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Stand-Up Still Music to UrbanWorks' Ears

27 Jul, 2003 By: Greg Reifsteck

UrbanWorks Entertainment, the urban entertainment division of Ventura Distribution, will build on the growing trend of profitable urban comedies by releasing four new stand-up comedy titles in its Platinum Comedy Series.

A half-million units have already been sold in the series that UrbanWorks president Jeff Clanagan hopes will cross the 1 million unit mark by the end of the year. Clanagan said the series has been their “most profitable line” and instrumental in UrbanWorks' 36 percent market share in urban nontheatrical sellthrough.

The new titles include Dave Chappelle: Killing Them Softly, which streeted July 15; BET Comic View's Bruce Bruce, streeting Aug. 18; D.L. Hughley Live, streeting Sept. 9; and Cedric the Entertainer Starting Lineup Vol.2, streeting Oct. 21 (DVD $19.98, VHS $14.98 each).

The titles have very few behind-the-scenes extras, because Clanagan believes consumers are “buying these titles strictly for the stand-up.”

The two top hits of the Platinum Comedy Series have come from Steve Harvey and Cedric the Entertainer “because of their star power on TV and radio, and from being in The Original Kings of Comedy,” Clanagan said.

The history of successful urban-targeted comedians goes back three decades to the days of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, but the genre proved to deliver a real profit punch line for home video with 1983's groundbreaking HBO special Eddie Murphy: Delirious. Cable networks realized they could clean up in subscriber dollars with these comic events, and then profit from them again on video.

No studies have been done on how much is spent on urban comedy acts at the box office or on home video, but according to Carl Washington, president of Urban Marketing Corp. of America, a marketing consulting firm, “African-Americans do about $600 billion in consumer spending a year, and Latinos do about $400 billion.”

But Washington is quick to point out that urban stand-up's success has not been necessarily a racial trend, but a regional and musical one. “Music has always played a large role in this brand of comedy, since it's hard for inner-city people to function without rhythm. This stems all the way back to ‘Showtime at the Apollo' -- and even Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce usually had live music at shows.”

Washington said promoters have introduced hip-hop culture into the comedy mix, leading to “Def Comedy Jam” and “BET's Comic View,” two TV series that have also profited on home video.

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