Improv owner: Stand Up Live forced me out of business

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by Carina Sonn

azfamily.com

Posted on May 9, 2012 at 6:45 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 9 at 9:53 AM

TEMPE, Ariz. -- An owner at the iconic Tempe Improv says he's being forced to bow out of the stand-up business.

The comedy club has been open since 1988, and has hosted comics like Jerry Seinfeld, George Lopez, and the Wayans Brothers.

The last year, however, has been a struggle since Stand Up Live opened in downtown Phoenix in 2011.

"All of a sudden we discovered another improv franchisee had been working in conjunction with a booking agent for our club to basically put us out of business," Improv owner, Mark Anderson said.

Anderson blames his former colleagues and friends for the downfall. Robert Hartmann used to book for the Improv, and Joel Bachkoff owns a piece Stand Up Live.

According to Anderson, the pair started booking all of his regular comic acts, making promises of more money and gigs at Stand Up Live in Phoenix, as well as the franchises in other states.

Anderson couldn't compete.

"I'm sure they're saying, 'We're just being young entrepreneurs. We're competitive and doing business in an aggressive manner.' I think it's dirty though," he said.

The Improv owner says the men did offer him a deal, but he said agreeing would have taken him to the "dark side."

"We were invited to join them as minority shareholders or go out of business," Anderson said. "And those words proved prophetic - that's what happened to us."

The doors to the Improv will close June 1. The business will transition to a sketch comedy and interactive comedy club, with a dinner theater or possibly a  dance club filling the space the Improv currently takes up.

Although Anderson admits there is an increasingly ugly side to the comedy world, he's hopeful that he still has a future in the business.

"I wanna try and see the humor of this," Anderson laughed. "There are still opportunities to rejoice, even amidst the adversity."

Several calls were made to Stand Up Live, Hartmann and Bachkoff. A company representative would only say, "We were surprised the Improv is closing. There are two sides to every story."

The representative, however, declined to share any details.

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