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The Improv

By Budd Friedman and Tripp Whetsell


Ever hear the one about the aspiring Broadway producer who rented out a recently defunct Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of New York’s theater district and accidentally changed the course of American comedy? It’s no joke—his name is Budd Friedman, and his legendary club helped reshape the stand-up comedy landscape that is still a staple of entertainment today. The Improv is the first-ever an oral history of the most important comedy club in America, emceed by Budd Friedman himself, and featuring in-depth interviews with some of the most important names in comedy—including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, Richard Lewis, Robert Klein, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Judd Apatow, Al Franken, Paul Reiser, Howie Mandel, Bob Saget, Dick Cavett, Paul Provenza, Drew Carey and many more—telling it like it is about how this game-changing entertainment institution came to be.  

What to know before purchasing an ePub.

Publication Date: September 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944648-44-2

Publication Date: September 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942952-43-5

Publication Date: September 2017

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“Tripp Whetsell deserves a shiny medal for this bright and greatly entertaining book about a now legendary time and place in the world of stand-up comedy. The colorful Budd Friedman’s club—The Improv—played a vital part in my early stand-up days as it did in the careers of the dazzling array of stars, eccentrics, and colorful characters whose stories adorn this book. Get at least one copy, in case you lose one.” —Dick Cavett


To say that our world would be a lot less funny without Budd Friedman is no joke!

In 1963, 30-year-old Friedman—who had recently quit his job as a Boston advertising executive and returned to his hometown of New York to become a theatrical producer—opened an after-hours coffee house for Broadway performers called the Improvisation. His goal? Simply to make a living, and if all went according to plan, to also make enough professional contacts to be able to mount his first Broadway show within a year’s time.

Adapting its name from the premise that anything could happen and later shortened to the Improv, its first West 44th Street location in a seedy section of Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen had previously been a Vietnamese restaurant. Initially attracting the likes of Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Albert Finney, Christopher Plummer, as well as a couple of then-unknowns named Dustin Hoffman and Bette Midler, Friedman’s new venture was an instant hit.

But while it drew near capacity crowds almost from day one, it wasn’t until comedians began dropping by to try out new material that the Improv truly hit its stride, not only becoming the first venue ever to present live stand-up in a continuous format, but in the process reinventing the art form and creating the template for all other comedy clubs that followed.

From the microphone to the iconic brick wall, the Improv has been the launching pad for practically every major name in American comedy over the last five-plus decades since, also placing Friedman side-by-side with other men who transformed entire industries.   

In fact, by the time the Improv expanded to Los Angeles in 1975, later spawning its own cable television series and 22 franchises in 12 states, he had become as famous as many of the comic giants he helped discover. Today, at the age of 85, he is still comedy’s master imprimatur, and his fabled club endures as one of the most important incubators for live stand-up anywhere—even though its original New York location is long gone.

Now, in The Improv, Friedman, along with a Who’s Who of his most famous alumni—including Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, Richard Lewis, Robert Klein, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Judd Apatow, Al Franken, Paul Reiser, Howie Mandel, Bob Saget, Dick Cavett, Paul Provenza, Drew Carey and many more—tell it like it was in the first-ever oral history of how this game-changing comedy club came to be.

Told from multiple perspectives in the exact words of the people who were there from the beginning to the present day, The Improv gives readers an exclusive look at what really happened on stage and off mic at one of America’s most venerable institutions. From the revelry and the rivalry to the smash hits, near misses, love affairs, chemical experimentation, exhilarating rises, tragic downfalls and just plain fun, it’s all here—emceed by the man who unofficially provided the laugh track for an entire nation, despite inevitable power struggles, personal and professional disappointments and trumps, and ever-changing times.

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About the Authors

Budd  Friedman

Budd Friedman is the original owner, founder, and emcee of the legendary comedy club, The Improvisation (better known as The Improv). Opening in 1963, The Improv was the first of its kind to present comedians in a continuous format, and the first one to give unknown performers the opportunity to try out new material in front of a live audience—with the opportunity to be discovered by talent agents and late-night TV bookers.

Friedman lives in Los Angeles, California. 

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Tripp  Whetsell

Tripp Whetsell is a New York-based author, entertainment journalist and critic specializing in comedy, television, film, music and pop culture history. His work has appeared both in print and online for such publications as, TV Guide, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The New York Times, New York Magazine, New York Daily News, Closer Weekly, The Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter. This is his third book.

Go to the Author Page

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Latest Press


On The Town with Michael Riedel on AM970 The Answer — author interview on September 28, 2017


Sirius XM John Fugelsang — author interview on September 29, 2017

Deep Dish Radio — author interview on September 20, 2017

KABC Radio — author interview on September 19, ...

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Shakespeare & Co (New York, NY) — book signing on October 19, 2017

Friar’s Club (New York, NY)  — book party on October 17, 2017

Book Soup (Los Angeles, CA) — book signing on September 22, 2017

Hollywood Improv Comedy Club (Los Angeles, CA) — book party on September 19, ...

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Publication Details

Format: Paperback

Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 2 in.

Weight: 1.5 lbs.

Publication Date: September 2018

Format: E-book (epub)

ISBN: 978-1-944648-44-2

Publication Date: September 2017

Format: Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1-942952-43-5

Dimensions: 6 x 9 x 2 in.

Weight: 2 lbs.

Publication Date: September 2017

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