Culture News

Tempe Improv Closing on June 1

The owners of the Tempe Improv announced Tuesday that they're packing their gags and closing the doors of the venerable Valley comedy club on June 1.

And here's the punchline: They're alleging that comedy competitor Stand Up Live, which opened last summer at CityScape, had a part in the Improv's downfall.

In a vitriol-filled press release was sent out Tuesday afternoon to Valley media outlets, the Improv's proprietors play the blame game with Stand Up Live and accuse the downtown Phoenix club of poaching all the big-name comics who used to perform regularly at the legendary Tempe comedy spot, which opened in 1988.

The Improv's closing is the final chapter in the club's long storied history, which stretches back 23 years and includes hosting numerous tapings of HBO and Comedy Central programs, as well as performances by Jerry Seinfeld, Janeane Garofalo, and countless other top-shelf comedic talent. Such major names have been relatively non-existent over the past year as former Improv regulars like David Spade, Norm McDonald, Jay Mohr, and Kevin Pollack instead performed at Stand Up Live.

"In one year, Stand Up Live has taken virtually all of the comics that the Tempe Improv developed during its 23-year history," the release states. "You can't be a comedy club if you can't get any comedians."

Per the Arizona Republic, Stand Up Live co-owner Joel Bachkoff is accused of doing so by tapping onetime Improv talent buyer Robert Hartmann for "proprietary business information," regarding booking certain big-name comedians.

There also have been numerous unconfirmed rumors swirling around the Valley comedy scene about how former Improv co-owner/manager Dan Mer has also worked behind the scenes booking comedians at Stand Up Live. There's also plenty of scuttlebut concerning supposed bad blood between him and Improv founder Mark Anderson, which was one of the reasons why Mer defected to a competing comedy club.

Debbie Keller, a PR representative for Stand Up Live, declined to comment on any of the allegations made by Tempe Improv's press release.

"I'm afraid the only comment we have forthe club right now is that we're surprised to hear that the Tempe Improv is closing," Keller says. "As with any story, you know, there's always two sides and we look forward to sharing ours at the appropriate time."

While calls to Anderson seeking additional comment have not been returned as of this writing, he told the Arizona Republic that portions of the comedy club will become a nightlife spot called the Upbeat Lounge.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.