A Reboot of Comedy Classics

Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan have chosen some of their favorite comedians from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They take a look at how these comedians got started, their most successful comedy albums, and their lasting influence today!


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The Improv (Part 2); The LA Years

The Improv (Part 2); The LA Years

In our final episode of the season, we continue where we left off in our brief history of The Improv. This episode picks up right where we left off with the beginning of LA The Improv. We talk about Dave moving to LA and becoming Budd's assistant, the friendship and competition with The Comedy Store, the fire that nearly ended everything, and the rebuilding of an icon. Listen in as Dave and Tom continue down memory lane.

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Dave Schwensen:
Previously on "The Improv" ... and the reason it got the name improvisation, Budd has this in his book, that it's where the singers could come in again, 1963, 1964, and improvise.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And he improvised putting it together. Well, that's what they were doing. They were going after the Broadway shows closed, they were going out for dinner, drinks, that sort of thing. And Budd overheard the other actors in the show saying, "Wow, you know in Chicago, we go to this place and we get to go up and sing." And Budd realized there wasn't anything like that in New York city, especially- [crosstalk 00:00:30]

Tom Megalis:
Isn't that strange?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
Isn't that strange, there would be nothing like that in New York city at the time?

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. But the ones who hang around at that time were like Jon Stewart. I remember Rosie O'Donnell, Chris rock, Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
They were all just hanging around.

Voice Over:
Welcome to What's So funny, a comedy podcast where we talk about some of the most influential and controversial comedy albums from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Sit back, relax, and get ready to laugh.

Dave Schwensen:
Hi, welcome back to What's So funny. I'm your host, Dave Schwensen. I'm here today with my cohost, Tom McGillis, and we're going to continue our discussion about the improv comedy club.

Tom Megalis:
Jeez, it's like a two-parter. I'm excited. I've never been part of a two-parter. Now you met Budd. He was already in LA cause he left for LA in '75, right?

Dave Schwensen:
I think something around that time, yes.

Tom Megalis:
Because-

Dave Schwensen:
Again before-

Tom Megalis:
Before your time, before you ever ... Yeah. And because what's interesting is he probably wanted to go West because Carson ... I think that they say the entertainment business kind of went West when Carson left in '72.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, Johnny Carson was always the big one.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. The big boy, right? In '70 ... yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
That's the one everybody ... if you got in Johnny Carson's show, I mean, you were made. And they filmed The Tonight Show live at that time. It was at 30 Rock, where they have Saturday Night Live now. And I'm pretty ... I'm trying to remember who the talent coordinator was for the Johnny Carson at that ... But he was a regular at the improv. That's where they were finding the comics over in showcase, and you could get on the Johnny Carson show. And yeah, around '73, was it? Something like that? '74-

Tom Megalis:
'72.

Dave Schwensen:
'72

Tom Megalis:
'72 they left, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. The Tonight Show went West, and that's when it started becoming apparent-

Tom Megalis:
Shifting.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, the comics who were regulars at the New York improv like Jay Leno and Andy Kaufman and Freddy Prinze, these guys headed West because they wanted to be on the Tonight Show. And there's a lot of things too I've learned from talking to these comics. And I'll mention like even Drew Carey, Jeff Foxworthy, I remember talking to those guys because they had ... Drew had a great career going in the Midwest around Cleveland, and Jeff was based in Atlanta and I'm pretty sure they both told me that they had to move to Los Angeles to get on the Tonight Show.

Tom Megalis:
Make sense, the big platform.

Dave Schwensen:
That's the [crosstalk 00:03:17]. The story was he liked Los Angeles and Silver did not.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
So she chose to go back to New York.

Tom Megalis:
She's a New York girl, a theater girl, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
So, I think that was the thing that split them up. And she took over the New York club and Budd had the Hollywood club. I heard Budd Friedman was looking for an assistant and I called. And I met Budd once. I'd met him once at the New York club. He would not have remembered that, but I was very impressed. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, there's Budd Friedman with the monocle and everything else." And he came into the New York improv to watch a show.

Dave Schwensen:
And at the New York improve, I was still setting up showcases for like the Tonight Show, even though they were out in Los Angeles, their talent coordinator, Jim McCauley would come to New York to look at comics and just ... the David Letterman show and HBO and MTV, they were all coming in. We were still doing lot of showcases in New York. Anyway, I moved out to Hollywood.

Tom Megalis:
Well, that was another explosion in many ways. I mean, a lot of new people that you saw from, like Dane Cook, Sarah Silverman, all these people that were starting to explode at that time as well.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, my head exploded because I had to buy a car. In New York, I had to ride the subway and a taxi. All of a sudden, I had to drive again.

Tom Megalis:
Oh man, I feel bad for you.

Dave Schwensen:
But yeah, it was a thrill for me to go to the Hollywood improv, the one on Melrose Avenue. Now this was again, Silver had the New York club, Budd had the LA club, and I heard he was looking for an assistant. A friend of mine who worked for Jeopardy at that time was doing the questions for Jeopardy. He called me up and said, "Hey, I just saw in such and such that Budd's looking for an assistant."

Dave Schwensen:
So I called over there and I spoke to his secretary Fran, who is also his cousin. And everybody loved Fran. And again, the older comedians will know exactly who I'm talking about. And she set up an interview. We said, "Okay, we'll come in and meet Budd." I remember it was the ... I can't remember what day it was, a Friday or something. Anyway, when I went and meet Budd for my interview, Jay Leno sat with us.

Tom Megalis:
He was screening you as well.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, Budd used to be Jay's manager. These guys were tight, Budd and Jay Leno. And so when I sat down at the table, I was nervous enough to meet Budd, and here Jay Leno pulls up a chair and sits down and they both start quizzing me.

Tom Megalis:
Now, I do know that Jay Leno was driving from Boston to do shots at the New York improv. And he was so ... and I think that impressed Budd a lot that Jay was driving, making these drives. I think he was working for like a car place at the time, but he would drive to do these and then drive back to Boston, and drive in to be part of the improv and to get on stage.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, he would drive back and forth, a round trip from Boston to New York city and work that next day at a car dealership-

Tom Megalis:
In a Rolls Royce dealership or something, so he was delivering cars. But as you put it, that's focus, determination and commitment to your craft.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, that's something I want to say to the younger comedians that listen to this too. I've never met an overnight success in my life, working in the comedy business. And the ones who did make it, and there's many more who did not make it, okay? They played the improv, you've never heard of them. But the ones who did always seem to me to be so dedicated. They had no other choice. There was nothing else for them to do. And they would sleep in cars. They would couch surf. They would do whatever they could.

Tom Megalis:
Whatever it took, whatever it took.

Dave Schwensen:
And Jay Leno was a perfect example, driving a round trip from Boston to New York. He did it, I don't know how many nights in a row, and finally he was standing there and he asked Budd that, "Can I go on? I kind of drove down from Boston." He goes, "You drive from Boston? You've been here every night for a whole week and you drive around almost every night?" And Jay says, "Yeah." Budd says, "You go on next."

Tom Megalis:
And I think that, that probably stuck with him, didn't it? And now here, you saw ... And Jay's in a room now with you for the interview.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, I mean it was pretty exciting, I'll be honest with you. I'm like, "This is crazy." And then I did get hired as Budd's assistant. And so I really got to know the whole LA scene then. Here I came out in New York, I felt I was a real New Yorker. And now here I was in LA at the Hollywood improv, and just-

Tom Megalis:
Was it run differently?

Dave Schwensen:
I'm going to say yes and no. It was more flash. It was more Hollywood. The restaurant was more real food. Then we had finger food or that kind of stuff at the New York improv, and the showroom was much larger. But still it was the same thing, it was a showcase club where you could see 15 ... we would put up 15, 16 comics a night. We'd just run the show for as long as there's an audience. And a lot of it too would be, "See who's hanging around." If it gets to be at midnight, "Who's hanging around in the back? You want to go up and do five minutes? You want to do seven minutes?"

Dave Schwensen:
And of course we'd schedule the established stars for earlier in the evening or the weekend shows. And there was a little rivalry going on because there had been another comedy club out there called The Comedy Store.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Mitzi's Comedy Store, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Mitzi Shores, Pauly Shore's mother. But it was actually started by Sammy Shore who was a comedian, a Vegas type of comedian. I think he used to open for like Elvis Presley, you know Elvis, and he was friends with Budd. And he would come to the New York club and perform. And I think he asked Budd at one time, he says, "You know, I'm thinking about doing what you're doing here, the improv in New York. I'd like to do that in Los Angeles, so my friends and I had some place we can get up and perform, and work on a new material and just hang out, and have a bar we can hang out." Budd said, "Yeah, go ahead, do it."

Tom Megalis:
"Go ahead, do it. I'm not out there."

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. And then the Tonight Show moved, and yeah, and something happened, there was a divorce there too. And Mitzi got the club, Sammy gave her the club and he took off to be a comedian, and all of a sudden she turned this club into a profit deal and started booking comedians similar to what Budd was doing at the improv in New York. Same thing, it was the same formula. And yeah, I think actually when Budd first came out there, I think she was very nice to him, and he saw her show or something like that, but then he opened his club and all of a sudden, "Oh man, that was not good."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, a big rivalry, right? If you played the store, you didn't play the improv, right?

Dave Schwensen:
Exactly.

Tom Megalis:
It's like, "Pick it." And if you found out, right? If you were doing the store then you found out, right? You were like, "No, no. You can sit here at the bar all night, we're not going to put you on."

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. There were certain ones who could do it, of course, that were already kind of famous. I'm pretty sure David Letterman might have gone back and forth.

Tom Megalis:
But there was a strike. Do you remember the strike thing that happened?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. Well again, before my time.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, that was before, but that was in '79, '78 or whatever?

Dave Schwensen:
'79, yeah, somewhere around there, 1980.

Tom Megalis:
Wow, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And the story was they were doing big business, the Comedy Store, and I think I had ... but she was kind of paying ... you mentioned Jackie Mason before. I think he might have been one of them. Some of these older guys would come in and she would pay them whatever they made at the door, the ticket price, they got paid. However, the young comedians at that time out there and Jay Leno being one of them, Tom Driessen being another one, can't think of some of the other names, they were packing the place too, but they weren't getting paid. They weren't getting any part of the door at all.

Dave Schwensen:
And so they did a big New Year's Eve show at the Comedy Store, packed the place, and it was all these young comics at that time. And afterwards, of course, New Year's Eve, they were all pumped up, it was a great night. They all went around to the diner, I think it's Canter's diner. We still go to that. It was around the corner down the street or whatever.

Dave Schwensen:
And they were all sitting around eating talking about what a great night it was, then one of the comics who had performed that night leaned over to Jay or Tom Dreesen and said, "Can I borrow five bucks to get a sandwich?" And they were like, they realized they did all this work and Mitzi is making all this money and they weren't getting paid.

Tom Megalis:
Not sharing in any of the profit there, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. So they went over and talked to her and said, "We should at least get a percentage of something." And she threw a fit and threw them out. So yeah, it went on and it turned out there was a big strike. I mean, the comedians were actually out on the Sunset Strip at Hollywood Boulevard with their picket signs.

Tom Megalis:
And I wonder what the settlement ... I can't remember what they ... and I didn't even see a poster of what they agreed on. At some point it was an agreement. But you know, David's got ... I'm sorry, go ahead.

Dave Schwensen:
What happened was, you have Budd who was going to pay the comics. I think he had already started doing that in New York because when I was at New York, they were giving comics at least, they call it carfare or something.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Not that much. Well, here's from the management point of view, which was, I was always behind the scenes, okay? The management.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And we're doing these shows and you ... And I tell this to the comics I work with in my workshops, They're new, they're starting out. "Well, how much money am I going to make? When am I going to get paid?" I'm like, "You've got to do this for a few years before you get off. It's going to cost you money to do this."

Tom Megalis:
Right, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
You're not good right now.

Tom Megalis:
What's your product? What product are you putting out?

Dave Schwensen:
"[crosstalk 00:12:15] pay to see you because you're not good right now. You've got to get good." So these clubs, these open mic clubs are actually giving you, they're doing you a favor.

Tom Megalis:
I agree with that.

Dave Schwensen:
They are letting you get on stage to fail, to succeed and put your act together, and you're not getting paid, but you don't have to pay, like to go to school to do this. You're learning. And that's how I always looked at it. Even at the New York improv with those, my gosh, those legendary comedians hanging around the bar talking, and you're a new comic, you sit there. You're part of the scene, you're learning how they're putting together these jokes. And even the books I've written, I don't make this stuff up. It's what the comics told me. Do you know like, "Oh my gosh, this is brilliant."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And the thing is too, there was always the opportunity to be discovered. Once Bill Cosby ...

Tom Megalis:
Yeah man.

Dave Schwensen:
... got his sit comedy in the '80s, comedians were hot. Tim Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Brett Butler, Margaret show, [crosstalk 00:13:06].

Tom Megalis:
Robin Williams exploded at that time.

Dave Schwensen:
And they all got their own TV series, Tim Allen and all these. But the thing was, they realized that the owners were making a lot of money and these comics were getting nothing for doing all that work. However, they weren't asking for a lot either because they understood how the process. They could get discovered by the Tonight Show and be on national television the next week and their careers explode. But they needed something-

Tom Megalis:
And so, give me cab fare or give me gas fare. So 25 bucks, 50 bucks maybe at the most in some place ... I know Bill Burr used to talk about he'd bounce around, bounce around, 50 bucks, 50 bucks and pay his rent.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes. Those weekend shows at the Hollywood improv. I mean, come on, it would go from Jay Leno to Bill Murray, to Roseanne, to Margaret Cho, to Dave Chappelle, to Drew Carey. I mean, now you're seeing one after another, after another, after another.

Tom Megalis:
Huge. It's all, yeah blue chip comics.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. And then the thing was, the pay wasn't that much. As a matter of fact, I always laughed because some of those comics would never ... The checks would come out, I think like at Tuesday, and there'd be a box, like a shoe box full of everyone's checks to be ... A lot of these guys didn't even pick them up.

Tom Megalis:
There was just nothing.

Dave Schwensen:
They just left them there.

Tom Megalis:
100 bucks, 200 bucks, everyone 150-

Dave Schwensen:
You know, whatever it was.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, I know what you mean.

Dave Schwensen:
But that's the respect they had for Budd, because he respected by paying them, and he's the one that broke it. He said, "Oh." He was going to pay. But yeah, even with the improv and stuff, they would feed the comics too. If you did a set, you got to have dinner. And I knew for a fact, this is probably the only time of the day, this day, that that guy ate anything, because he's sleeping in his car.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, that's ... yeah, that's-

Dave Schwensen:
That's the kind of dedication. But the one thing that happened to the improv while this strike thing was going on, it burned down.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah man, the big fire. And was that ... I can't remember. It was an arson?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
It was arson?

Dave Schwensen:
It was found out later it was arson.

Tom Megalis:
We don't know who did it though, right?

Dave Schwensen:
I think people think they know who did it.

Tom Megalis:
They speculate.

Dave Schwensen:
I'm not going to say anything.

Tom Megalis:
We speculate.

Dave Schwensen:
They speculated. There was not good blood between different people and different things going on. Matter of fact, one potential aspiring comedian back then, I think on his death bed, he confessed to doing it.

Tom Megalis:
Really?

Dave Schwensen:
I'm not going to ... that's not my business. All I'll say is, it burned down, it was proven to be arson. And Budd was just ... he was going to be out of business. That was his club, and he had gone through a divorce. His daughters, Zoe and Beth were living with their mom in New York. He's by himself in Hollywood, and here's his main thing, his passion burned down.

Tom Megalis:
And that's the one right on Melrose, the same one.

Dave Schwensen:
The one on Melrose Avenue.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, okay.

Dave Schwensen:
And what happened was, again, comics owe him so much. It was I think Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman did two fundraising shows for Budd. They came out and performed and it gave him money to get going again.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, wow.

Dave Schwensen:
And the main showroom that burned down, they made a smaller showroom while they rebuilt things and they got it going again, so yeah. But by this time, there had been the big comedy strike and the comedy store near Pravda, they had to start paying the comics, and they did.

Tom Megalis:
So, this was about 1979 when it burned.

Dave Schwensen:
1980.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Around that time. And so then you got into the comedy boom and these big comics, big stars. By the time I got out there, it was the place to be seen, the improv.

Tom Megalis:
And it was rebuilt, same spot on Melrose.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
Correct, yeah okay.

Dave Schwensen:
And it was real nice, a big club. It was just that the stage, the brick wall, the restaurant, the bar. You'd walk in at night and you didn't know who ... Budd would have a big round table at the corner. You'd go back there and sit and there could be Rodney Dangerfield or Bill Maher, it could be Jerry Seinfeld. They're all sitting there. And then the other ones, I'd look around the room, who's eating dinner. It's all like the writers from all these sitcoms, and all these comics I knew from New York, and in the bar, there'd be people up there with their scripts and everything. And in the show, he didn't know who's going to walk on stage. And it was just tremendous, tremendous.

Tom Megalis:
It's like a comedy country club.

Dave Schwensen:
No, that's a good way to put it.

Tom Megalis:
Well, I'm just thinking, it's like you're hanging around, and you're bouncing ideas around. There's probably people trying out material. It's like, "Is that working?" Even though a comedian might be a bad audience for it. And there's probably some jokes stealing. We all know what happened with some of that, that was happening and people are accused of that.

Dave Schwensen:
Carrot Top, when he first started out, he told me he wanted to be George Carlin.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And he said ... when he got on stage, the first time he was on stage, he goes, "Here's one from George Carlin." And he would do a Carlin joke. And when he got off, the club managers came over and said, "Hey, you can't do someone else's jokes."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, dude. What are you doing?

Dave Schwensen:
And he said, "I thought it was like being in a cover band. I'm doing his hit songs." He said, "No, you got to have your own material."

Tom Megalis:
But now at what year was it approached to Budd, the concept of licensing or having improvs across the country. And apparently that was probably a great idea because he did it.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, this is ... again, we're talking about the history of the background of the improv. Budd went taking on a partner, Mark Llano, who was an actor and a comedian at Los Angeles. He was very much a big part of the comedy strike. He and his wife, Joanne Astro, who went on to be a manager, and again, two people I've also worked with that I have a lot of respect for. Budd brought him on as a partner, really to get more of a hold of the business.

Dave Schwensen:
Budd is very much a celebrity, he really is. He likes that. If you go in the improv when he was in-charge that day, you probably met Budd, you saw him. He was noticeable because he had the monocle. He would go on stage. He would introduce acts. He liked celebrities. He liked the center of attention. It's Budd Friedman, he knows that. We all know that. Such things.

Tom Megalis:
That's great.

Dave Schwensen:
But Mark had more of a business sense. And they didn't ... I'm not going to say they always got along. I think they butt heads quite a bit, but they worked well together. So I think after Mark came on, then that's when someone, a guy by the name of Mark Anderson contacted them and said about opening an improv in San Diego. I said, "Well, like a franchise? Okay." And so they went down there and the night they opened that club, Robin Williams opened the club for them and they brought in Jonathan Winters.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, that's right, yeah. And they did a bunch of ... they went around all improvs and they did a bunch-

Dave Schwensen:
Well, that was the first one. They did that, the first franchise and it turned out to be a success. And then the others came on, the other clubs, they started opening clubs around the country. But the big thing that did that for them too was the television show A&Es and Evening at the improv.

Tom Megalis:
Oh yeah, that elevated the brand.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. And I think that kind of ... nobody had done a show like that before, and I want to say-

Tom Megalis:
And Budd hosted that.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, Budd was the host, but I think the seeds of that go back to, I think Freddie Prinze. And we focused on Freddy Prinze for one of our episodes here on What's So Funny. He did an HBO special. It might have been almost like a Freddie Prinze introduces young comedians or something like that.

Tom Megalis:
That's right, oh yeah. That was kind of the format a little bit, wasn't it? Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah, and he filmed it at the Hollywood improv. And it's star studded. I wish I had the list of comics who went on that show. I'm sure Jay Leno was one of them, but that was the idea of it was. This was the early HBO, early cable television. Nobody had ever done a show just on standup comedians. Comedians were always just supporting acts.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, you're right, opening or just supporting. Yeah, it was never ... yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. So here was an hour special of Freddie Prinze introducing just nothing but stand up comics coming out and doing five, six, seven minutes. And it was a big hit. And then I think Budd and Mark were contacted by someone actually from Canada. It was a Canadian producer. He said, "We want to do this show. We'll call it An Evening at the Improv." But the catch was, it had to be Canadian because they couldn't afford, I think the unions and all this stuff in the United States. And so he had to have all Canadian comedians, Canadian sponsors, everything like that.

Tom Megalis:
Oh boy, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
And so they did it for one year. They were kind of running out after Howie Mandel. They didn't know who else.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Howie Mandel, the ex carpet salesman turned comic.

Dave Schwensen:
But anyway, after that it took off ... the Arts and Entertainment Network then contacted them and said, "We would like to do this." So, that's when A&E came in.

Tom Megalis:
That's awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
All right? It was just called The Evening at the Improv. There was A&E's An Evening at the Improv. And I can't tell you how many years it ran.

Tom Megalis:
Well, I think it ran from '81 to '87.

Dave Schwensen:
No, I know it was past that because I was the color coordinator in '92-'93.

Tom Megalis:
Really? Oh? Evening at the Improv, I thought it ran maybe in syndication after. [crosstalk 00:21:17] Yeah, maybe-

Dave Schwensen:
It went on after I left.

Tom Megalis:
Holy smokes, maybe they kept doing new ones?

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
Oh wow, yeah, because I thought they'd ... yeah, maybe it's run longer. Maybe the initial run was till '87 and then they extended it, but-

Dave Schwensen:
I even remember when I was still running the New York city improv, they were coming in, looking for acts for Evening at the Improv, checking out newer comics. And then when I went out in LA, I was able to bring out a lot of the New York comedians that I knew that were good, ready for the show. I hate to say this but, it kind of made me look like I was a genius, but I wasn't.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, and that's so awesome.

Dave Schwensen:
I was just bringing up the regular acts I had in New York. I'm like, "Hey, you haven't been on Evening at the Improv? You better come out and do this show."

Tom Megalis:
How many minutes would they get for that?

Dave Schwensen:
I want to say they got seven minutes each. We'd have five comedians per show. And then we had, Budd was the host. Budd would go up and say hello. He had his monocle on, and be a very gracious host. And then they'd introduce a celebrity, a host, an emcee, a celebrity.

Dave Schwensen:
I would say kind of like a minor celebrity, but they were like on a sitcom or their careers had been on a downers for a couple of years, bringing them back or whatever. Or some cool ones too. I remember that's where I met Frankie Valli from the four seasons. He was one of the hosts.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. Frankie Valli, that's the most ... you wouldn't expect that as a host of a comedy show, Frankie Valli, but that's interesting. Oh, he was big! He was doing a lot of ... he had a lot of hits at that time, late hit like a second career.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, I was very impressed. He's the one I wanted to meet because I'm a classic rocker. So I actually went back in the dressing room, looking for him. Otherwise, I'd look for the celebrity host and we would do like say two or three shows a night, say on a Wednesday night. And this was at a club we had in Santa Monica, at the improv in Santa Monica at that time.

Tom Megalis:
Okay.

Dave Schwensen:
So between shows, Budd always had to change clothes, to different suits to make it look like it's a different night, even though we're filming everything the same night. I was always allowed to sit at Budd's table with them during one show. Then I would have to disappear behind the cameras because I had the same clothes on.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
So, it couldn't look like it was the same night. So I remember one time I'm sitting there and they said ... the host said, "Oh, we have a special guest in the audience who wants to stand up and take a bow." And just sitting right behind ... I didn't turn around and see who was behind me, was OJ Simpson.

Tom Megalis:
Oh no, okay, all right.

Dave Schwensen:
And his wife, that Nicole. They were sitting right behind. And I've seen it a little bit on reruns or different things out there, I'm like, "Oh my gosh."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, you're right.

Dave Schwensen:
But you know-

Tom Megalis:
Oh man, that's a little creepy now. In hindsight, it's just a little scary, but ... well you know, well whatever.

Dave Schwensen:
But we had some really good guest hosts that come out.

Tom Megalis:
That's really cool.

Dave Schwensen:
That's in sitcoms and different things, and just a lot of fun.

Tom Megalis:
I can't even imagine how many comics just owe their entire careers to the improv.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah.

Tom Megalis:
I mean many, many, many. That's why he's so beloved.

Dave Schwensen:
Well, I encourage everyone to read Budd Friedman's book. I think it's called An Oral History on the Improv, or whatever. And he's talking about a lot of this, but the impressive thing is how many of the comedians and stars and important people, just of networks and things, talk about how important he was.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Then again, go back to New York club with Silver also. But in Hollywood, it was Budd and they're praising him. They wouldn't be anywhere without him. And like, I think I said at the beginning of this show, I would not be hosting What's So Funny if it wasn't for Budd Friedman and Sonya Saunders. The very face of it.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I mean I've heard-

Dave Schwensen:
They gave me my career.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. I've heard Judd Apatow, the director talk about being a doorman and so many people that you just ... and I guess he was a comedian, but it's like directors and everybody, all kind of-

Dave Schwensen:
I remember him around there.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
All of these guys would sit around and wait to go on and hopefully they could keep improving and get good.

Tom Megalis:
Well, I think it's Richard Lewis who said they used to say that, "If you made it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Maybe so, but if you didn't make it at the improv, it was time to pack your bags and move to anywhere."

Dave Schwensen:
That's it. That's about it. And I'll tell you, two other people have said to me like, "Well, I don't want to play at the improv." I go a bit, "You just weren't good enough to play the improv. Don't give me that."

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, there you go!

Dave Schwensen:
And there are things I ... again, not so much about me because it is all about Budd, and it's all about silver. And I saw how they did this, but here's a little tip that Budd Friedman gave me one time. And I remember he was sitting in the restaurant, at his round table with all the big celebrities. And I had a certain comedian who was auditioning for us that night. And I really wanted Budd to see this person. I don't remember who it is anymore. It might have been someone I had out from New York.

Dave Schwensen:
And I kept telling Budd, I said, "Budd, this guy is going to go on. Are you going to watch?" He goes, "Yeah, I'll watch, I'll watch." And him getting closer, I said, "Ah, he's going to go on pretty soon." He goes, "Oh yeah, I'll watch. Don't worry about it." So anyway, this guy went on stage and he's killing, he's doing great. And I look over and Budd is still sitting at his table at the restaurant. I was so mad, I said, "The guy is up. I thought you're going to watch him." He goes, "Look, Dave." He said, "Is he getting laughs from the audience?" I go, "Yeah." He says, "Well, then he's got to be good. Book him."

Tom Megalis:
That's great. "He's got to be good." That's, yeah, that's the gauge.

Dave Schwensen:
And I learnt from that. And that's the gauge. And so I used to stand ... there used to be a doorway to a little hallway before you go on the showroom. And a lot of times when I was interested on what the comedians were doing, I would stand there and not even watch them. I could listen and I could hear what the audience is doing.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah, wow.

Dave Schwensen:
And if the audience was really into this rock, I'm like, "This person is good." But then, again the improv always had standards too. You expected to see television type of comedians, and I know we've had to tell comedians, "Don't say the F word so many times. Don't do this." You know, "You've got to." Especially with A&E's An Evening at the Improv, there were standards you had to follow for the viewers. I didn't mention this early. We always had a softball team. The improv was famous for its softball teams.

Tom Megalis:
What was the name of the team? Or was it Improv?

Dave Schwensen:
The Improv. We were just the Improv.

Tom Megalis:
Oh? I thought it was the Improv Rascals or something like that.

Dave Schwensen:
No, not anything like that. We were the Improv. We played in the Show Business league, and I know that started back in the '60s. I think Budd was on the team. We're going way back. So by the time I came along in the 1980s, we still had this team. And I always said ... our first baseman was Larry David, by the way, first baseman. And Ray Romano was on that team.

Tom Megalis:
Okay.

Dave Schwensen:
And the other members of that team were all like comic. They were stand up comedians, maybe not household names, but they also wrote for a lot of these sitcoms and things. So, they are just very funny. And I used to say, we had our games the way you would think about professional baseball teams, how they would, I don't know what they call it, heckle the other teams. I'm thinking about professional baseball teams. [crosstalk 00:27:39]

Tom Megalis:
Razz them a little bit, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. Well you should have heard our team. These guys were so far, I'd be sitting on the bench, I'd be laughing so hard, I'd just be crying. And I always said, I would pay a parking, two drink minimum, and a cover charge just to sit on the bench and listen. [crosstalk 00:27:52]

Tom Megalis:
It was like roasting the other team. You guys were roasting at the other guys.

Dave Schwensen:
Yes.

Tom Megalis:
That's funny.

Dave Schwensen:
Oh, it was just so hysterical. And one story I do have, one of our baseball games became an episode of Seinfeld, thank you to Larry David.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, wow.

Dave Schwensen:
We appeared in the first basement. So if you ever see an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George are running down the baselines wearing an improv uniform, that was our team.

Tom Megalis:
Oh, that's awesome. That's great man.

Dave Schwensen:
And by the way, Bette Midler was the umpire for that episode.

Tom Megalis:
Wow.

Dave Schwensen:
They're all kind of- [crosstalk 00:28:20]

Tom Megalis:
Very cool! And one thing I wanted to just not miss out here, the opportunity to say to Budd Friedman, "Thank you for your service." He was in the Korean war and he was up on the Pork Chop Hill in Korea, and kind of a war hero. So there you go. I know he was injured. He was injured.

Dave Schwensen:
Yeah. He was wounded. He's got [crosstalk 00:28:40] a couple of medals.

Tom Megalis:
So, you got to say thank you if he's listening to this.

Dave Schwensen:
Kind of hope he is, but I'm ready to come back.

Tom Megalis:
Oh man, you need the job man, come on. Come on, you're still looking for another job, yeah.

Dave Schwensen:
Again, this has just been a history of the improv. I know I ... Tom, I'm sorry I talk so much.

Tom Megalis:
Oh no, you-

Dave Schwensen:
This one means so much to me.

Tom Megalis:
Oh my God, you're in the family. I'm glad to hear these stories Dave, I'm telling you. You're in and you're still in it. So it isn't like the past, you're still working. It's part of the improv.

Dave Schwensen:
I've been very unfortunate with as far as like my workshops have kept me with the improv. That's where I do my workshops and our shows and things. And I'm very proud of that. And I'm very proud to be part of that improv family still. And again, I learned so much, and what an experience. I'm telling you ... I would always tell my wife. She always said, "You have this job where all you do is you go to work and laugh." And I'm like, "Pretty much yet."

Tom Megalis:
What a great job.

Dave Schwensen:
Pretty much yet.

Tom Megalis:
What a great job.

Dave Schwensen:
We sit around and laugh.

Tom Megalis:
Great stories man. It's-

Dave Schwensen:
And again, for our younger comedians, aspiring comedians, even professional comedians that might listen to this show, you got to know who Budd Friedman is. If you don't, find out because you got to know the history of these clubs and how this all happened.

Tom Megalis:
Yeah. It's why you're here.

Dave Schwensen:
It's so fascinating and yeah, it's why we're here. All right, well I'm going to cut this one off because I think I talked way too much.

Tom Megalis:
It was fun man. I enjoyed it. Thanks for chatting with me.

Dave Schwensen:
Ah Tom, thank you. I had a really good time, and you had me call up some long ago memories and fine times. So I'll thank you again, Tom McGillis co-host, thank you.

Tom Megalis:
Thank you man.

Dave Schwensen:
All right, and I'm Dave Schwensen. You've been listening to What's So Funny. Until we come back next time, keep laughing.


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