patience and fierce determination typically do best at this gig. We are an equal-opportunity employer but don’t have enough women on the team. Step up, ladies!
During his comedy hawking career, Paul has worked for about a half dozen clubs, from Dangerfield’s to The Comic Strip. Working on commission, Paul sells $20 tickets to customers. He pockets whatever he can get from customers plus a “kick back” fee from the club for each customer who actually shows up. The clubs make money off the mandatory two-drink minimum and other audience purchases. Not surprisingly, comedy clubs are always hiring hawkers because turnover is constant.
Selling comedy tickets on the street is not easy. Most recruits quit after less than an hour or even fifteen minutes, says Paul. Unfortunately, some unethical vets resort to lying about the talent that will be performing, as seen to great comedic effect in Crashing, the Pete Holmes-Judd Apatow HBO vehicle that depicts the soul-crushing realities of the stand-up scene. It’s a practice that Rosa vehemently denounces: “We’re not gonna get Chris Rock,” says Paul. “We’re not gonna get Dave Chappelle.”
When there’s a thoroughbred seller, clubs often attempt to outbid one another as far as appealing kickback arrangements. When a club loses out on a seller, there are sometimes bad feelings. Paul says that he has been physically threatened during his career. “For the most part, it’s just bluster,” says Paul. “But you gotta watch your back.”
While Paul continues to sell these days, he mostly manages. He trains rookies for five hours or so and then sets them loose to “pester” and “butcher” tourists. For the sellers that stick it out, Paul enjoys being a parental figure. More than a few times, he’s given advances to team members to get them through rough patches. “I love mentoring them and helping them out,” he says.
When asked about his future plans, Paul says that he wants to continue writing and maybe open a comedy club. For now, Paul’s more than happy to be out on the street with the masses. “Times Square is a mess, but you don’t even notice what an awful place it is when you’re dealing with people all day long.”