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‘Yucks equal bucks’

Albrecht used comedy as a springboard ... by shelving his act

One of the more intriguing — and less publicized — details of Chris Albrecht’s bio is that he shared a comedy act back in the ’70s with Bob Zmuda, Andy Kaufman’s future writing partner.

The act’s slogan? “Comedy from A to Z.”

It was 1973, and Zmuda and Albrecht were unemployed Gotham actors. One day, Zmuda made a left instead of a right in Hell’s Kitchen, landing in front of Budd Friedman’s Improv.

“It was a turn that would change our lives forever,” says Zmuda, who soon persuaded Albrecht that comedy was the road to showbiz riches, not Off Broadway, where they toiled at inside jobs for little to no money.

Not only would the Improv be the future stage for the duo, it also would be the springboard for Albrecht’s launch into the comedy biz. Zmuda and Albrecht’s sketches usually lampooned current events. One revolved around a Peruvian airline crash. Another was a take-off on a commercial for a men’s hair club. They used two trunks of props.

The act’s coda involved Albrecht shoving a sword down Zmuda’s throat. Zmuda, an experienced sword swallower, would warn the audience that he couldn’t complete the stunt because he had just eaten. Nonetheless, Albrecht would coax him into it. The scene would end with Zmuda pulling the sword out and coughing up blood — fake blood, that is.

Friedman jokingly describes the act as, “one of the worst ones to cross my stage.”

To get their break at the Improv, Albrecht and Zmuda parlayed a favor owed them by Broadway producer Dick Scanga, who hadn’t paid them for their work at Scanga’s Little Hippodrome, a dinner theater that was going belly-up.

One evening, when Friedman was dining at the Hippodrome, Scanga let Albrecht and Zmuda pretend they owned the place. The charade went over well: Not only was Friedman impressed, he took them up on their pitch for “Albrecht and Zmuda” (an act that they had to conceive pretty much on the spot).

In 1975, Friedman decided to take a long-deserved vacation, leaving Albrecht to run the Improv. Much in the way Albrecht responds to programming ideas, it was a gut reaction on Friedman’s part: Albrecht seemed to care.

“Albrecht learned a great lesson at the Improv,” says Zmuda. “That fun and laughs were the bottom line: yucks equal bucks.”

When Friedman returned, he found the club intact and business booming. It was soon after that “Zmuda and Albrecht” fell apart.

Friedman made Albrecht co-owner of the Improv in New York from 1975-80, where Albrecht developed a reputation for being a shepherd of comedic talent, booking Jim Carrey, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Eddie Murphy. Appreciating this, ICM soon hired Albrecht to its comedy unit.

These days the corporate success of the prankster that Zmuda met in 1972 in Mansfield, Pa., summer stock doesn’t surprise him.

“Chris is a quick study, and has learned from watching,” says Zmuda. “He’s good with improv and when we did the act, we would get off and he would run with it.”