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Judge Orders Breakup of Van Gogh-Goghs
Rules group has monopoly on peers' time; entertainment choice

LOS ANGELES (L. A. Times-Telegraph) June 12, 2000 -- A federal judge has ordered local sketch comedy group the Van Gogh-Goghs to break into two separate comedy groups.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Force Crater said he had "no choice" but to order the breakup of the comedy group after federal prosecutors exposed numerous instances of the group monopolizing its circle of friends, relatives and coworkers.

"Because I keep having to go see their shows, I never have time to see Phil's band, read Russ' scripts or go to that play David's in," said Kate Reed, a tolerant show-attender. "It wouldn't be so bad except they keep doing the same damn skits over and over."

The judge's harshly worded verdict averred that such statements were "...all too typical of the Van Gogh-Goghs' stranglehold on the time and patience of their peers."

The decision also concluded that the group was guilty of "shady practices and strong-arm tactics," such as reminding people to come to a show two or three times in the same day, emailing unsolicited information about shows in addition to a regular monthly email newsletter, and badmouthing other comedy groups as "stupid" and "packs of doofuses."

Judge Crater cited the volume of testimony against the group as a major factor in his decision and accused the group of generating a comedic group culture in which harassing family, loved ones and business associates into coming to shows was encouraged.

Broken VGG Logo
The Van Gogh-Gogh logo, altered to look as if it has been broken in half.

"I've gone to every Van Gogh-Gogh show in three years. And they have never come to see my band play," testified Phil Brown, a friend of the group. "I have one of their t-shirts. Do you think any of them have a hazel motes t-shirt? Noooo."

"They're constantly asking if you saw this or that on their website," said former fan Selena Berrier. "And they always ask if you went to the pages with banner ads cause they get like, I dunno, half a penny if you do. I mean, come on!"

"I just moved into town, and the first thing I know, I'm being told directions to their next show," testified Sean Harklerode, a former college friend of several VGG members.

The court-ordered plan would split the six man group into two three-man groups. One group would focus exclusively on the Van Gogh-Gogh website, the other on live performances. The two groups would be prohibited from contacting or promoting each other. In addition, both groups would be forbidden to mention the shows or website to people unless specifically asked about it.

While the immediate impact on humor consumers is uncertain, analysts expect lower prices initially as the weaker group appears at crappier clubs that don't have valet parking or charge a two-drink minimum.

Asked about whether they expected the group to emerge funnier after the split or to go into a comedic tailspin, former Labor secretary and Brandeis University economic and social policy professor Robert Reich said, "Who are you? How did you get this number?"

In a carefully worded statement Sunday, the group said: "Aw, come on! Give us a break! Man!" and accused Judge Crater of being "a big meanie." The group counter-proposed a different breakup plan where five members would form one funny, sketch-based group and one member could form his own, nonfunny, "stupid" group.

The Van Gogh-Goghs plan to appeal the ruling.

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