Budd Friedman, comedy club pioneer and founder of the original Improv comedy club, has died. He was 90. Friedman died Saturday of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his wife, Alix, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Friedman founded the original Improv in New York City in 1963, giving early career breaks to comedians and acting superstars like Jay Leno, Bette Midler, Richard Pryor and more.
He opened his second location in Hollywood in 1975, just three years after Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show from New York to Los Angeles, marking the brand’s first expansion. Friedman and his partner, Mark Lonow, would go on to open 22 Improvs across 12 states before selling the company in February 2018 to Levity Entertainment Group.
His comedy clubs also helped provide a platform for superstars like Adam Sandler, Richard Lewis, Dick Cavett, David Steinberg, Steve Landesberg, David Brenner, Lily Tomlin, Freddie Prinze, Gabe Kaplan, Chris Rock, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jerry Seinfeld, Judd Apatow, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon and many others.
Friedman’s talents extended beyond the Improv. In 1981, he produced and hosted An Evening at the Improv, which aired on A&E until 1996. He also helped launch the American Comedy Awards and co-created National Lampoon’s Funny Money for the Game Show Network. He went on to appear as himself in Milos Forman’s 1999 film, Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carrey and Judd Apatow’s Funny People in 2009. Friedman also co-authored a 2017 book, The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club That Revolutionized Stand-Up.
Following news of his passing, tributes began pouring in, with the Hollywood Improv sharing a touching post dedicated to Friedman on Facebook, along with a video compilation of moments and memories from his time at the Improv over the years.
“The comedy world lost a giant today,” the club’s tribute to its founder began. “In 1963 he changed the world of comedy by creating the first comedy club for the masses to come together in laughter. In 1963 he changed the world. He went global. He was a pioneer. He was a gentleman. He was a luminary.”
The post continued, “Budd gave opportunity and support to everyone who had the privilege of performing in front of that iconic brick wall. We stand committed to his vision. His impact is immeasurable, and his legacy will be felt in comedy for generations to come. He will forever be woven into the very fabric of American comedy. He is truly the Godfather of stand-up comedy, and we will love and miss him with all of our hearts. Rest in peace, Budd. #outoftheaisle #buddfriedman.”
Curb Your Enthusiasm comedian, Richard Lewis, also shared a tribute to Friedman, tweeting, “Budd Friedman passed tonight. In 1971, my father, a hero to me died young. I was lost and found by this man who was a veritable kingmaker for many young comedians at his famed Improv. In many ways he was a lifesaver. I loved him and his family RIP pal. RL🙏.”
Budd Friedman passed tonight. In 1971, my father, a hero to me died young. I was lost and found by this man who was a veritable kingmaker for many young comedians at his famed Improv. In many ways he was a lifesaver. I loved him and his https://t.co/fRSb3jBslu pal. RL🙏 pic.twitter.com/1cdH5HX6f5— Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) November 13, 2022
As well as actor and comedian, Jimmie Walker, who told reflected on his 50-year relationship in a statement to ET, “Budd Friedman is one of the most influential people in the Comedy industry. He’s responsible for many of the top talents, Jay Leno, Robert Klein, Bette Midler, Danny Aiello, Andy Kaufman, Liza Minnelli, Richard Pryor and many, many more. He supported me and helped in my on-going development through the years, I’m proud and honored to have had a fifty-year relationship with a legend Budd Friedman.”
Adam Sandler also reflected on Friedman’s legacy, thanking the club owner for providing a “comedy home” for him and so many comics.
“Budd Friedman. Can’t thank this man enough for what he gave to all of us. A comedy home. All the stage time. All the tips. All the encouragement,” Sandler wrote alongside a pic of the pair. “A place for comedians to hang out and talk about nothing but comedy. No place like the improv. No one like this man. Great to so many. Thinking of Bud and his family today with so much love and appreciation.”
In her statement, comedian Rita Rudner credited Friedman and his wife Alix for helping her get her big break on The Tonight Show.
“Budd Friedman gave me both a wonderful platform and a friendship when I first moved to Los Angeles. I will be forever grateful to him and also to his wife Alix who was instrumental in getting me my big break on The Tonight Show,” Rudner shared. “I’m thinking of both of them today. Budd will be much missed and celebrated by the comedy community.”
Friedman is survived by his wife, Alix, children Zoe, Dax, Beth and Ross and his grandchildren Noah, Sophia, Jacob, Bronte and Gibson.