“The Improv” Founder Budd Friedman Dies at 90

Budd Friedman died of heart failure in Los Angeles on Saturday. He was a Broadway producer who started the Improv comedy club chain and helped launch the careers of some of Hollywood’s most famous comedians. He had lived 90 years.

“The comedy world lost a giant today,” the Hollywood Improv wrote in a statement Saturday night. “In 1963 he changed the world of comedy by creating the first comedy club for the masses to come together in laughter. In 1963 he changed the world. He went global. He was a pioneer. He was a gentleman. He was a luminary.”

Before selling the firm to Levity Entertainment Group in 2018, Friedman and business partner Mark Lonow expanded the Improv comedy club franchise to 22 locations across 12 states. In 1963, Friedman opened the first location in New York at West 44th Street and Ninth Avenue. This location is still the flagship for the chain.

The Improv in New York was first made as a place for Broadway actors to get together for food, drinks, and music. In 1964, Dave Astor was the first comedian to perform there. Since the set was so well received, other comedians started performing there regularly.

“That’s how I became a comedy genius, ladies and gentlemen, because of Dave Astor,” Friedman said previously. “I didn’t have the idea of opening [a venue] for comics. I got tired of singers singing the same songs all the time, but I could listen to a comic do the same jokes over and over because there was always a nuance I could pick up on.”

When The Improv’s Melrose Ave. location in Los Angeles opened in 1974, it attracted more up-and-coming stars like Judd Apatow, who worked the door, and Leslie Moonves and Kevin Nealon, who worked the bar.

Friedman helped a lot of creative people reach their full potential, so there were a lot of tributes from those people. Apatow, actor Rob Schneider, and comedian Richard Lewis were among the people who spoke warmly about Friedman’s fatherly warmth and selfless desire to see others succeed.

“Budd Friedman passed tonight. In 1971, my father, a hero to me died young. I was lost and found by this man who was a veritable kingmaker for many young comedians at his famed Improv. In many ways he was a lifesaver. I loved him and his family. RIP pal,” Lewis wrote.

Friedman also helped Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Jimmy Fallon, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Keenen Ivory Wayans, David Brenner, Lily Tomlin, David Steinberg, Steve Landesberg, and Dick Cavett get started on their way to success.

Jay Leno, Robert Klein, Bette Midler, Richard Pryor, and Andy Kaufman were some of the other entertainers who performed at Friedman’s New York comedy club. Leno, for example, would drive from Boston to New York every week in the hopes that Friedman would notice him hanging out at the venue, which Friedman did in the end.

“You know, the guy who invented baseball gets all the credit. I mean, there are a lot of great players and coaches along the way, but the guy who came up with the idea – wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him, you know?” Leno told CBS News back in 2018. “I mean, he was a guy who gave us all a break.”

Budd Friedman Dies
Budd Friedman Dies

Friedman was born in Connecticut on June 6, 1932. In 1941, he moved to New York, where his dreams of working in show business took off. Friedman went on to have small roles in movies like “Star 80” (1983) and “Funny People” (2009).

He also played himself in “Man on the Moon” (1999), which was directed by Milos Forman. Friedman leaves behind his wife, Alix, and children Zoe, Dax, Beth, and Ross, as well as grandchildren Noah, Sophia, Jacob, Bronte, and Gibson.

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