Answering the $95,000 question

IT started out as a practical joke.

IT started out as a practical joke.

It became a $95,000 battle with a bank.

And now it’s a show whose tour comes to the Watergate Theatre on June 4 at 8pm.

Man 1, Bank 0 is a timely, comic and utterly true tale presented by Patrick Combs, who experienced the saga and lived to tell it off-Broadway and at festivals around the world.

It all began when the San Francisco, California man received a typical piece of junk mail in the post: an envelope promising that a cheque for $95,093.35 was inside. As a gag, he signed a smiley face instead of his name and deposited it into his bank account.

Imagine his surprise when the amount stayed on his (formerly minimal) bank balance, and when the branch manager told him to spend away.

“For three weeks it sat in my bank account, and I took it out after the branch manager said, ‘Hey it’s legally yours, take it out’,” Patrick said by phone from Dublin in advance of his Irish tour. “It turned out he was only half right,” said the man who would come to face the bank’s full recourse – which involved threats of jail time and fraud charges.

“When I put the cheque in, I didn’t even sign the back – I just drew a smiley face on it,” he said. “So I’m thinking, oh my god, I’m going to go to jail for drawing a smiley face!”

In the midst of this panic, he managed to track down the top San Francisco lawyer who specialises in bank cheque fraud. “I called him up and said, ‘I think I need a lawyer. I think I’ve screwed up here.’ I told him the whole thing and ... the first words out of his mouth were that, ‘In 22 years of specialising in banking, I’ve never heard of anything as enjoyable as this’.”

Without revealing too much about what happens in the rest of the story, there is the question of responsibility on the part of the person who sent out the “cheque” in the first place. In fact, the man in question, from Cleveland, Ohio, sent out 40 million of them.

“Well guess what?” Patrick said. “It turned out every single one of them was real – by accident. He over-designed them. And when he slapped the word ‘void’ on it, he thought, ‘Great. It says ‘void’, send ’em out’.”

The difference between Patrick’s and the other 39,999,999 cheques was: “I was apparently the only one who put it in the bank.”

Funnily enough, despite his long ordeal with his own bank, it has led to a far more favourable experience with other financial institutions. “Two years ago, a bank called and they said, ‘We want to fly you to Key West, Florida and we want you to talk to all the presidents and chairmen of the boards of all the banks in the south eastern United States.” Oh, how things had changed.

So would he do it all over again?

“Yeah, I would. Not because I want to live through it; half of it was terrifying and but the other half was brilliant. Let’s just say the ending’s worth it.”

‘Man 1, Bank 0’ is in the Watergate Theatre on June 4 at 8pm. Tickets cost e18/e16 and are available on 056 7761674.