The Improv is a comedy club franchise. Originally, it was a single venue founded in 1963 by Budd Friedman and located in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City on West 44th near the southeast corner of 9th Ave. A second location was opened in 1974 at 8162 Melrose Avenue in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, California (which immediately prior housed the Ash Grove, a legendary folk music venue). In 1979 Mark Lonow became a general partner and with Budd Friedman ran the Melrose club and oversaw the expansion of the single room as it became a successful chain. In 1982 the L.A. Improv became the original site for the A&E Network television series An Evening at the Improv, running from 1982 until 1996, and was produced by Larry O'Daly, created by O'Daly and Barbara Hosie-O'Daly, with Budd Friedman as a warm-up host. Other locations have opened since then, such as in Tampa, Florida,Fort Lauderdale, Florida,Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Louisville, Kentucky.LEG, formerly known as [Levity Entertainment Group, is the largest shareholder of The Improv comedy clubs.
The Improv was the place to see Richard Pryor, Robert Klein, Steve Landesberg, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Jay Leno, and others when they were just starting out. Dustin Hoffman played piano there. On any given night in the later 1970s, one could see Gilbert Gottfried, Joe Piscopo, Bruce Mahler, Mark Schiff, Larry David, and many others. Often famous comedians would walk in to "work out" before appearances on The Tonight Show. It was not unusual to find celebrities in the audience.
Nearly every big name in comedy has played The Improv, including Richard Belzer, Milton Berle, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Chevy Chase, Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal, Rodney Dangerfield, Jeff Dunham, Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Hicks, Carol Leifer, David Letterman, Richard Lewis, Jon Lovett, Bill Maher, Marc Maron, Steve Martin, Dennis Miller, Larry Miller, Liza Minnelli, Freddie Prinze, Paul Reiser, Joan Rivers, Joe Rogan, Jerry Seinfeld, and Ron White.
New and upcoming performers have performed there as well. Comedy Central's Dave Attell frequents Improv locations in Tampa and Hollywood. Comics Lewis Black, Mike Birbiglia, Louis C.K. and Jimmy Fallon have performed at the Improv in Louisville, Kentucky.
Comedian Eddie Murphy was a regular at The Comic Strip in New York City, but in California performed at the Improv when he was only 15 years old, Jeremy Ruder at 18, and Jim Carrey at 19. Karen Black, Debra Winger and Barry Manilow among others worked there as waitresses, hosts or musicians before becoming famous.
The following is a list of Improv locations as of March 2018:
The following is a list of past Improv locations: