It's no joke to say that our world would be a lot less funny without Budd Friedman
In 1963, thirty-year-old Friedman--who had recently quit his job as a Boston advertising executive and returned to his hometown of New York to become a theatrical producer--opened a coffee house for Broadway performers called the Improvisation. His goal? Simply to make a living, and if all went according to plan, to also make enough professional contacts to be able to mount his first Broadway show within a year's time.
Later shortened to the Improv, its first West 44th Street location in a seedy section of Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen had previously been a Vietnamese restaurant. Initially attracting the likes of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Albert Finney, Christopher Plummer and Jason Robards, as well as a couple of then-unknowns named Dustin Hoffman and Bette Midler, Friedman's new venture was an instant hit.
But while it drew near capacity crowds almost from day one, it wasn't until comedians began dropping by to try out new material that the Improv truly hit its stride, not only becoming the first venue ever to present live stand-up in a continuous format, but in the process reinventing the art form and creating the template for all other comedy clubs that followed.
Now, in The Improv, Friedman, along with a Who's Who of his most famous alumni--including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, Richard Lewis, Robert Klein, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Judd Apatow, Al Franken, Paul Reiser, Howie Mandel, Bob Saget, Dick Cavett, Paul Provenza, Drew Carey and many more--tell it like it was in the first-ever oral history of how this game-changing comedy club came to be.
From the microphone to the iconic brick wall, the Improv has been the launching pad for practically every major name in American comedy over the last five-plus decades since, also placing Friedman side by side with other men who transformed entire industries. Today, at the age of 85, he is still comedy's master imprimatur, and his fabled club endures as one of the most important incubators for live stand-up anywhere--even though its original New York location is long gone.
The Improv gives readers an exclusive look at what really happened on stage and off-mike at one of America's most venerable institutions. From the revelry and the rivalry to the smash hits, near misses, love affairs, chemical experimentation, exhilarating rises, tragic downfalls and just plain fun, it's all here--emceed by the man who unofficially provided the laugh track for an entire nation, despite inevitable power struggles, personal and professional disappointments, and ever-changing times.
About the Author
Budd Friedman, the man who could well be called the father of the modern comedy club, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, moved to New York, fought in Korea and returned to Manhattan, where he obtained a degree in Advertising and Marketing from New York University. Less than enthralled with advertising, he hit upon the idea that was to become the Improvisation. The rest, as they say, is history. Ever the entrepreneur, Budd produced a political/satirical theatrical revue in New York entitled What's a Nice Country Like You Doing in a State Like This? He became Jay Leno and Bette Midler's first manager, and in 1975 he opened a West Coast branch of the Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Budd auditioned for and won the coveted role of "Budd Friedman" in Man on the Moon, the biopic about Andy Kaufman starring Jim Carrey and Danny DeVito. In 2002, he hosted and executive produced a one-hour primetime special for NBC celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Improv. He also co-created and executive produced National Lampoon's Funny Money for the Game Show Network. More recently, he reprised his role of "Budd Friedman" in Judd Aptow's Funny People. He continues to bring stand-up into the hearts and minds of everyone in the United States. As of 2015, there were 22 Improv comedy clubs in 12 states. Tripp Whetsell is a New York-based author, entertainment journalist and critic specializing in comedy, television, film, music and pop culture history. His work has appeared both in print and online for such publications as VanityFair.com, TV Guide, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The New York Times, New York Magazine, New York Daily News, Closer Weekly, The Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter. This is his third book.