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Improv to Seek Wider Audience at Spectrum

April 19, 1999|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the Irvine Improv moves to the Irvine Spectrum Center in November, owner Robert Hartman is hoping to attract a bigger, broader and more appropriate customer base for the 12-year-old comedy club.

"The center we're in right now is turning into more of a student-based center, and most of our audience is a little bit older, probably 25 to 45," Hartman said of the current venue in the Marketplace restaurant, theater and retail center across from UC Irvine.

Hartman, who also owns the Brea Improv, said only about 2% of the club's sales are generated by the surrounding student population.

"What is so wonderful about the Spectrum is [that] it shifts us farther south to where I believe the population explosion in Orange County is taking place," he said. "It opens up easier access to that population."

The new Irvine Improv will seat about 385, up from 275 at the current location.

Hartman said the new club will be laid out differently. The showroom will be more of an oval shape, with stadium-style seating. The farthest seat from the stage will be 50 feet away, down from 85 feet now.

"Every seat will be a good seat in this room," he said. "It will be far more intimate."

Although everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Robin Williams has performed at the Irvine Improv, Hartman said the larger showroom will help him secure more big-name comics, whose earnings are related to the take at the door.

Hartman said business at both the Irvine and Brea Improvs has remained steady over the last decade, while sales figures for the other eight Improvs around the country are 28% above what they were at the height of the comedy boom in the late 1980s.

"Comedy is bigger than it's ever been," he said. "Comedy is back because there are not that many places where you can see live entertainment anymore. There is something special and unique that happens when you're in a showroom where people are performing."

Although the Irvine Improv's University Center location has been successful, Hartman said, "it's time for us to grow up and turn the club into something we know it can be."

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