Remembering the Roots of Improv

Budd Friedman on hiring Andy Kaufman at the Melrose Improv: “I wanted somebody unusual to knock their socks off. I had Andy Kaufman. It worked out great for us. He was recommended to me in New York by a friend of mine who owned a coffeehouse in Great Neck. I said, ‘OK, if you say so.’ I set a date and the guy shows up in his Foreign Man costume. He says ‘How do you do, my name is Andy Kaufman.’ I said, ‘Where you from, kid?’ He says, ‘I am from an island in the Caspian Sea.’ Well there are no islands in the Caspian Sea, but I didn’t know that at the time. He goes on, and I’m saying what the hell is going on? People are tittering, but they don’t know when to laugh and I don’t know when to laugh. And then he does an Elvis impression right on the button, but having been in the Army in Japan and hearing these Japanese women sing American songs without an accent—they couldn’t speak English, but they memorized the song. So he’s doing Elvis, and he finishes with ‘Thankyouverymuch,’ I knew I’d been had. I fell on the floor. I fell in love.”

Mark Lonow on the fate of the original New York location and the brick-wall stage backdrop that became shorthand for “comedy stage” in future clubs around the country: “It’s [now] a pizza parlor. The brick wall has a plaque on it. I went in to see the plaque, and three of the acts never appeared there at the Improv. It was an Asian restaurant of some sort. Budd rented it. He was tearing down the wall, took all the plaster off. They said, ‘What are we going to put up instead?’ He went, ‘That’s what’s going to stay there.’”

Paul Reiser on the collegial atmosphere of the Improv: “It was always nice and hospitable. They always made sure you had a drink. It was very friendly. That was the social club, too. You’d do your set, then you sit and you hang and you had great pizzas. I remember one of them convincing me to try their special peanut-butter pizza. I said, ‘That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of.’ It might have been Budd—he has such an investment. He said, ‘No, I’m telling you. You’re going to think it’s bad, and it’s great.’ I had the peanut-butter pizza, and it was unbelievably great. There’s something about when you heat up peanut butter and it becomes … swiss cheese. It turns into something better than it should be.”

Suggested Next Read

The Genesis of the Guffaw


The Genesis of the Guffaw

By Jason Scavone

The Improv at Harrah’s 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tue-Sun, $29-$45. Feb. 28-March 3, James Davis and Dylan Mandlsohn, 369-5223,