Celebrity Auctioneer Smackdown

By Jason Schwartz | Boston Magazine |

Charities love auctions—they’re quick, easy, and guaranteed moneymakers. But the local stars most often tapped to run the bidding each bring different strategies to the job. What to expect from the go-to gavel-thumpers, and how they compare with a real pro.


Lenny Clarke
Actor and comedian

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Regular events: Mass General Hospital for Children, the Genesis Fund Highest bid brokered: $250,000 for all the Monster seats at a Red Sox game Pros: While playing for laughs, Clarke can harangue bidders for being cheapskates, shaming them into forking over more cash. He’s so good at it, in fact, that he’s occasionally invited onstage at events he isn’t even hosting. Cons: His egging-on can get uncomfortable. “I pit people against each other—I really shouldn’t be doing that,” Clarke says.

He says: It’s hard to stay focused. “You must remember at all times to be dignified—well, I don’t know if ‘dignified’ is the word, but not completely out of my mind.”

Bob Lobel
Channel 4 sports anchor

Regular events: Charles River Arc, Perkins School for the Blind Highest bid brokered: $90,000 to spend a weekend with Roger Penske at the Indy 500 Pros: Bostonians naturally feel chummy with the prominent TV sports guy. According to one circuit veteran, that makes bidders (especially men) more likely to empty their wallets for him. Cons: Lobel isn’t a born performer. “Maybe he’s not loud enough,” says one publicist. “Maybe he doesn’t have the delivery you need.” He says: Auctioneering is good therapy. “I think I’m a pretty shy person, and I’m kind of a loner. But when I’m up in front of people like that, everything changes.”

Susan Wornick
Channel 5 anchor

Regular events: Lupus Foundation Golf Tournament, Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod Highest bid brokered: $40,000 for a golden retriever puppy Pros: Crowd control is her specialty. To get gabbing bidders to sit down and shut up, she’s been known to call out, “Anyone who has just had plastic surgery, please stand up!” Cons: One event planner says Wornick commands too much attention. “It becomes more about her performance than about trying to get the most money.” She says: Her auctioneering style is intentionally informal. “I have great respect for the professionals, and I don’t ever try to be one.”

Billy Costa
Host of NECN’s TV diner and kiss 108 newsman

Regular events: Joslin Diabetes Center, Foundation Fighting Blindness Highest bid brokered: $26,000 to have Ming Tsai and a team of chefs cater a dinner party Pros: Organizers rave about Costa’s ability to engage crowds and drive up bids. One group’s annual auction haul rocketed up $17,000 after they hired him. Cons: Unlike other local celebs out on the circuit, Costa has been known to charge—often about $2,000—for his services. He says: His fee is worth it. He brings auction items (usually guest spots on TV Diner) that can generate $15,000 apiece. “I think I’ve come up with a package that is guilt-free.”

Paul Zekos
Professional auctioneer

Regular events: The Jimmy Fund, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Highest bid brokered: $100,000 for a 2004 Red Sox World Series championship ring Pros: The best-known pro around, the high-energy Zekos is famous for jumping up onto tables while coursing through the room. He’ll work with charities up to 10 months in advance of the event, helping choose the auction items. Cons: Most people haven’t heard of Zekos. And because this is his full-time job, he charges both a flat rate and a percentage commission (he declined to disclose either). He says: Leave the auctioneering to the pros. “If you needed a lawyer, would you retain a local celebrity?”