Since the doors opened in 1972, The Comedy Store on The Sunset Strip has been the premiere venue for breaking new comic talent. Ever the industry leader, “The Store” has recently asserted itself as a pioneer in its use of technology, in particular social networking tools, to market their business. Alf LaMont, The Comedy Store’s director of marketing and development is the man behind the scenes ushering the landmark club into a new era of viral and community based marketing. With The Strip’s third Tweet Crawl set to take place this Friday, Dec. 18, there’s no better time to get to know this comic genius.
How did you get your start at The Comedy Store?
That's really an amazing story. I was working as a talent manager when a friend of mine told me that Pauly Shore was looking for a producing partner for his production company and to do development at The Comedy Store. After meeting with Pauly about a dozen times and being described a position that included everything from being Pauly's manager to developing original shows for The Comedy Store, I was finally hired. It was only after several weeks of fumbling around The Comedy Store that I realized the major role I was to be playing was director of marketing and development. A job which has been more creatively fulfilling and enjoyable than I could have possibly imagined.
Take us through a typical day at your job. What are your responsibilities?
My duties not only include marketing and development, but I also help book our historic Main Room, and deal in public relations as well as maintain our websites and social networks for both The Sunset Strip club and the La Jolla club.
On an average day I'll come in at 9:00, update the information on our websites, check all our social networking sites, and answer e-mails from the various organizations, charities, production companies who want to book our rooms or work with The Comedy Store. The afternoon I reserve for projects and events which I or The Comedy Store may be producing, while constantly keeping tabs on our social media outlets, customer relations, and our relationships with agencies and press. I produce all the artwork for Comedy Store events, ads and logo work, as well as edit video for online use. All official external copy, photos, releases, quotes and references go through me and that includes Tweets, Facebook status updates, not to mention comedian biographies and pictures.
How does marketing for comedy differ from marketing for other entertainment mediums such as music and film?
Marketing for comedy is gloriously permissive. I can get away with being irreverent and even offensive, all in the name of comedy. I was thwarted yesterday by the Facebook censors for trying to use the sentence "The least douchey comedy club in L.A." in an ad. Perfectly fine by comedy standards, but too risque by Facebook standards, I guess. I find their "Find single women over 30" ads far more offensive than the term "douchey."
Social networking has played a major role in your marketing strategy, describe your use of new technology tools such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
The last person to attempt any sort of marketing at The Comedy Store went to work for MySpace Comedy, so it was a huge deal when I came in and said that we are no longer putting the emphasis on MySpace. I immediately started up our Facebook and Twitter pages as well as setting up Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr and Tumblr. Since then, we've become trailblazers in the way our company has created our online community.
Our Twitter account is the largest of any comedy venue, and as far as I know, no other venue has even touched Tumblr and used it to the great advantage we have. We post coupons, information, pictures, links and quotes for reference on our Tumblr site, it really is a thing to behold.
The Comedy Store has recently teamed up with The Roxy, the Viper Room and a number of other landmark businesses on The Strip for organized, interactive “Tweet Crawls,” where did this idea originate? Who implements and organizes these social excursions?
It's amazing the serendipity that has led to the collaboration of the "Social Strip." While Nic Adler and Annie DeSanctis were working at rebuilding The Roxy in its entirety as a social media giant, Nate Levinson, Sarah Berkowitz and Chelsea Schwartz at the Viper Room were doing the same. I found those kindred spirits along with Charlie Amter — who was working at the Andaz at the time — on Twitter, and soon after we were helping each other out through social media.
The idea for a physical collaboration soon followed. At this moment I play point person for the Tweet Crawl by coordinating all the venues and making sure everyone has materials and information in on time, but there is never a decision made without the entire group's input.
What is the future of marketing in the age of social networking? How do you plan to build on your current campaign?
We could go Frost/Nixon on this and take days examining the future of marketing in the Age of Social Media. Basically, I see social media as the ultimate connector between brand and consumer. The more respect, the more humanity, and the more genuine interaction you have with your community, the greater the return. It's time consuming and detail oriented, but the return on the investment is a human return that cannot be measured. A friend of mine put it best when he said, "What's the ROI on a friend that helps you move?" It's that significant. I also have a few theories as to the decline of corporate models and the rise of community models in advertising. You can pick over my hypothesizing on any of the subjects at great lengths on my personal blog, alflamont.blogspot.com.
As far as our current campaign goes, it is time for us to start working on the tools with which our fans and community will go out and become our evangelists. Within The Sunset Strip community, we are expanding our collaborations with the Sunset Strip Music Festival, contributing to the amazing online show "The Real Sunset Strip" [which streams live outside The Roxy Theatre Saturday nights], and we are hoping to begin developing a Sunset Strip application for the iPhone so our friends and fans can stay connected to the events and goings on of The Sunset strip. As far as The Comedy Store goes, we are also planning to equip our community with tools to expand with a streamlined website, more material and greater variety of content.
Over the past couple years, it seems that the businesses on The Strip, in particular the venues, have had more of a willingness to work together than they have in the past. In your opinion, what factors have lead to this new partnership?
Frankly, the world is a different place. It is increasingly difficult for businesses to remain isolated and successful in such a social environment. The Sunset Strip community is, amazingly, five years ahead in our cooperation because there is such an abundance of innovative talent here. I think what you are seeing is the beginning of a trend. Everyone makes fun of me when I point out that in evolutionary biology cooperation is often the result of want and necessity. The economic downturn created the need for innovation out of necessity, and the social media revolution provided the tools with which we were able to cooperate.
What can we look forward to in 2010? What exciting events does The Comedy Store have in store?
The Comedy Store plans to not only continue showcasing and cultivating the hottest stand-up talent in the country, but we also aim to increase the variety of our shows. With three rooms available for shows on any given night, our plan is to expand into the farthest reaches of comedy. Look for more shows like Karaoke Killed The Cat, LOL-Apalooza and Smartasses filling our calendar, as well as world-class headliners.
Who are some of your favorite up-and-comers?
Ha! You're going to get me into trouble here. My favorites tend to be those who embrace social media, which is at the core of our strategy at the moment. All our comics are brilliantly gifted, mind you, even the older dudes who still have AOL accounts. Nick Youssef immediately comes to mind. He's been performing here since he was 18, and is a complete product of The Comedy Store. He performed at the Viper Room with Mack Lindsay for a post-Thanksgiving show they had and has become a good friend of the "Social Strip." Chris D'Elia, Whitney Cummings, Iliza Shlesinger, Owen Smith, Ari Shaffir, Chris Porter and Nader Modarres have all participated or will be participating in Tweet Crawls, so naturally that endears them all very much to me.
Favorite show/performance of 2009?
When you watch incredible stand-up on a daily basis, you start hungering for something weird. Karaoke Killed The Cat was mind blowing. Karaoke, interpretive dance and short shorts. Nobody knew what to make of it, but everyone there had a blast.
Everyone has at least one story about a crazy night on The Sunset Strip. Anything you’re legally allowed to share?
During the  Sunset Strip Music Festival, I got to enjoy some pretty great shows and drank a touch too much. At one point I sat at George Lopez's table during a concert at the Viper Room, and shot the shit with him for a while about comedy while not even noticing that the legendary Slash was there too. Slash tried to join the conversation a few times, but I was too dumb/drunk to realize who he was so I ignored him. Who doesn't recognize Slash!? The other crazy night that I can't talk about involves The Roxy, Jason Mraz, [Roxy owner] Nic Adler and Grand Marnier.
Any closing remarks?
--Brent X Mendoza