The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club that Revolutionized Stand-Up

The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club that Revolutionized Stand-Up


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Get an insider's oral history of the World's most iconic comedy club, featuring exclusive interviews with today's most hilarious stars recalling their time on stage (and off) at the Improv.

In 1963, 30-year-old Budd Friedman—who had recently quit his job as a Boston advertising executive and returned to New York to become a theatrical producer—opened a coffee house for Broadway performers called the Improvisation. Later shortened to the Improv, its first seedy West 44th Street location initially attracted the likes of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Albert Finney, and Jason Robards, as well as a couple of then-unknowns named Dustin Hoffman and Bette Midler.

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. The club became the first venue to present live stand-up in a continuous format, and in the process reinvented the art form and created the template for all other comedy clubs that followed.

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. Now, in The Improv , Friedman, along with a Who’s Who of his most famous alumni—including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Lily Tomlin, Judd Apatow, Al Franken, Paul Reiser, Howie Mandel, Bob Saget, 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.

The Improv gives readers an exclusive look at what really happened onstage and off-mic at one of America’s most venerable institutions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781946885494
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 1,139,250
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Budd Friedman, considered by many 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. He opened the Improvisation in 1963. The rest, as they say, is history.

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.

Johnny Heller has earned multiple Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, including one for Closing Time by Joe Queenan, and has earned two Audie Awards and many more nominations. Named one of the Top Fifty Narrators of the Twentieth Century by AudioFile, he has recorded over five hundred titles.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jay Leno



Part One

  1. Growing Up Fatherless and Struggling to Find My Way
  2. Broadway Bound and the Unexpected Detour
  3. Building the House That Hilarity Built
  4. Flying by the Seat of My Pants
  5. The Improv Gets Hot
  6. A Future Film Legend Wanders into West 44th Street and I Nearly Produce My First Show
  7. The Singing Waitresses
  8. Liza Minelli and Judy Garland . . . Onstage at the Improv
  9. Not So Blown Away by Bette Midler . . . at First
  10. Comedians Start Coming to the Improv
  11. The Anointment of King Richard

Part Two

  1. Revelry and Rivalry
  2. Stiller and Meara
  3. More Momentum, My Monocle—and Lily Tomlin’s Grand Entrance
  4. The One and Only Rodney Dangerfield
  5. Robert Klein Elevates Stand-Up—and the Improv—to a New Level
  6. Locking Horns with David Brenner
  7. Richard Lewis
  8. The Hippest Room in America
  9. The Improv’s Gentle Giant
  10. The Improv and The Tonight Show
  11. A Tale of Two Comedy Clubs
  12. Meeting Jay
  13. Producing My First Show

Part Three

  1. Expansion
  2. My Early California Adventures
  3. Andy Kaufman Turns Stand-Up Upside Down
  4. Dissing Larry David
  5. A Tsunami Named Robin
  6. Comedy’s Tragic Prinze
  7. A Troubling Nemesis Named Mitzi Shore
  8. Going Up in Flames
  9. Old Enemies and New Beginnings

Part Four

  1. An Evening at the Improv
  2. The Improv Explodes . . . and the Stakes Get Even Higher
  3. The Comedy Boom Busts and Finding Fallon
  4. Passing the Baton and Looking Ahead: The 2000s to the Present


About the Authors

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“The Improv was a cauldron of talent. Whetsell writes about it wonderfully and with respect for its importance to comedy.”
—Robert Klein

“They used to say that if you made it New York you could make it anywhere. Maybe so, but if you didn’t make it at the Improv, it was time to pack your bags and move to ‘anywhere.’”
—Richard Lewis

“This book is a great walk down memory lane for me. All hail the Improv and all the laugh-filled times and wonderful nights that happened in front of those brick walls.”
—Bill Maher

“The Improv played a vital part in my early stand-up days as it did in the careers of the dazzling array of stars, eccentrics, and colorful characters whose stories adorn this bright and greatly entertaining book. Get at least two copies, in case you lose one.”
—Dick Cavett

“Here’s a book I’ll probably never finish, because for years to come I’ll be picking it up again and again and rereading parts over and over, whenever I need perking up. It’s the history of an art form, though that sounds way too stuffy, and of an institution—the great American comedy club, especially the Improvs of New York and LA.”
—Tom Shales, Pulitzer Prize–winning former television critic for The Washington Post and #1 bestselling coauthor of Live from New York and These Guys Have All the Fun

An entertaining ride through the glory years—the people, the stories, the feuds, the laughs—of the club that started the stand-up comedy boom in America.”
—Richard Zoglin, author of Hope: Entertainer of the Century and Comedy at the Edge: How Comedy in the 1970s Changed America

“The Godfather of the comedy club is finally called to testify . . . and he sings like a canary.”
—Bill Knoedelsder, author of I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High-Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era

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The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club that Revolutionized Stand-Up 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
bookwomen37 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. Budd Friedman opened the comedy club in NYC in the 1960s and the rest is comedic history. The book is presented chronologically. Famous and some not so famous comedians offer their recollections of the club. There is a lot of comedy history here and lots of funny stories. Enjoy