Is there room in the world for more than one Comedy Playground? Lawsuit against NBC says no

What’s in a name?

That depends upon how much the name, and its uniqueness, is worth to you.

For me, personally, I have two very common Irish names. Professionally, I use my middle initial as a more unique identifier to separate me from so many of the other “Sean McCarthys” — I have met at least two in the United States who are stand-up comedians; and online, it took more than a little while to settle upon as a domain name after considering several others and finding many of the easier-to-remember options already taken. But this isn’t about me.

This is about the Comedy Playground.

Which Comedy Playground? That’s the basis for a trademark infringement complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Central California seeking a jury trial, from the makers of Comedy Playground LLC against NBCUniversal, which unveiled its NBC Comedy Playground earlier this month.

Comedy Playground has operated in real life and online since 2002, and registered for a federal trademark for its services in 2008. It teaches comedy to teens, with classes held at the Hollywood Improv. Although NBC’s Comedy Playground — an online contest site designed to attract new sitcom ideas — doesn’t launch its contest officially until May 1, 2014, it’s already threatening to push the older, pre-existing Comedy Playground off the Internet, for all intents and search purposes of anyone looking to find it.

“The harm caused by NBC’s actions to Comedy Playground and its reputation is devastating and irreversible,” the suit reads. “NBC’s actions are also likely to cause ‘reverse confusion,’ i.e., NBC will so saturate the market with its COMEDY PLAYGROUND mark that Comedy Playground’s reputation and goodwill will be dwarfed and consumers will erroneously believe that Comedy Playground’s services emanate from or are sponsored by NBC.” has uploaded a copy of the full complaint filed Wednesday.

Today, Susanna Spies of Comedy Playground posted her own statement.

To my fellow comics, friends, and community:

You have reached the website of Comedy Playground, a company founded over a decade ago by accomplished comedienne Susanna Spies to provide comedy seminars, classes, and coaching and performance opportunities in the field of comedy.

In the years since its inception, Comedy Playground has offered people of all backgrounds and demographics a vehicle for personal expression and exploration through the medium of comedy. Some of our alumni have gone onto the professional comedy club circuit as well as major network sitcoms. Others have used the tools we regularly share to conquer personal challenges, to forge new friendships, and to advance in their academic and professional careers. We are proud of all of them. And we are deeply appreciative of the time and considerable talent numerous high profile comedians have contributed to furthering Comedy Playground’s youth-based community and charitable efforts. As champions of comedy and all forms of creative expression, we are proud of the brand we have labored to build in our COMEDY PLAYGROUND name and brand over the last twelve years. We are the owner of a federally registered trademark for COMEDY PLAYGROUND for entertainment and educational services, and are deeply committed to continuing our brand and our mission in the years to come.

If you have reached our website thinking you were reaching out to NBC, you are not alone. We have already heard from many of you. We are not affiliated with NBC. It is both ironic and very disappointing that NBC is seeking to “discover fresh, comedic voices in an innovative, new way” under a name already used by and federal registered to an institution dedicated to comedy education, mentoring, and performance. We have reached out to NBC to express our concerns and to ask them to select a new name for their contest that will not diminish our hard earned reputation and goodwill or cause confusion in the marketplace. We ask for your support as we strive to continue to thrive under our longstanding name and brand.

Susanna Spies
Comedy Playground, LLC
President / CEO / Founder

NBC has yet to comment on the suit.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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