Budd Friedman, Comedy Legend and Improv Founder, Dies at 90

The Broadway hotspot turned comedy club hosted Lily Tomlin, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld in its early days

Budd Friedman, the comedy legend who founded the iconic comedy club The Improv, has died at 90, The Hollywood Improv announced Saturday.

“The comedy world lost a giant today,” the venue tweeted. “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.”

Friedman had just celebrated his 90th birthday at the comedy club’s Hollywood location.

Budd Friedman’s influence on live stand-up comedy is immeasurable,” National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson said in a statement. “From the opening of his original Improv in New York nearly 60 years ago, which ushered in stand-up comedy clubs across the country, to his much beloved club on Melrose, Budd has always been stand-up comedy’s most important cheerleader, coach and master of ceremonies. He will be dearly missed by the comedy community.”

The former advertising executive launched The Improvisation in New York City in 1963 as a gathering place for Broadway performers where they could meet after their shows in an intimate setting. Despite not yet having a liquor license, the Broadway producer’s spot quickly attracted the likes of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, who would sing alongside Peter Allen on the piano.

The Broadway hotspot first tried on its comedy kicks when comedian Dave Astor took the stage to try out new material and a slew of budding comedians, including Lily Tomlin, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, followed suit, vying for Friedman’s attention.

As the New York club launched many into stardom, Friedman opened a second location on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and employed Jay Leno to help paint the ceiling.

As both locations boomed in the 1980s, A&E’s  “An Evening at the Improv,” hosted weekly by Friedman, brought stand-up comedy to screens across the country. During the successful decade, Friedman partnered with producer and director Mark Lonow to bring The Improv to San Diego, San Francisco, Brea, Irvine, Tempe, Washington D.C., Dallas, Addison, Cleveland, Miami, Las Vegas, Reno and London.

Friedman also had roles in a number of comedies, including “Star 80,” “Mambo Café,” “The Boneyard Collection,” Funny People” and “Louie.”

Following the news of his death, comedy staples like Whitney Cummings, Rob Schneider and Richard Lewis, among others, paid tribute to Friedman.

Judd Apatow, who was door manager at the New York location, applauded Friedman for making the “world much happier,” and Adam Sandler, who also performed at the venue, thanked the founder for giving countless comedians stage time, advice and a “comedy home.”