Levity Looks To Upgrade The Improv

Buyer of iconic comedy club brand plans improved seating, premium food and drink

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: February 5, 2018

The Improv comedy club brand has been acquired by Levity Entertainment Group.

Levity Entertainment Group is serious about its plans for its new comedy acquisition.

Levity acquired The Improv, the comedy brand started 54 years ago by Budd Friedman, in a deal that closed Feb. 1.  Friedman invented the concept of a "comedy club" with the opening of The Improv in New York City in 1963, and since then The Improv has grown to more than 20 clubs nationwide under Friedman and co-owner Mark Lonow.

"There are few brands that have a half-century of history," said Stu Schreiberg, chief operating officer of Levity Entertainment Group. "This was the first comedy club ever, and the history of improv unfolded on its stages, from [Richard] Pryor to [Jay] Leno to [Jerry] Seinfeld."

Now Levity is considering how to build on that legacy, and high on the list are improved seating and premium food and beverage.

"People have the vision of a '70s comedy club with tight seating and bad hamburgers, but we're going to create an environment for a much more sophisticated and demanding audience," Schreiberg said.

Levity also plans to introduce more video into the clubs, turning them into "mini-studios" built for livestreaming. "That's especially important because artists are using video more and more," he said.

Levity Entertainment Group owns entertainment venues nationwide; Triage Entertainment, a television production company; and Levity Talent Management, which represents more than 50 artists. Levity Entertainment Group is a joint venture between Azoff MSG Entertainment and Madison Square Garden Entertainment.  (Azoff MSG Entertainment's Irving Azoff is a co-founder of Oak View Group, which owns VenuesNow.)

"We've owned improvs across the country for some time, but we've never owned the brand," Schreiberg said. "So it only made sense to be the logical buyer of the club so we could evolve the build and brand of the clubs simultaneously. We had a lot of the brick-and-mortar, but not the brand, and now we have both."

Discussions started during the last six months, he said. "We had a long history together. Both parties knew each other well because we're the licensee and they were the licensor," Schreiberg said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Friedman, in a statement, said: "When I started The Improv on 44th Street with little more than a brick wall, I couldn't imagine it would endure for over a half-century. So much of the history of comedy played out on our stages."

There are 23 Improvs, including clubs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Miami, Schreiberg said. Levity plans to grow them "to well over 50 in the next three to five years" and add international clubs.

"There's a tremendous value to owning an international string of comedy venues," Schreiberg said. "From a quantitative and qualitative standpoint, there's a value in knowing who is that next generation of comedy artists and who is getting traction."

Tickets at a typical comedy club are $20-$45. A typical capacity is 300-500, and per caps are "in the $20s," said Schreiberg, who added that hot comedy acts currently include Sebastian Maniscalco, Gad Elmaleh and Vir Das.

The Improv also maintains a library of classic comedy assets, including the series "An Evening at The Improv," originally broadcast on A&E for 14 years.

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: February 5, 2018