Comedians energize the picket lines as Hollywood actors and writers strikes enter second week

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Marc Maron, right, Hannah Einbinder, from second left, and Debby Ryan walk on a picket line outside Netflix studios on Friday, July 21, 2023, in Los Angeles. The actors strike comes more than two months after screenwriters began striking in their bid to get better pay and working conditions. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

LOS ANGELES – The combined strike by Hollywood actors and screenwriters entered its second week with no swift end in sight, and union leaders and star strikers, including a bevy of comedians attempted to boost morale Friday as the novelty of picket lines wears off.

“The momentum is still building,” said stand-up comic, writer and actor Marc Maron outside Netflix headquarters. “I got some of my comedy buddies — we’re like, let’s go, let’s make sure we’re there and we show up for our union. There’s a lot of people here and look, eventually they have to, they have to negotiate, right?”

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Maron starred on the series “GLOW” for Netflix, whose headquarters in an increasingly hip section of Hollywood has been a bustling hub during the strike, with music blasting and food trucks serving ice cream, shaved ice and churros.

His fellow comedians and comic actors abounded on the picket line, including “Saturday Night Live” and “Portlandia” alum Fred Armisen, “Hacks” star Hannah Einbinder, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Chelsea Peretti, “What We Do in the Shadows” vampire Mark Proksch, and longtime comedy team Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker, who said they were not optimistic about a quick end to the strike.

"I think it’s going to be a long struggle, a long fight," Heidecker said. “We’re going to have to be out here until we get what we need to get.”

But they were confident about finding sustenance to get them through it.

“There’s an Arby’s here and Eric hasn’t eaten Arby’s in a year,” Heidecker said.

“It’s been 364 days since I had a big roast beef and we’re doing it today,” Wareheim said.

It has been harder for picketers to keep the energy up at more sprawling corporate campuses like Warner Bros. Studios and Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where a Southern California heat wave hit hard all week.

But as the strike has begun to stretch on, the regular appearance of star writers and actors has given a jolt to picket lines in both LA and New York, and provided high-profile voices on issues that are key to both writers and actors — better pay and preserving established practices like residual payments, as well as protection from the use of artificial intelligence. Roughly 65,000 actors — the vast majority of whom make less than $27,000 a year from their screen work — along with 11,500 screenwriters, are on strike.

On Friday, actors in London rallied in solidarity with their Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists brethren. Stars including Brian Cox, Andy Serkis, Hayley Atwell, Simon Pegg and Imelda Staunton gathered with other performers and production crew in Leicester Square for the demonstration organized by British actors’ union Equity.

They chanted “One struggle, one fight, we support SAG-AFTRA fight” and “The luvvies, united, will never be defeated,” using a British slang term for actors.

Cox, who played media mogul Logan Roy in “Succession,” said, “I think we are at the thin end of a horrible wedge,” with artificial intelligence shaking the foundations of actors’ work.

“The wages are one thing, but the worst aspect is the whole idea of AI and what AI can do to us,” he said. “AI is the really, really serious thing. And it’s the thing where we’re most vulnerable.”

The British actors' union is not on strike, though many members are also part of the U.S. union.

Cox said it was important actors showed solidarity with striking screenwriters in the Writers Guild of America.

“We’re just like pieces of furniture without writers,” he said.

Serkis, who has become a specialist in playing digitally created characters since he first played Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” saga two decades ago, said “I’m probably one of the most scanned actors on the planet.”

“I know that my image can be used, or my library of movements, can be used or my voice,” he said, adding that it “is wrong that that is easily accessed and used without remunerating the artist.”

In the U.S., Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago were among the the major cities with strike events Wednesday and Thursday, demonstrating that film production doesn't just happen in New York and Los Angeles.

There's no indication when negotiations with studios and streaming companies, which are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, will resume. The group has said they've offered both writers and actors substantial pay increases and have tried to meet other demands.

“Please come back to the table, please be realistic, please have a little bit more socialism in your heart and think of the people who make the money for you,” “Mission Impossible” star Pegg urged studios and streaming services.

Many on the picket lines in the U.S. have seized upon comments by their corporate bosses like Disney CEO Bob Iger, who last week called the unions' demands “not realistic.”

During an earnings event Wednesday, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said grew up in a union household and knew the strike was painful on workers and their families.

“We're super committed to getting to an agreement as soon as possible. One that's equitable and one that enables the unions, the industry and everybody in it to move forward into the future,” he said.


Lawless reported from London. Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this report.


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