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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, and Jason Robards, 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.
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By Errol Olson on 04-19-18
Comedy Is Gritty, Not Pretty!
It was very interesting to hear the stories about all the Improv alumni over the years, from the early 70s through 2000s and about the life of a comic just starting out. I was surprised to hear that Budd Friedman didn’t pay his comics at first, even though they were the reason people went to the club and how Mitzi Shore (Pauly Shore’s mother who died eight days ago) mistreated her comedic talent, insisting that they work exclusively at her rival The Comedy Store and refused to pay them, although she was getting quite rich off them until they, led by David Letterman, Jay Leno and Tom Dreesen, picketed her establishment in 1979 and after six weeks, she relented and agreed to pay them the princely sum of $15 per set, basically meal and gas money so they weren’t literally “starving comics”.
So many comics that got their start doing stand-up at the Improv went on to be famous on TV shows and in movies that it was really interesting to hear about their early years making people laugh; practicing and honing their craft!