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.