Mark Wilson Anderson, who owned the Tempe and D.C. Improv comedy clubs and was forced to shut down the venerable Tempe club on June 1 after a heated battle with a rival club, was found dead Wednesday. He had been reported missing a few weeks earlier. Anderson was 60.
Housekeepers at a Days Inn off Interstate 10 in Buckeye, a town on the far western suburbs of Phoenix, found Anderson dead in a room Wednesday morning. His cause of death is as of yet unknown. An autopsy is scheduled Friday, according to the Arizona Republic. He left behind a wife and a two-year-old son.
Anderson had been missing since May 12, when he told his family he was going to Dallas to work on his case against rivals who had opened StandUp Live in downtown Phoenix in April 2011. He was last spotted a few days later in San Diego. The missing persons alert put out by his supporters noted that Anderson may have been suffering from a mental illness and in need of medical attention. His sister-in-law, Kim Thomas, said as much to Washington City Paper, alleging Anderson suffered from “delusional fears that somebody is after him.”
The tipping point appeared to occur a month ago, when Anderson put out a press release announcing the closure of the Tempe club and accusing the Phoenix club of stealing almost all of their headliners.
“It’s everybody,” Anderson said last month. “David Spade, Pablo Francisco, Dana Carvey, Norm McDonald, Christopher Titus, Kevin Pollak, Craig Shoemaker – all the guys that used to play regularly at the Improv are now going to Stand Up Live.” He said his Tempe club had fewer acts and fewer agents representing those acts to book into the 420-seat showroom, leaving it emptier, and eventually unable to make due.
The Tempe Improv had long been considered a crown jewel of American stand-up clubs since opening its doors in 1988 with debut headliner Jerry Seinfeld. It provided the setting for several HBO specials, including those by Dennis Miller and David Spade, as well as the HBO Young Comedians Special that offered breakthroughs for Ray Romano, Judd Apatow, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Kindler, Nick DiPaolo and Bill Bellamy.
When Spade found out the Tempe club was closing, he wrote on May 9: “RIP Tempe Improv. Great place. Did my HBO special there. Always good crowds.”
Full disclosure: I worked as a reporter for The Arizona Republic from 2001-2004 and also served as a regular MC at the Tempe Improv. On weekends I wasn’t performing at the Improv, I was hanging out there to watch the other comedians and drive them to afterparties. Though I never dealt with Anderson personally, I did have frequent contact with the staff, a minority owner and also knew very well then-managing partner Dan Mer, who essentially ran the club’s operations from before I arrived until he left to help open StandUp Live in Phoenix.
When Anderson disappeared, Kevin Nealon said last month: “I’ve known Mark since we both started out in stand up comedy in the early 80’s. I’ve always been grateful for his friendship, sense of humor and admire his business savvy.”
Debbie Keller, who represents several comedians via her company Personal Publicity in Tempe (she also formerly worked at the Improv in the early 1990s), said: “In my opinion, Mark Anderson was a visionary in the comedy business. His wildly creative ideas inspired and launched the careers of many comedy superstars. Mark gave me the opportunity to experience the wonderful career that I have today, and I am grateful. He will be dearly missed.”
The partners for the other Improv clubs were out of the country this week and unavailable for comment.
Services are pending.