Budd Friedman death: Improv comedy club founder was 90

Budd Friedman, who earned the nickname Godfather of Comedy by founding and growing one of the most successful comedy club franchises in the United States, has died. He was 90 years old.

Friedman’s wife, Alix, told The Hollywood Reporter that the founder of comedy club Improv died Saturday of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he lived in Westwood. Erin von Schonfeldt, head of talent bookings at the Hollywood Improv, confirmed her death to The Times.

“The comedy world lost a giant today,” the Improv team said in a statement.

“He wasn’t a stand-up comedian, sit-com star, or movie legend. But he gave birth to a generation of performers who defined American comedy and culture for decades. .. For nearly 60 years, through steady and turbulent times, improv stages have provided the platform for thousands of performers to speak their truth and hopefully catch Budd’s attention in the process.

In 1963, Friedman founded improv’s flagship location – a late-night cafe and restaurant in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood with a small showroom that drew the theater crowd. Its evolution into one of the scene’s hottest comedy clubs “was just an accident,” according to Friedman, who originally billed the venue as a cafe that served food because it “didn’t couldn’t afford a liquor license.

Although Friedman sold the original club in 1979, the Improv now has more than 20 locations across the country, including stages in Brea, Irvine, Oxnard, San Jose and Hollywood.

As Improv’s stand-up footprint has expanded over the years, Friedman and his business partner Mark Lonow have helped launch the careers of Jerry Seinfeld, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Billy Crystal, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Eddie Murphy, Tim Allen, Jay Leno, Dave Chappelle, Jamie Foxx, Jeff Dunham, Gabriel Iglesias, Chris Rock and more family comedy names.

Amid the rise of cable television in the 1980s and 1990s, Friedman increased his influence by hosting “An Evening at the Improv”, a comedy series starring Ray Romano, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman and Drew Carey. .

“Club owners may complain that there’s too much stand-up on TV,” Friedman told The Times in 1994, “but it’s usually the ones who don’t have a show. Television has been great for improvisation, generating money and goodwill.And I don’t think that affected the crowds at the club, because despite all the comedy on TV, the club is still a very different experience.

When news of his death surfaced over the weekend, a number of comedians — including Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Kevin Nealon and Loni Love — paid tribute to Friedman on social media.

“Budd Friedman. I cannot thank this man enough for what he has given us all. Sandler tweeted Sunday. “A comedy house. All the time on stage. All advice. All encouragement. A place where comedians meet and only talk about comedy. … No place like improvisation. No one like this man. Awesome for so many people. I think of Bud and his family today with so much love and appreciation.

“Budd Friedman is the reason many comics you see today work”, love tweeted Saturday. “He put money in our pockets and provided a space for us to audition and be seen for our stand up…thank you so much Budd for believing in the power of comedy…you changed the world now rest easy. “

Von Schonfeldt of Hollywood Improv said the club held a party for Friedman’s 90th birthday in June. Even in old age and after surviving a stroke, Friedman regularly visited the club, sat at his stand in the back, sipped champagne and always gave notes to the staff about improving the club.

Friedman is survived by his wife, Alix, his daughters Zoe and Beth, and his stepsons Dax and Ross.

“He was super snappy, didn’t miss a beat,” Von Schonfeldt said. Above all, his passion for the profession has made him an emblematic figure in the world of comedy.

“Not only did he build improv, he created the comedy club,” she said. “And so leaving that legacy of laughing without having stepped on anyone to do it is kind of unheard of.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.