×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Budd Friedman Traces Standup Roots in New Book

Ponder the last half-century of American comedy without talents like Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis, George Carlin, Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, Bill Maher, Bill Hicks, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy and countless others, and it’s not a lot of laughs. Most of the aforementioned funny folks may have endured and thrived without Budd Friedman’s Improv Clubs in New York and Los Angeles, but those stand-up stages were so essential to the launching and developing of so many careers it’s impossible to overestimate their impact on our culture. Friedman’s New York roots led him to open his first Improv Club in mid-town Manhattan in the early 1960s. In his recently published tome “The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club That Revolutionized Stand-Up” (BenBella Books, $18.87), co-written with Tripp Whetsell, Friedman and associates reminisce about Friedman’s impact and The Improv’s role in “inventing” American stand-up comedy. It was just before the club’s doors opened that Variety first noted Friedman’s showbiz aspirations.

Was opening a nightclub your original entertainment business goal?
I was looking to become a producer on Broadway and this was a side diversion. I was putting together a project in 1963 about the Vietnam War called “The Draft Dodger,” but I couldn’t pull the investors together because everyone thought the war was going to end soon.

That original Variety article about your new club in 1963 stressed that your plan was untested and perhaps ill-conceived.

It took me about six months to find the location I wanted. The plan was to create an affordable place near the theater district where people who worked in theater could hang out. So I knew what I wanted and I took it as a challenge. I couldn’t afford a liquor license. So guys like [legendary songwriter] Doc Pomus would drop by with a brown bag.

If the bar wasn’t the draw, how’d you get patrons in the door?
We built upon the idea of live entertainment. We had singers for the first year-and-a-half and then comedy reared its ugly head. The Blue Angel was the hot club at the time but it was expensive if you were working in the chorus on a show. And so we got a crowd that came in after work in the theater. That’s how an industry was born.

Who were some of the names that made The Improv the place to go?
Rodney Dangerfield was the unofficial MC. Richard Pryor came in. George Carlin was not a regular but he was getting known.

Dangerfield became huge once he got TV exposure.
When Rodney started, he was doing a very erudite routine. It was very Upper East Side intellectual, like Dick Cavett. And I remember he wandered in one night drunker than hell and he bombed. It was the worst comedy act of all time. But then he came back the next night and he annihilated the crowd. Within a year or so of comedy catching on, the TV bookers started coming in and the word was out.

Did your original club crowd start to change?
It became known. In the early days, these weren’t huge stars, but the Actors Studio was nearby, so we became their place. Dustin Hoffman played piano. Actors like Christopher Plummer and Albert Finney hung out. Danny Aiello was the bouncer. I remember some guy from Mayor Lindsay’s office got completely out of hand and Danny took care of the guy.

More Film

  • 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Weaves Inclusive

    The Secret Power of 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Is Inclusion

    In a year that gave us films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” this weekend’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” delivers one more home run for underrepresented groups in media in 2018. Related Pre-Broadway Review: 'Tootsie' the Musical Rodney Dangerfield's Widow Claims She Was Swindled Out of $3.9 Million An animated film that takes advantage [...]

  • Jeff BridgesJeff Bridges, who stars in

    Jeff Bridges to Receive Cecil B. DeMille Award at 2019 Golden Globes

    The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced that Jeff Bridges will receive the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 76th Golden Globes on Jan. 6, 2019. Related Pre-Broadway Review: 'Tootsie' the Musical Rodney Dangerfield's Widow Claims She Was Swindled Out of $3.9 Million Bridges has starred in films like “The Big Lebowski,” “Crazy Heart,” “True [...]

  • Charlotte Rampling Euphoria

    Berlin Film Festival: Charlotte Rampling to Receive Honorary Golden Bear

    Oscar-nominated actress Charlotte Rampling, whose career has spanned more than 100 film and television roles, will be honored with a special Golden Bear at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival. Related Pre-Broadway Review: 'Tootsie' the Musical Rodney Dangerfield's Widow Claims She Was Swindled Out of $3.9 Million The fest will also pay homage to Rampling by [...]

  • The Sisters Brothers

    France's Lumieres Awards Unveil Nominations

    Jacques Audiard’s “The Sisters Brothers” has been nominated for best film and director at the 24th Lumieres Awards, France’s equivalent of the Golden Globes. Related Pre-Broadway Review: 'Tootsie' the Musical Rodney Dangerfield's Widow Claims She Was Swindled Out of $3.9 Million The Western starring Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal world-premiered at Venice [...]

  • CAA to Represent Peter Chan's We

    CAA to Represent Peter Chan's We Pictures

    Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has signed with We Pictures, the production and distribution company founded by Hong Kong-born director and producer Peter Chan Ho-sun. It aims to boost the company’s footprint both in China and abroad. Related Pre-Broadway Review: 'Tootsie' the Musical Rodney Dangerfield's Widow Claims She Was Swindled Out of $3.9 Million Within China, [...]

  • Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley to Receive

    'Carol' Producers Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley to Be Honored by BAFTA

    Elizabeth Karlsen and Stephen Woolley, the producers of such films as “Carol,” “Their Finest” and the recent “Colette” starring Keira Knightley, will receive the Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award at the BAFTA Film Awards. Related Pre-Broadway Review: 'Tootsie' the Musical Rodney Dangerfield's Widow Claims She Was Swindled Out of $3.9 Million The prolific pair run [...]

  • BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

    Korea Box Office: 'Rhapsody' Reclaims Top Spot, Beats ‘Spider-Verse’

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” reclaimed top place at the South Korean box office, overtaking “Default,” after spending two weekends in second place. The Fox release earned $4.38 million from 554,000 admissions for a total of $61.0 million from 7.94 million admissions. In its seventh weekend of release “Rhapsody” accounted for 27% of the weekend box office. Related [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content