Who knew fraud was funny? For most people, it probably isn’t – especially not when it means facing 225 years in federal prison. But Mark Whitney saw his financial nightmare as an opportunity to fulfill a dream – to represent himself at trial.
Fool for a Client is Whitney’s one-man show about his life, beginning with his childhood in the ‘60s, when obesity was impossible because parents used fear and anxiety to help their kids burn calories, taking us through his trial and time served, and catching us up on his family since then. And it’s all hilarious.
I’ll admit I was skeptical at first. Clad in a Vermont team’s football jersey, white jeans, and orange sneakers, the 40-something Whitney doesn’t look like a standup comedian. But his comedic timing is spot on, he responds well to the audience (and we, in turn, responded very well to him), and his delivery makes already funny jokes even funnier. No wonder he was able to make $50,000 his first year out of high school selling vacuum cleaners. Going door to door, he learned that you’re always some unknown number of “No”s away from a “Yes.” Later came his other maxim: “You never know what a judge is gonna do.”
In Whitney’s case, the judge sentenced him to three years in federal prison after a bit of, er, bad luck, let’s say, with a small bank. He had been applying for a loan to build several Ben & Jerry’s franchises, and instead, “they sent the ice-cream guy to the cooler.” Because prison is the best place to practice law (everyone has legal problems!), Whitney sets up shop in the prison’s law library and eventually learns even the most intricate details of constitutional law. Not only does he get himself out of jail; he gets the IRS to forgive his $1 million debt. Fittingly, freedom to Whitney once meant no rules and making a lot of money; now it means knowledge – or maybe it’s just about having “non-guilty skin pigmentation.”
If I were nearly as good a salesman as Whitney, you would have already bought tickets for his show. Here’s my final pitch: Go hear Whitney’s remarkable story yourself. It’s a vivid, never-boring combination of legal scholarship, humor, and moral insight.
Running Time: 75 minutes
Tickets: Fool for a Client
Remaining Shows: at, July 19 at 6:30 . Thurs, July 24 at 9:00 . Fri, July 25at 8:30 . Sat, July 26 @ 5:30
Where: Goethe Institute, 812 7th St NW