Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2019

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Improv Comedy Club to close show at Harrah’s

Budd Friedman-Improv anniversary


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

Click to enlarge photo

Budd Friedman once said the Las Vegas Improv Comedy Club at Harrah's was the most successful of the 22 franchises. He founded the original in New York City, where he opened a coffeehouse intended to serve singers. Comedy quickly took over and the venture took off. Many comedians, including Jay Leno, got their start at New York's Improv.

Soon, there will be no more nights at the Improv.

The Improv Comedy Club at Harrah’s, a house of hilarity since April 1995, is reportedly closing at the end of May. The shuttering of the club has not yet been confirmed by Caesars Entertainment or Improv officials, but comics who were set to be booked in that room have been notified of the decision.

One of the more famous of those standups, Wendy Liebman, posted Tuesday night on her Facebook page: “Just heard that the Improv in Las Vegas at Harrah's is closing at the end of May, and my heart dropped. If it wasn't for Carl Koterwski, I probably wouldn’t still be doing standup.”

Liedman, who headlined the first show at the second-floor Harrah’s location April 18, 1995, is referring to the current club manager. Koterwski operates the venue for Improv founder Budd Friedman and his business partner, Mark Lonow, who joined the company in the 1980s.

The Improv is a legendary brand among comics, opening with a single club in New York in 1963 and spreading across the country and internationally over the next 50-plus years. The club operates in California cities San Diego, San Francisco, Brea and Irvine; and also in Tempe, Ariz.; Washington, D.C.; Dallas; Addison, Texas; Cleveland; Miami; Reno and London. Those clubs continue to operate.

In Las Vegas, the club opened at the Riviera in the 1980s. Steve Schirippa soon took over booking the room and recruited many topflight comics during his days as the hotel’s entertainment director

The list of comics who have performed on the Improv stages would be incalculable; in Las Vegas, that lineup includes Ed McMahon, Chris Rock, Margaret Cho, Jay Mohr, Joe Lopez, Kevin James and Jeff Ross. David Spade once performed at the Improv as an opening act — for Dennis Blair, who still performs in town as the comic in “X Country” in the current Improv Showroom.

The Improv room also is where Mac King started his long run as an afternoon headliner at the hotel in 2000 before moving to Harrah’s Main Showroom.

In addition to "X Country," the Improv Showroom is home to “Menopause The Musical,” which plays eight shows per week. Producers Matt and Angela Stabile are seeking to expand the 10:30 nightly (dark Fridays and Saturdays) "X Country" to six or seven nights per week.

It’s yet to be announced how the comedy club’s closing will affect other programming in that room, or if the Improv partners might seek a new home elsewhere in Las Vegas. But to scores of comics who played that room, the closing of the Improv is no laughing matter.

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