“The one thing that sticks in my mind is the fire we had in '79,” Improv Comedy Club owner Budd Friedman recalls of his 26-venue chain's Melrose Avenue location, which opened in 1975. “The highlight was I would say shooting the series An Evening at the Improv. We did over 400 hour shows over the years, both in syndication and on A&E. That's what really put us on the map and kept us going.”
The stand-up institution he originally founded in New York City has now been going for five decades. In celebration, tonight, Epix will debut the documentary special The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall, with interviewees that include Sarah Silverman, Russell Brand, Lewis Black, Bill Maher and Larry David.
Here are 10 of the interviewed comedians' best memories of the Improv, taken from the documentary.
Adam Sandler: [Narrating] “By 1975 the New York club was finally successful, allowing Budd to open a second Improv in Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue. It was a lot like the original, with the iconic brick wall and piano, and comics knew right away: That was the place to be.”
Billy Crystal: [From onstage] “Those of you who were at the Improv in New York, I see a lot of familiar faces. You're out here, this is a whole different feeling for the club. It's got new lights. Both of 'em!”
Jerry Seinfeld: “The Improv on Melrose, that was really designed, it seemed to me, for comedians to have the greatest life that God could ever imagine. 'Cause there were a lot of pretty girls in L.A., and that place had a social energy that was very powerful… The entire '80s to me was the Improv on Melrose.”
Kathy Griffin: “I would actually have my mom and dad drive me to the Melrose Improv, and we would get a pizza, and just sit there and look at celebrities… If you're a dude male comic and you're doing okay at the Improv, you're getting hot pussy. Hot pussy. Hot. Like disease-catching pussy. That's how good it was… I've fucked more guys there than I can count. Yes, it was the '80s and '90s. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with my parents, and banging guys in their shitty apartments. And then going home and telling my mom, you know, that I was working.”
Judd Apatow: “I remember when I first went to the Improv in the mid, early '80s, the bar was so packed. It was such a scene. The place to be. It felt like people were really having fun there… When I was a kid I felt like I didn't really relate to anybody, like I was perceiving the world different than everyone, and I had all of these interests, and nobody had them. And then I moved to Los Angeles and started working at the Improv, and all of the sudden there were hundreds of people that were just like me.”
Richard Lewis: “Larry David had problems picking up women, I think. He knows the exact setup, but the only way he had the nerve and maybe try to meet a woman was sing out this song: 'My name is O'Banion, and I want a companion!' So I heard that and whether you think it's funny or not, just to think of that is enough. The guy's got a gold mine.”
Jimmy Fallon: “The Melrose Improv was a daily event. You would go even if you didn't have a set. You would just go hang out there and see who's up. 'Who's on tonight? Oh, Wayne Federman? I'll go see that. I want to see him.' You wanted to see what people's sets were, because you cared about each other.”
Jay Leno: “Even though we were broke, there was a sense of family. You were closer to these people you'd only known a few months than you maybe were to the people you grew up with, because you actually had this yearning in common that you wanted to be performers.”
Keenen Ivory Wayans: “There was really no separation between the comedians and the club owners. We were all one family. And then this thing called money came into play. And it was never about money. It was only about the art… [Following a 1979 strike for comedian pay] Budd was the first club owner to sort of settle with the comics, and some guys from the Comedy Store got pissed and set the Improv on fire in L.A.. And it was just like, 'What the fuck is going on?' It really changed that innocence and that fraternity and that family. And it became a business.”
Ray Romano: “You can go on in that theater where people are just big fans of yours and they laugh at everything, and you think you've still got it. But you get up on the stage at the Improv and make them laugh hard, then you've still got it.”
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