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Improv comedy chain sues over plans for rival clubs

August 25, 2011 |  4:41 am

Ron artest photo 

The company behind the Improv comedy club chain has sued its Internet marketing promoter, accusing him of using the Improv brand’s “good will” to promote his own company and a planned chain of competing clubs.

Improv West Associates alleges in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court,  that Robert Hartmann used his job as Improv’s marketing officer to promote “independent businesses he was building on the back of the Improv brand.”

Those businesses include a planned chain of comedy clubs called Levity Live, the lawsuit alleged. Hartmann used Improv’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote his company, Levity Productions, the lawsuit said.

Hartmann did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Improv brand got its start in 1963 as “The Improvisation” in New York, growing over the ensuing decades into a chain of 23 clubs across the United States, including clubs in Hollywood, Irvine, Brea and Ontario.

Improv West licenses third parties to operate Improv Clubs. Hartmann is a majority owner of a company that operates several Improv clubs, the lawsuit said. In 2003, Improv West hired him to promote Improv clubs on the Internet, the lawsuit said.

Hartmann and Levity created Improv-branded Facebook and Twitter pages without the authorization of Improv West and used those pages to promote other ventures, including Levity Live comedy clubs, the lawsuit alleged.

Hartmann said he wanted to buy out IWA or merge the two businesses, but “had no genuine interest” in doing so, the company said in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.


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-- Stuart Pfeifer

Photo: Lakers player Ron Artest at the Improv in Hollywood Credit: Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times