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Friday night at 10 p.m. seems like a weird time for West Virginia to start accepting gig workers’ unemployment applications, but that’s what they did. I guess they figured most entertainers are on stage at 10 p.m. on a Friday, but since we are all unemployed because of the coronavirus, we had nothing better to do.

I am a small-business owner because I am an entertainer. I applied for regular unemployment (UC) through WorkForce West Virginia in March and received this message:

“You will need to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the CARES Act since you are not eligible on a regular claim ... .”

So, at 10 p.m., Friday, April 24, I applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. I received this message:

“Based on our records, it appears that you may qualify for a regular UC claim. Therefore, you cannot file a PUA claim ... .”

It seems I qualify for neither because each believes I’m eligible for the other. It’s nice to be wanted.

I spent Friday night answering the questions WorkForce was asking. I kept getting rejected, and then answering the questions differently. I wasn’t lying, I just didn’t know the correct answers.

“Are you a corporate officer?” I’m the only person on the payroll, but I never elected myself, so I don’t know. I could be the president, dictator or generalissimo, if I wanted to be.

“Do you have substantial control over your corporation?” I did. Until the virus came along.

“In the last two years have you worked for a college ... or school?” Well, I’ve spoken at schools, and they paid me, but I wasn’t an employee.

It was like playing Mastermind. I had the correct answers, just in the wrong places. By Sunday afternoon, I had successfully applied. I think. I still haven’t gotten any funds.

I know some of you don’t care. A nice fella told me I shouldn’t get unemployment because telling dumb jokes isn’t a real job. I told him that the jokes I tell aren’t dumb, but you gotta be sorta smart to get them, so I understood why he might think they were dumb.

Congress got together and passed a bill allotting billions of dollars for the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses. The PPP was designed to provide businesses with fewer than 500 workers loans to cover paychecks and things such as utilities for two months.

I applied.

The money ran out faster than Garth Brook tickets, because companies such as Ritz Carlton, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Shake Shack and other huge, national chains got tens of millions of dollars through a loophole in the bill. Those of us asking for a few thousand dollars got nothing.

Congress admitted it might have messed up, and so it allocated more money for PPP.

I applied again, but “fool me once ...” and all that. This time, I considered changing my name to Ritz Carlton McDonalds Exxon Walmart Ruth’s Chris und Shake. That way, I would be camouflaged so I looked like what the Feds consider a small business.

So far, I haven’t heard from the government. Obviously, the lending criteria hasn’t gotten straightened out though. The L.A. Lakers, worth an estimated $4.4 billion dollars, received $4.4 million this time around. Next time, I’ll change my name to the Dallas Cowboys.

I, and several small-business people I know, who are asking for $10,000 to $20,000, haven’t gotten anything. Granted, nobody on my staff makes $37 million a year, so maybe the Lakers need it more than I do.

The Lakers and Shake Shack, having received millions, gave the money back. That would be generous, except that they applied for it in the first place. I don’t think they would have returned the money had they not been publicly shamed.

Here’s an idea, give out the little loans first. The Feds could give out 220 $20,000 loans for every one of the $4.4 million they award to brand-name companies. But the huge companies have better lawyers and more powerful bankers than little ol’ me.

Just for kicks, I sent a message to Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., about all this. Mooney champions himself as a fighter for his constituents. He never responded to my message, beyond a computer-generated “Thanks for contacting my office.” I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Mooney really cares.

I do think his opponent in the November election, Cathy Kunkel, really does care for the individual West Virginians and businesses smaller than Ritz Carlton and the L.A. Lakers. I believe, if she were my representative, she would be more responsive.

Anyway, the virus is almost over now, right? When it is gone, this will all seem funny. All us former small-business owners and gig workers will be back on stage at 10 p.m. Friday nights raking in the big bucks and telling dumb jokes about what we would have done had we gotten unemployment, or PPP, or even our stimulus checks. It’ll be hilarious right up until about early October, when we’ll all get to go through this again.

Bil Lepp, of South Charleston,

is a professional storyteller and

a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist.