Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow and Others Pay Tribute to Improv Founder "Who Discovered Everyone You Love"

Comedy A-listers come out to mourn the man who invented the modern comedy club
Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow and Others Pay Tribute to Improv Founder "Who Discovered Everyone You Love"

Budd Friedman, the iconic founder and proprietor of the legendary Manhattan comedy club The Improv, passed away over the weekend at the age of 90, and the massive directory of A-list comedians who owe their careers to Friedman and his chain of comedy theaters have come out to mourn the man whom Marc Maron described as “standup comedy’s first impresario.”

It would be easier to list the word-class comics who don’t owe their careers to Friedman, who has been credited with creating the blueprint for the modern comedy club. Figures like Andy Kaufman, Rodney Dangerfied, Jay Leno and Robin Williams all saw their stars rise at The Improv, and the comedy world has been buzzing with tributes and testaments to the importance of a figure who steered the ship of stand-up comedy in America from behind the scenes for over half a century.

Friedman first opened The Improvisation Comedy Club in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in 1963 as a hideout for Broadway actors to eat, drink and listen to music, but within a year, Friedman realized that he preferred hearing jokes over listening to “singers singing the same songs all the time,” and the venue quickly became the go-to destination for for comedy in the city.

Ten years after Friedman switched his focus to comedy, he opened a second location for The Improv in Los Angeles, creating a platform for aspiring California comedy stars to draw the attention of Hollywood’s movers and shakers. Over the next few decades, The Improv grew into a national brand, which now boasts 22 locations across 12 states.

Imagine a comedy club where legendary filmmaker Judd Apatow checks you in at the door. You walk in and order a drink from that night’s bartender, now disgraced former CBS CEO Les Moonves, before sitting down and enjoying that night’s attraction: an eclectic, energetic, up-and-coming comic by the name of Robin Williams. That’s what patrons of The Hollywood Improv could expect during the 70s and 80s as the club grew into a cultural phenomenon and a Petri dish for the greatest comedy talents in the world.

Friedman himself was a father figure to the stand-up community, having a discerning eye for talent and the sage-like wisdom to steer his clubs’ brightest stars towards success. Along with The Comedy Store’s Mitzi Shore, Friedman was a figure whose influence was many orders of magnitude greater than the recognition he ever received during his many decades as a comedy kingmaker. Friedman and his clubs lived at the dead center of the comedy zeitgeist, and, though his own name was rarely up in lights, the household names he helped create define the landscape of modern humor.

Everyone, clear the aisles for Budd.

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