Bud Friedman, the Broadway producer who founded the Improv Comedy Club franchise and launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s greatest comedy voices, died of a heart attack Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 90 years old.
“The comedy world lost a giant today,” Hollywood Improv wrote in a statement Saturday night. “In 1963, he changed the world of comedy by creating the first comedy club where the masses could come together to laugh. In 1963, he changed the world. It became global. He was a pioneer. He was a gentleman. He was a brilliant man. “
Friedman’s legacy is in the red brick walls of the Improv Comedy Club franchise, which evolved into 22 locations in 12 states before Friedman and partner Mark Lowe sold the company to Levity Entertainment Group in 2018. Friedman founded the first New York location. in 1963 at West 44th Street and Ninth Street, which remains the flagship location for the chain.
Originally created as a place for Broadway actors to gather for food, drinks and music, the Improv in New York saw the first stage comedian Dave Astor in 1964. The show’s success inspired more comics to follow suit. The club became a special place for nightly comedy shows.
“That’s how I became a comedian, ladies and gentlemen, because of Dave Astor,” Friedman previously said. “I had no intention of opening it. [a venue] for fun. I was tired of singers singing the same songs all the time, but I could listen to a funny joke over and over because there was always something I could pick up on.
In the year The Improv’s Los Angeles location, which opened on Melrose Ave in 1974, had more ambitious talent, such as Judd Apatow, who worked the door, as well as Leslie Moonves and Kevin Nealon as bartenders.
The tribute to the creative people that Friedman helped reach their potential was incredible. Apatow, actor Rob Schneider and comedian Richard Lewis were among the voices expressing Friedman’s fatherly love and selfless desire to help others succeed.
“Bud Friedman passed tonight. In 1971, my father, a hero to me, died at a young age. I was lost and found by this guy who was a real kingmaker at Improv, popular with many young comedians. It was a lifesaver in many ways. I loved him and his family. RIP pal, Lewis wrote.
Other comedians who have helped lead Friedman’s successful journey include Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Jimmy Fallon, Larry David, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Keenan Ivory Wayans, David Brenner, Lily Tomlin, David Steinberg, Steve Landsberg and Dick Cavett.
Entertainers such as Jay Leno, Robert Klein, Bette Midler, Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman have performed at Friedman’s New York Comedy Club, often taking extra steps to gain attention. Leno, for example, drove between Boston and New York every week, hoping to see Friedman hanging around the place—and Friedman eventually did.
“You know, the guy who invented baseball gets all the credit. I mean, there’s a lot of great players and coaches on the road, but the guy who came up with the idea – if it wasn’t for him, he wouldn’t be here, you know? Leno in 2010 He told CBS News in 2018. “I mean, he was the guy who gave us all a break.”
Born in Connecticut on June 6, 1932, Friedman moved to New York in 1941 where his business ambitions took off. Throughout his career, Friedman has had minor acting credits in films such as 1983’s “Star 80” and 2009’s “Funny People,” and starred as himself in the 1999 film “Man on the Moon,” directed by Milos Forman.
Friedman is survived by his wife, Alix; his children, Zoe, Dax, Beth and Ross; and his grandchildren, Noah, Sophia, Jacob, Bronte and Gibson.