Laughing Through the Decades
In 1963, late Budd Friedman transformed a former Vietnamese restaurant on 45th Street and 9th Avenue into New York's 50-seat Improvisation. A haven for Broadway performers post-curtain call, it quickly became iconic. Judy Garland, Bette Midler, and more frequented it. The bare brick wall saw David Astor's comedic debut, heralding a new era for stand-up.
Fast forward 60 years, and the Improv boasts over 20 locations across the U.S. The Hollywood Improv celebrated its 60th anniversary, drawing comedy legends like Jay Leno, Kathy Griffin, and Larry David. The Netflix premiere of "Improv: 60 Still Standing" coincided, featuring diverse talents like Fortune Feimster and Bert Kreischer.
Zoe Friedman, Budd's daughter, produced the special, marking a poignant moment a year after his passing. The Improv, where Zoe practically grew up, holds sentimental value. Jay Leno recalled sleeping in his car after performances, and Kathy Griffin praised the tough but fair atmosphere. Adam Devine reminisced about his first job as the club's door host.
Fortune Feimster, after 17 years in comedy, expressed pride in standing alongside her peers. Judi Marmel, co-founder of Levity Live, highlighted the comedy renaissance and the legacy of the Improv. The rise of internet-driven comedy was contrasted by Trevor Wallace, emphasizing the irreplaceable power of live performances.
Comedian Andrew Santino noted the current scene's uplifted and less competitive nature compared to the past. Bert Kreischer, emotionally connecting to the Improv, likened it to a bloodline. Ventriloquist Jeff Dunham credited the Improv for honing his skills, while Iliza Shlesinger, performing there since 21, called it her true comedy home.
Comedian Fahim Anwar described the Improv as a gymnasium for stand-ups, a sandbox for professional growth. Ron Funches cherished his picture hanging next to comedy greats, recalling the supportive atmosphere, even during unusual moments. Larry David, in a classic "Curb Your Enthusiasm" moment, added a mischievous end to a memorable Hollywood night at the Improv, echoing the many special nights before it.