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October 21, 2017

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At 15, Friedman’s Improv Comedy Club at Harrah’s is where laughing matters


Scott Harrison

Comics Mark Curry, Ron Morey, Charlie Fleischer, Vinnie Favorito and George Wallace pose with comedy pioneer and Improv Comedy Founder Budd Friedman at Penazzi Italian restaurant at Harrah’s.

Improv at Harrah's Turns 15

Improv at Harrah's celebrates it's 15th anniversary.

Improv at Harrah's 15th Anniversary

The 15th anniversary celebration of The Improv on April 30, 2010. Launch slideshow »
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Budd Friedman hosts a lunch at Penazzi at Harrah's to mark the Improv Comedy Club's 15th anniversary at the hotel.

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Comics George Wallace, Mark Curry, Vinnie Favorito and Charlie Fleischer attend a lunch marking the Improv Comedy Club's 15th anniversary at Harrah's.

Audio Clip

  • Improv Comedy Club founder Budd Friedman

All those names. Sometimes a couple are left off, incidentally and accidentally, and the order is never the same twice.

But what is constant is the recognition. You know all these names of famously funny people: Jay Leno, Bette Midler, Robert Klein, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Lily Tomlin, Chris Rock, George Carlin, Andy Kaufman, Eddie Murphy, Tim Allen, Dane Cook, Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Foxx, Adam Sandler, Jeff Dunham, Dave Chappelle. And on and on.

All performed early in their careers — most before they had what could be called a career in comedy — at the Improv Comedy Club, Budd Friedman's baby. The first of his nationwide string of comedy clubs opened in New York in 1963, and its Las Vegas outpost at Harrah's turned 15 last week. A couple of other names on that list, guys who are resident headliners on the Strip, George Wallace and Vinnie Favorito, took part. So did the weekend's headliners, Rob Morey and Charles Fleischer; former showroom manager Domenic Strano; current showroom manager Carl Kotowerski; and comic Mark Curry, who happened to be appearing at Shimmer Cabaret at the LV Hilton but is a friend of Wallace's, so he got a seat, too.

As Friedman noted in the accompanying video interview, every comic on the Strip who has his or her own room once performed at the Improv, either in New York or in Los Angeles or both. In fact, every comic working in the city last weekend had taken an Improv stage but for one exception: Conan O'Brien at Pearl Theater at the Palms.

A favorite Friedman tale, of opening night in April 1995, after he had pulled out of the Improv's first Vegas home, Riviera: When Friedman arrived at the club with opening night's headliner, Wendy Liebman, he was told there was a grease fire in the kitchen and the show would be canceled. Damn. So the crew went to Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars to enjoy dinner and champagne. A comic who was working at the Riv, Joey Villa, also was at the restaurant and approached Budd and congratulated him on opening at Harrah's.

When Friedman told Villa there was no show, Villa responded, "I just talked to the people at Harrah's, and they said there would be a show tonight." Since the night's lineup was en route to being intoxicated or (in Liebman's case, for her diminutive stature) almost there, the group slapped their faces and jetted back to Harrah's to put on the first show in what is now a 15-year run.

"Some people thought it was out of the ordinary, but not us," Friedman says. "It was business as usual."

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