The godfather of comedy looks back on a lifetime of laughs

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The godfather of comedy has a few secrets to share: First, he never intended to become the godfather of comedy, never had any idea how to accomplish the feat and, a half-century later, isn’t quite sure how he did it.

When Budd Friedman opened a dingy brick-walled nightclub called The Improvisation on the edge of New York’s theatre district in 1963, there were no other major comedy clubs to speak of in the U.S. Stand-up comics were generally relegated to playing small coffeehouses, telling mother-in-law jokes at summer resorts or keeping audiences entertained between strip shows.

There are comedy clubs across the country now, and in Friedman’s just-published memoir, “The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club That Revolutionized Stand-Up,” generations of comedians from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon give the author the lion’s share of the credit.

“Budd Friedman is one of the greatest influences in comedy ever. Bar none. He changed pop culture forever,” Fallon says in the book co-authored by Friedman and veteran entertainment journalist Tripp Whetsell.

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To hear Friedman tell it, changing comedy’s direction was about the last thing the former ad man set out to do.

“It was a complete fluke. I wanted to be a theatrical producer,” he said during a recent phone interview.

So he opened an after-hours club in a section of midtown Manhattan that although dicey was within walking distance of Broadway’s theater district. He figured he’d bring in some aspiring singers and pianists, serve food and wait for deep-pocketed, hungry people leaving those Broadway shows to wander in.

At least one would surely decide to bankroll a show the distinguished-looking fellow wearing the monocle wanted to produce. (He wouldn’t tell them he wore the monocle only because it was too difficult to read receipts in his darkened club.)

Most of the singers and pianists, save for Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, never caught on. But the comics poured in from the coffeehouses and began getting on stage.

Richard Pryor was one of the first to come through the door, followed soon after by George Carlin. Rodney Dangerfield wandered in drunk one night and bombed, then returned sober the next, killed and was quickly hired as the emcee.

It was the dawn of a decade of tumult that marked the Civil Rights Era, political assassinations, escalation of the…

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