The Improv is the premier comedy club in Palm Beach and features the biggest and brightest names in comedy 52 weeks a year, including Russell Peters, Gabriel Iglesias, Mike Epps, Carlos Mencia, John Pinette and others. Whether you're joining us for dinner or just drinks, the best in comedy comes to the World Famous Improv in Palm Beach so make your reservations now for a great night out.
For almost half a century, the Improv Comedy Clubs have remained the premiere stages for live comedy in the United States with The Who’s Who of American Comedy gracing its stages, including Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, Lily Tomlin, Freddie Prinz, Andy Kaufman, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Jay Leno, Chris Rock, Dane Cook, Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Foxx, Adam Sandler, Jeff Dunham, Dave Chappelle and others. Today, the Improv continues that tradition and features the hottest stand up comics in over 20 clubs all across the country. But, its start in 1963 was anything but legendary.
In the mid 60’s, the Improvisation was founded in New York City by Broadway producer Budd Friedman as a venue where up-and-coming performers could hone their craft. Budd wanted a place where Broadway performers could meet after their shows in an intimate setting...a place where performers could simply eat, drink (only coffee as they didn’t have a liquor license at the time) and most importantly, sing. Soon, Budd's vision became a reality as the Improvisation quickly gained attention as the gathering spot where young Broadway artists would hold sing-alongs into the wee hours (Budd has a very vivid memory of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli singing, accompanied on the piano by Peter Allen).
One year after the club opened, the Improvisation’s first comedian, Dave Astor, appeared on stage to try out new material. And it worked! Others quickly followed and comedians began to dominate the rotation with singers being phased out of the nightly line-up. Soon, the Improvisation became the place for live comedy. A remarkable list of talent was building...the debut of 16 year-old Freddie Prinz one night and the legendary Milton Berle the next. In one month, audiences could catch the greats and soon-to-be-greats (George Burns, Robert Klein, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Richard Lewis, and Rodney Dangerfield - the Improv’s part-time emcee for four years). Next to Johnny Carson, The Improv stage was arguably the most important stage in all of show business. For a young comedian, success at the Improv meant everything.
The future giants of American comedy all vied for stage time at the New York club. And in an effort to be noticed by Budd, nothing was off-limits to young comedians desperately hoping to be selected.
*Lily Tomlin hijacked a parked limousine and had the stunned driver circle the block so she could make the proper entrance for her meeting with Budd.
*Jay Leno drove every week between Boston and New York hoping that someone would notice him hanging around the Improv (or sleeping in the Improv parking lot). And eventually Budd did notice him and his work ethic, admiring that Leno would log so many miles and countless hours in the hopes of getting his first minutes on stage.
*Andy Kaufman interviewed with Budd and never broke out of his “Latka” accent. It wasn’t until Kaufman performed on stage that Budd realized he had been duped!
The next generation of stars and entertainment executives also worked at the Improv whether it was on stage, in the house, or at the bar. Daniel Baldwin, uber comedy manager Jimmy Miller (Jim Carrey), writer/producer/director Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year-Old Virgin” “Knocked Up”), Danny Aiello (“Godfather II”, “Moonstruck”), Keenan Ivory Wayans (“In Living Color”, “Scary Movie”), and Joe Piscopo (“Saturday Night Live”) were all part of the fraternity of door managers. And waitresses included Debra Winger (“Urban Cowboy,” “Terms of Endearment”), writer Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise”), Karen Black (“Easy Rider”, “Five Easy Pieces”) and Elaine Boosler. And you could find Lesley Moonves, the current President of CBS, mixing drinks at the bar. There was also a guy named Barry Manilow who would play the piano along with a fill-in at times named Dustin Hoffman. And contrary to popular belief, Bette Midler was never a waitress at The Improv. But she regularly performed on stage and Budd became her manager at the time helping to book her first appearance on “The Tonight Show.”
GO WEST YOUNG(ISH) MAN / FILM & TV
Budd had a vision to expand the Improv and in 1975, he headed West and left Chris Albrecht (former President of HBO) as the manager in charge of the New York club. Soon, he opened his second Improv on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, California where it still stands today with the trademark piano and the iconic brick wall as a backdrop for the biggest and brightest names in comedy to hone their craft.
The Melrose Improv and other stages have long been a part of Hollywood, becoming the site of hundreds of tapings for both film and television. In the 1980’s, a new cable network called the Arts & Entertainment Network (better known now as “A&E”) began airing "An Evening at the Improv" which was taped at the Hollywood Improv and hosted by Budd Friedman. Cable television was exploding across America, and Budd (along with his signature monocle) became as well known to viewers as Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan. "An Evening at the Improv" offered television exposure to new comedians and brought stand-up comedy into homes across the country as never seen before.
Throughout the years, the Improv has also been featured on Last Comic Standing (which has taped in multiple Improv locations) and dozens of comedy specials on HBO, Showtime, and Comedy Central. Other shows include A&E's “Gene Simmon's Family Jewels,” E's ”Denise Richards: It's Complicated,” NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and our own HBO’s “An All-star Toast to the Improv” and “The Improv 40th Anniversary Special” on NBC.
The critically acclaimed “Funny People” was the latest movie to be filmed at the Hollywood Improv, but other movies such as “Man on the Moon,” “The Aristocrats”, Robert Townsend’s ”Hollywood Shuffle,” and “The Goodbye Girl” also had major scenes shot at the Improv.
In the 1980’s, spurred by the growth of cable television and hit movies, comedy was dominating pop culture. It was also the time when The Improv began expanding its comedy empire. After seventeen years of going solo and running the club on a modest budget, Budd realized that he needed some support. His new partner was Mark Lonow (himself once part of a New York comedy trio with his wife JoAnne Astrow and Henry Winkler, the Fonz from “Happy Days”). Mark had moved to Los Angeles, become a successful producer/director, and would soon be credited with helping to make the Improv a more profitable business.
Together, Budd and his new partner Mark began a national expansion of The Improv, opening locations in San Diego, San Francisco, Brea, Irvine, Tempe, Washington D.C., Dallas, Addison, Cleveland, Miami, Las Vegas, Reno and London, England. Comedy fans, often for the first time in many cities, were able to see their favorite comedians in an intimate club setting. But as much as comedy was King in the 1980s, there was an inevitable slowdown in the 1990s. Many new clubs attempted to duplicate what The Improv had so successfully accomplished, but often with poor results. And worse, those new clubs increased the need for performers which resulted in a dilution of talent. While nothing could capture the live experience of comedy, many were content to stay home and watch Comedy Central, a new cable network also luring away top comedy talent.
But the 90’s did give rise to the stand-up comedian-as-actor, thanks to such huge prime-time successes as Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Tim Allen, and Ellen DeGeneres. In fact, many of the concepts for those hit series were developed on our stages, and the deals negotiated at our tables.
In 2002, Budd partnered with Al Copeland to create five new clubs with 4 in California (Irvine, San Jose, Brea, Ontario), one in Pittsburgh, and the re-launch of the historic Improv on Melrose Avenue. And in recent years, The Improv has opened new locations in Chicago, Denver, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Arlington, Louisville and Orlando. A new century has began with a new generation of explosive comedy talent who have once again helped make The Improv the place for top comedy.
New clubs are now being planned, both domestically and internationally, ensuring that The Improv promise remains true: To deliver the best comedy talent, quality food and service in the most celebrated and largest comedy club chain in the world.
We hope to see you soon!