The Improv

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L.A. Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles
Irvine Improv

The Improv is a comedy club franchise. It was founded as a single venue in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City in 1963, and expanded into a chain of venues in the late 1970s.


Originally, it was a single venue founded in 1963 by Budd Friedman and his future wife, Silver Saundors,[1] and located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City on West 44th near the southeast corner of 9th Ave. The Improvisation was originally an after hours coffee house where Broadway performers could unwind after shows with an open mic inviting impromptu musical performances. Gradually comedians would use it as a venue to try out new material and talent scouts from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and other New York-based television shows began frequenting the venue looking for new acts to book. After several years of alternating acts between singers and comics, by the 1970s it was a stand up comedy venue.[2][3] A second location was opened in 1974 at 8162 Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, California (which immediately prior housed the Ash Grove, a folk music venue). In 1979, Mark Lonow became a general partner and with Budd Friedman ran the Melrose club and oversaw the expansion of the single room as it became a successful chain. When the Friedmans divorced in 1981, the divorce settlement gave Budd Friedman ownership of the LA Improvs and Silver Friedman was given ownership of the New York Improv.[4][5] The original New York Improv closed in 1992.[6]

In 1982, the L.A. Improv became the original site for the A&E Network television series An Evening at the Improv, running from 1982 until 1996, and was produced by Larry O'Daly, created by O'Daly and Barbara Hosie-O'Daly, with Budd Friedman as a warm-up host. Other locations have opened since then, such as in Tampa, Florida,[7] Fort Lauderdale, Florida,[7] Atlantic City, New Jersey,[8] and Louisville, Kentucky.[7] In 2014, Friedman sold the Improv chain to Levity Entertainment Group,[9] now known as Levity Live.[10]


The Improv was the place to see Richard Pryor, Robert Klein, Steve Landesberg, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Jay Leno, and others when they were just starting out. Dustin Hoffman played piano there. On any given night in the later 1970s, one could see Gilbert Gottfried, Joe Piscopo, Bruce Mahler, Robin Williams, Larry David, and many others. Often famous comedians would walk in to "work out" before appearances on The Tonight Show. It was not unusual to find celebrities in the audience.

Nearly every big name in comedy has played The Improv, including Richard Belzer, Milton Berle, Kevin Brennan, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Rodney Dangerfield, Jeff Dunham, Bill Engvall, Dave Foley, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman, Carol Leifer, David Letterman, Richard Lewis, Jon Lovett, Norm Macdonald, Bill Maher, Marc Maron, Steve Martin, Dennis Miller, Larry Miller, Liza Minnelli, Freddie Prinze, Ray Romano, Paul Reiser, Joan Rivers, Joe Rogan, Jerry Seinfeld, Bo Burnham and Ron White.[11][12]

Comedian Eddie Murphy was a regular at The Comic Strip in New York City, but in California performed at the Improv when he was only 15 years old,[citation needed] Jeremy Ruder at 18, and Jim Carrey at 19. Karen Black, Debra Winger and Barry Manilow among others worked there as waiters, waitresses, hosts or musicians before becoming famous.[13]

New and upcoming performers have performed there as well. Comedy Central's Dave Attell frequents Improv locations in Tampa and Hollywood. Comics Lewis Black, Mike Birbiglia, Louis C.K. and Jimmy Fallon have performed at the Improv in Louisville, Kentucky.[7]


The following is a list of Improv locations as of May 2020:[7]

The following is a list of former Improv locations:[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ten Things We Leared from 'The Improv'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Improv Comedy Clubs". Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  3. ^ "Editorial". Archived from the original on 12 March 2007. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  4. ^ Rowe, Michael. "It's A Funny Thing - How the Professional Comedy Business Made Me Fat & Bald". BearManor Media. Retrieved 19 April 2022 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Nesteroff, Kliph (3 November 2015). The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy. Open Road + Grove/Atlantic. ISBN 9780802190864. Retrieved 19 April 2022 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ "The godfather of comedy looks back on a lifetime of laughs". 21 April 2021. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Improv Comedy Clubs". Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  8. ^ a b c Charleston, Rita. "Budd Friedman knows success" Archived 2007-03-12 at the Wayback Machine, Northeast Times, 30 October 2003.
  9. ^ "A Funny Thing Happened On Improv-Founder Budd Friedman's Way To Broadway". 15 September 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2022.
  10. ^ "Levity Entertainment Offers Groundbreaking Marketing Services for Comedy Clients". Stage Time. July 15, 2009. Retrieved August 12, 2009.
  11. ^ "Improv Comedy Clubs". Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  12. ^ "Dave Foley at Hollywood Improv".
  13. ^ "Improv Comedy Clubs". Retrieved 5 October 2015.

External links[edit]