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Sales for Live Comedy Titles No Joke

26 May, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

With DVD, it appears laughter really is the best medicine.

Of the hundreds of TV series released on DVD last year, the No. 1 seller was Chappelle's Show: Season One Uncensored. Paramount reports sales of more than 2.8 million copies; season two arrived this week at $37.

Last year, Lions Gate Entertainment shipped 4.4 million DVDs in its “Best of Saturday Night Live” series, led by DVDs spotlighting the stand-up talents of Will Ferrell, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler.

The Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again DVD has sold more than 2.5 million copies since its release last December. Meanwhile, Larry the Cable Guy's Get-R-Done, a solo performance by the crudest of the “blue-collar” crew, has sold upwards of 1 million copies.

Even a compilation DVD of “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog,” a recurring character on “Late Night With Conan O'Brien,” has shipped a respectable 250,000 copies.

TV Driving Sales
What's driving the comedy DVD train? Escalating TV exposure through the Comedy Central network and Showtime and HBO specials, along with a thriving network of comedy clubs, says Shout Factory's Garson Foos, a big player in comedy.

Shout Factory has sold more than 100,000 copies of its four “SCTV” compilations, which retail for a hefty $90 each, and has launched a new “Ad Lib” comedy line “with the goal of catching some younger, bubbling-under comics on their way up,” Foos said.

“Production costs are low, so more producers are taking chances with comedy products,” he said.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president Benjamin Feingold agrees. He says DVDs of standup routines are often racier than what's allowed on TV.

“Some of it can fit standards-and-practices on the networks, but some of it can't and is better suited for DVD,” he said. “And at the right price, it's affordable to watch.”

Sony has several comedy DVDs under its belt, including two Richard Pryor and George Carlin performances, and is aggressively looking for more. So are other studios and independent suppliers.

Paramount's domestic home entertainment president, Meagan Burrows, said her studio is so keen on comedy that it plans on launching a new comedy label “dedicated to this growing genre.” Initial releases include a third installment in the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” P. Diddy's Bad Boys of Comedy and George Lopez's Why Are You Crying.

Paramount also has inked a multiyear “first look” deal with “Blue Collar Comedy” producers Parallel Entertainment Pictures for six DVD premieres, a feature film and a new DVD starring Larry the Cable Guy.

“In addition, we're working with Comedy Central to release performances by up-and-coming standup acts,” Burrows said.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment also is high on comedy. The studio has just released Paul Rodriquez—Live in San Quentin; also just arrived in stores is Earthquake — About Got Damn Time.

Fox also is producing a series of urban standup comedy DVDs, “The Big Black Comedy Show,” that showcases such hot young African-American comedians as Retha Jones, Ricky Harris and Shawn Morgan. Volume 3 is due Aug. 9 and will coincide with a national tour, with dates already slated for Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York.

“Sketch comedy has always been an extremely popular entertainment form, and now there's an explosion of comedy everywhere — from cable television to the club circuit — and DVD is a natural extension,” said Fox's Steve Feldstein, SVP of marketing communications.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment, too, is branching out into comedy. The studio has just released The Three Amigos, from the director of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” “and we're very happy with the results,” said the studio's Lori MacPherson, SVP of brand marketing.

“We're interested in becoming more aggressive in this growing area,” she added, “and are evaluating a variety of properties right now.”

Koch Vision is finding steadily increasing sales for its “Live at the Improv” series, which features early work by such comics as Jerry Seinfeld and Drew Carey.

“We recently acquired a classic live performance by Larry Bruce, and we're also preparing a new live performance DVD by Margaret Cho,” said Koch Vision VP Dan Gurlitz.

R2 Entertainment, known mostly for boxed DVD collections of old TV variety shows, broke into the standup business last fall with a Rodney Dangerfield compilation and sold 40,000 copies in just three weeks.

“Seeing famous standup comedians in person is not as easy as going to a movie — and not everyone visits Las Vegas or other big cities on a regular basis,” said R2 VP Brant Berry. “That's why we're looking for more standup material. You never know when you might come across the next Larry the Cable Guy.”

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