Comedy purveyor National Lampoon Inc. last week launched a comedy record label, but some wonder about the timing, since the recording industry looks like it's on its death march.

The West Hollywood-based company already produces comedy in a video series of stand-up routines, a comedy sketch show on Internet TV and a radio show. The new National Lampoon Records will repackage this material, and the company may buy additional humorous music and stand-up comedy material for distribution.

Dan Laikin, Lampoon's chief executive, said the trick will be targeting new media distribution.

"The record business is not doing well today, but the audio space in general is fine as evidenced by the success of iTunes," Laikin said. "We feel that as we are now focused on building our library of owned content, the audio space is definitely an area for us to grow."

However, one long-time player in the comedy business believes that this environment eliminates the need for record labels to promote and distribute audio products.

"Comics don't need a record label to sell themselves anymore," said Jamie Masada, founder of the Laugh Factory club in Hollywood. "With all due respect to National Lampoon, I don't think they can do anything for a comedian. The best-selling venues for a comedian today are the Internet and on-the-road with their show. They can sell more that way than if their DVDs are in Wal-Mart."

Masada cited Bob Marley not the reggae legend, but a popular stand-up comedian from Maine who has sold 170,000 DVDs from tables in the lobbies of clubs he plays. Other comics make money by cutting their material into short segments and selling each one for only 99 cents on iTunes, Masada noted.

Meanwhile, Nielsen SoundScan data shows overall CD sales have declined 26 percent in the last two years. Amid that downturn, the National Lampoon label will compete against established brands such as Comedy Central Records, which has headliners including Dane Cook and Lewis Black.

But Laikin believes Lampoon can reach its core audience of young males through its highly trafficked Web sites and branded presence on YouTube, AOL and Yahoo. "We have the ability to promote and build an audience for our new product," he said.

Financially, National Lampoon has trimmed its losses but still does not make money. Its stock price has held steady since Laikin took the helm in July. Shares currently trade at about $2.

Investors should see the record label as "another way to expand our owned and controlled content library," Laikin said. "We are well positioned to deliver our content, both short form and long form, to a very wide audience."

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