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Improv comedy club chain owner sues Internet marketing promoter

Improv West Associates accuses Robert Hartmann of using his job to promote his own company and a planned chain of competing clubs.

August 26, 2011|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times

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 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, according to the lawsuit.

An attorney for Improv West Associates declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Hartmann did not 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 majority owner of a company that operates several Improv clubs, the lawsuit said. In 2003, Improv West hired him to promote its 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 his ventures, the lawsuit alleged.

He had recently offered to buy out Improv West or merge the two businesses but "had no genuine interest" in doing so, the company said in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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