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July 31, 2023 | Entertainment

Can Comedians Work During Hollywood Strikes?

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Marc D. Ostrow

Of Counsel

Hollywood actors have now joined writers on the picket line against film and TV producers.  This means comedians who write or act for film and TV can’t do so until the strikes are settled.  But not all comedy work is off-limits. So what work can a comedian do without being labeled a scab?  In short, comedians can do any work that is for self-promotion or for a company other than those being protested by the unions.  Each organization has its own rules, and both members and non-members should understand their implications.


The Writers Guild of America (“WGA”) and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (“SAG-AFTRA”) have each released rules that their members must follow during the strike.  These rules prohibit writers, actors, and other union members from participating in any services or work covered by their union contracts with companies in the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (“AMPTP”).  The AMPTP represents the major film and TV studios, including streaming services (referred to by the unions as “struck companies”).  Strikebreakers could be fined or expelled from their unions.  Both unions also stated they will bar non-members from future membership if they break the strike rules.

The WGA states that “you (or your agent or other representative acting on your behalf) may not meet or negotiate with a struck company; and you may not provide writing services, sell or option literary material to a struck company.”  For comedians, this means no more writing for TV, movies, and other projects that are produced by the big studios.  Comedians and their agents also have to stop all discussions related to present and future writing projects or sales of their work.

SAG-AFTRA has warned members and their agents that they must cease “all covered services and performing work” under contracts with the struck companies.  Comedians who are SAG-AFTRA members cannot perform any on camera, off camera, or background work related to an AMPTP-studio-produced project.  Like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA also prohibits members and their agents from discussing new projects.  Notably, SAG-AFTRA members cannot participate in any promotion or publicity work either, which is expected to drastically affect upcoming conventions, festivals, and award shows.


Since there are no prohibitions on self-promotion or performances for non-struck companies, comedians may write material for their own live comedy club gigs.  In addition to performing at clubs, comedians are starting YouTube channels and making more independent content.  The strike restrictions do not affect those pathways.  When creating and sharing comedic content independently, it is crucial to educate yourself about joke theft and other forms of copyright infringement to safeguard both yourself and your creative endeavors.

Union members may be able to work on independent projects for non-AMPTP studios, provided they meet certain requirements.  SAG-AFTRA requires these projects to comply with a so-called Interim Agreement in order to retain members’ services.  Entertainment work that is covered by the Network Television Code contract is also allowed because it is a different contract than the AMPTP work.  This includes work on variety shows, talk shows, and some award shows – as long as you don’t promote a production covered by your AMPTP contract.


If you have questions about your rights under a labor union contract, you should consult with an experienced attorney.  Contact us to speak with a member of our team.

Contributions to this blog by Gabriella Epley.

Photo by Kevin Snow on Unsplash
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