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Walter Latham looks to leverage comedy online

'Kings of Comedy' impresario preps YouTube channel

Walter Latham is a born entrepreneur.

The Brooklyn native was washing cars at age 13 and selling concessions at Madison Square Garden while in high school, which piqued his interest in the concert promotion biz.

By the time he was in his mid-20s, Latham hit big with the “Original Kings of Comedy” tour and 2000 docu feature of the same name. The property made Latham Entertainment a tidy fortune and made headliners out of Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and other yuksters. It also left Latham with a trove of footage from the live shows that he’s ready to mine, and grow, in the digital realm.

Latham is prepping for the July 7 launch of his dedicated YouTube channel, dubbed Walter Latham Comedy, which will draw from the Kings of Comedy vault as well Latham’s other tour and film/TV franchises from the past dozen years: Queens of Comedy (featuring Mo’Nique and Sommore), P. Diddy’s Bad Boys of Comedy and Latin Kings of Comedy (featuring George Lopez, Paul Rodriguez and Cheech Marin). And he’s got early footage of Tyler Perry, Niecy Nash and other performers that will be a highly promotable draw for the channel.

Latham also is working on new projects through a first-look pact with Paramount Digital that also covers TV properties. (Par has been the distrib on all of Latham’s features to date). Latham and Par Digital execs have been in conversations about building digital ventures off of his library for some time, though the business model for such a startup was challenging until Google decided to invest major resources into beefing up the original content on YouTube.

In fact, it was former Paramount Digital exec Malik Ducard who approached Latham last year about creating the channel after Ducard relocated to YouTube as director of content partnerships.

“Building comedy brands and developing comedy stars is what I do,” and YouTube offers a fantastic vehicle for incubating comedy talent, Latham says.

The seed money provided by YouTube for the channel launch helped fund the production of a new comedy showcase, “Comedy After Dark,” that will emphasize rising stars. One catch for Latham this time around is that Google mandates all content featured on its advertising-supported partner channels comply with a TV-14 rating. Which means a lot of careful editing and state-of-the-art bleeping technology. But Latham brings deep relationships with advertisers developed over years through the concert biz.

“Advertising is the only way to make money online unless you sell subscriptions, and this (younger) generation is not used to paying,” he says.

They’re also not inclined to sit still for long clips. Latham has been experimenting stealthily in recent weeks by putting various never-before-seen Bernie Mac clips up on YouTube. A three-minute clip got 10 times the views as a 10-minute version from the same routine. Although “Comedy After Dark” is a longform program, none of the individual segments will run over two minutes. “The attention span just isn’t there,” he says of his young male target aud.

Latham’s hope is that some of the performers on “Comedy After Dark” will develop a following that will lead to a national tour. Live events remain the heart and soul of his company, now based in Greensboro, N.C. He shied away from moving into producing traditional narrative features even when he was being courted to do so by Par and others.

“You can’t tour with a movie,” he says.

But he sees growth opportunities in developing talent that may be better suited to working in areas other than standup. He cites Darius Bradford, who will be featured in “Comedy After Dark.” He’s a “genius,” Latham assures, but he’s likely to make a bigger mark as a writer and producer rather than as a performer.

“Not everybody we work with will become Bernie Mac, but they could become Chuck Lorre — and that’s not bad either,” he says.

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